Helping Business


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My Husband and I were faced with the unfortunate experience so many other professionals faced in 2009, we lost our jobs. I was working as a Product Development/designer for a Sunglass-Optical Distributor telecommuting in Florida. The company was based in NY. With a recent addition to the family and purchase of a new Home, the loss of my job was not only financially impactful, but also emotionally.

I was certain that with my strong Corporate Background, I should have been able to secure another job rather quickly, but it soon became apparent that this was not going to be the case. In addition to the extensive competition for jobs, I soon learned that there were no jobs.

After making a decision to stop looking for a job, my Husband Walter and I had the proverbial Family meeting. We decided that we were going to have to do something on our own. Fortunately, we had saved some money throughout the years, and felt comfortable we could start a business. The big question was what business should we get into. The answer to that question came about as a result of a shopping excursion in a Sarasota Mall. As Walter and I walked the Mall, we were noticing most of the stores lacking shoppers, a common theme in 2008 and 2009. However, there was one establishment that seemed to have a better than average shopper. We notice a sole Kiosk in the Mall retail, T-shirts and Caps with an embroidery machine, and appeared to be garnishing a healthy amount of sales.

Later that week, we began researching the Embroidery business and discovered it was a billion dollar Industry! Needless to say we got the answer to our question. Walter and I decided to purchase an Kiosk at a Mall whose owner wanted to move back to Orlando. It soon became apparent that we did not have a clue about running a business, so with further research I found the SBDC in Venice, very close to my home. I decided this would be a great place to start, and I have no regrets taking the time to visit with them. Through their guidance and information, We were eventually able to secure a $30,000 loan to purchase the equipment and materials we needed. I thought this would be the end of their services, but soon realized there was a whole lot more that was needed in order to operate a Small Business. After about a year in Business, a lot of trial and error, and sleepless nights, we realized we need help. At the time we started the business in Fort Myers, we were living in North Port. The commute was wearing on us, so we eventually moved to Fort Myers, and I decided I needed to contact the SBDC. My next encounter with the FGCU SBDC was even more beneficial. I met with Harry Looknanan Jr., and explained to him how we started and the challenges we were experience with Profitability and Operations. Almost instinctively, Harry understood our situation, and was extremely helpful in deciphering our issues. He educated me on COGS, Profitability, and gave me some very practical guidance on fixing the issues in my business. After our first meeting, I knew I had to get Walter to visit with him, because hearing it from someone other than me might get my Husband to see what I was trying to tell him all along.

Now approaching our second year in Business, we began to see that unless we obtain a physical location outside the Mall to address production, we may not be able to sustain sales. Walter was doing a good job generating Sales, and they were translating into large orders which were not feasibly done at the Kiosk, so I was fulfilling these orders at Home in the garage. Needless to say this was not going to work long term. In addition, there was a National retailer named Lids that operated in the Mall and also offered Embroidery, and was a direct competitor. Fortunately, our service and price per unit was more competitive. The other competitive factor was a screen printing establishment in the Mall that decided to begin offering embroidery as well, probably after recognizing the activity we were having.

At this time, around July 2011 I decided to visit with Harry again, and brought Walter with me. We shared our plans to obtain a physical location and what our financial position was. Harry was very encouraging, and at the same time cautioned us about growing too quickly. By September of 2011 we realized we need to make a move and by October 2011 we had our second location. This has turned out to be the right move, Sales have increased, and this has led to us hiring a part time person.

The SBDC at Florida Gulf Coast University is a member of the Florida SBDC Network, a statewide service network funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the US Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.