Living in Small Town
, Northern Minnesota, USA
, I have never considered anything other than single head embroidery equipment. Where I live is so remote (How remote is it?) that the Minnesota
legislature calls it "Outstate Minnesota
," like we're not really even part of the state. I'm not kidding! There's the metropolitan area of Minnesota
, Minneapolis-St. Paul and surrounding suburbs and communities, which now stretches north virtually to St. Cloud
, the city that southern Minnesotans think of as "north."
Even in my home state, when I say I'm from Northern Minnesota
, people invariably ask if I live by Brainerd. That's a hot spot tourist area smack in the middle of the 10,000 lakes, which, if you put your finger dead center on your Minnesota
state map, you would land. My answer to all those who ask is no. I live six hours northwest of Minneapolis
, (if you don't stop for coffee,) and four hours north of Brainerd in the northwest corner of the state. That's about a half hour south of the Canadian border as the crow flies, a little farther, but not much, by car.
You might ask if there's life up here. Why, sure there is! There are ducks and geese, deer, moose, bear, wolves and an occasional elk. Every now and then you even see another person! It's probably a hunter, and because Minnesotans are friendly by nature, we'll strike up a conversation, and I'll sell him a cap or ten, which I would be happy to stitch for him on my single head embroidery equipment. In my situation, I can't imagine having other than single head units.
Oh, that's not an entirely true statement. There are those orders that I wish I could hoop up six or twelve at a time, like "seed caps," (those are the ones that the grain elevators order in the spring,) but most often, I am happy to contract orders of that magnitude with another company. I like those orders a lot. We take the call, place the order, drop ship the caps or garments, get the finished product from UPS, open the boxes to see that the work is satisfactory, type and print the invoice, call the customer back to pick up the product and collect the check.
I am a single head advocate, as you can tell, and I come by it naturally. As many beginning embroiderers do, we started with one single head in a brand new business. As the business grew, we hired a machine operator, and pretty soon were running that single head twenty-four hours a day. Then we decided we could handle more than one machine at a time, and got a second single head. Back in 1990, when I started embroidering, multi-heads cost a lot more than they do now, and we didn't really even consider getting a multi-head because it was cost-prohibitive. Single heads cost more then, too. We could buy two and a half machines now for what we paid for that first one!
As luck would have it, one of our best customers started a snowmobile race circuit, and since we were already embroidering his company clothing, we were a shoe-in to do the circuit clothing. Over the course of time, this led to the development of a line of race wear, consisting mainly of custom designed team jackets and crew shirts. The natural progression led to the investment of three more single heads, making a grand total of five, the number we settled with.
Why five? There are five main parts to these garments; two fronts, two sleeves and a back. Why single heads instead of a multi-head or two? Most race teams are small. Therefore the orders are small. Usually it starts with one sample jacket, which is some wild and crazy design we allowed the customer to dream up. We would have to do one to make sure that all the pattern pieces fit, and that the color scheme was correct, and that what looked great on the drawing board looked just as terrific on the body. After that, the team, which is typically four or five people, would order their garments. When the team hit the track, the fans would start clamoring for fan clothing, too. Because the clothing is custom-made, we are working on the panel program and we can spread one garment over five machines.
If you haven't embroidered race clothing yourself, you've all seen it on ESPN. It's embroidered everywhere! Having single head embroidery equipment gives our shop the flexibility to be running all those designs at one time. Invariably, some designs are shorter than others, and that's when we fill the machine with other orders.
We do more small runs than large, mostly because of where we live, but also because of our acceptance policy. We don't turn the small orders away. Another factor for me is my digitizing and design business. We stitch out thousands of designs one time only for proofing and photography. If we had multi-head equipment, we would have a lot of heads shut off most of the time.
The point is, you have to look at everything. Population is definitely a factor in determining what the initial investment should be. Your marketing plan is another aspect. If the plan is to sell corporate apparel, a multi-head will likely be a better deal for you. As with the race clothing, niche marketing could be a reason for selecting single heads. Or, if the niche leads to vast amounts of production of one or a few items, the multi-head might be the better choice. If you have a store front, and will be accepting onesie-twosey orders frequently, the natural choice would be a single head. If you're a digitizer and not selling embroidered products, you will only need one sewing head.
Many shops start with one head, just as we did. As the business grows, and the need for faster production comes, the decision time is at hand. That's the time to take stock of the past history and determine which route is the best to take. If most of the orders you have sold have been long runs, it doesn't make economic sense to purchase single heads. The more you can turn over, the more money you make. But, if most of the orders have been small, perhaps multiple numbers of single heads would be the best choice.