As cheaply made, offshore clothing imports continue to batter U.S. shores with tsunami-like ferocity, more distributors here are using single-head embroidery machines to weather turbulent domestic competition in the promotional products industry

Whether buying or leasing, a single-head machine is giving some distributors the greatest competitive edge in supplying embroidered apparel -- since fax machines hit the workplace 30 years ago. Distributors, using single head machines, can now deliver quality samples within days while competitors are playing phone tag with the order department at large embroidery firms.

By leasing a single head machine, like a  an SWF or another brand, for about $300 a month -- or buying one outright for between 15,000 and $20,000 - the power of the machines has been placed into the hands of the distributor who needs 15 navy polo shirts, with ACME Tools, top left in gold lettering, for its Labor Day picnic.

One of the big things we've seen with the really large embroidery orders going overseas, is that the demand, domestically, for people to do more short run work has increased. With that is the increased popularity of promotional products dealers with web sites and shopping cars, versus door-to-door sales.

Single head machines are easier than ever to learn and use; they can be installed in a back room at an office or in the distributor's home. Increasingly, people are looking for a fast turnaround because they can get it
Paul Malham, president of Fast Embroidery Tapes, says single-head embroidery machines give a newfound control to the distributor -- that they've never had or even envisioned. Offshore production has taken bigger orders away in the U.S., so there's more competition for smaller orders  

Thus, it's becoming more and more important to create some sense of control in running your business when it comes to small orders, because small orders lead to big orders, he says.

Malham's Fast Embroidery Tapes is an industry leader in the technology of digitizing embroidery files, archiving these files and giving distributors one-click access, 24/7, to their own files. FET's capabilities perfectly complement the new business model of having a single-head embroidery machine in-house.

Having a single head machine will absolutely pay for itself in increased sales by the increased use of spec samples, says Malham. With one new order a month, for $1,000, you would cover the cost of the machine.

And, Malham warns, misfiring on a small order, especially a first order, can be disastrous. You have to be very careful with that first order because the customer is testing you. You have to establish yourself as a reliable source. The buyer's job depends on reliably sourcing the needs for his company, so you need to make that person look good in the eyes of his boss. As orders get smaller you have to perform extremely well in order to get bigger orders, which you can do with a single-head machine.”

Distributors have to be out there selling, says Malham. They don't have a week to go to Phoenix and learn a complicated machine. But with today's, user-friendly single-head machines, they get great in-house control by doing their own short-run jobs. In turn they can impress first-time customers and create more business.

Adds Malham, Spending money on a single head machine, like a Tajima, is an insurance policy to your success by giving you the capabilities your competitors don't have. You can be up and running within hours. Learning to run one of these machines is a little like learning how to use a color copier.

Jay Hall, owner of Promos and Logos, Inc., near Atlanta, says that Up until August of last year this company had always farmed out their embroidery and would wait for three or four weeks to get it back. And so did we, when we bought the company in 2001.

But after an incident with a vendor, when the order didn't come through on time, we felt we had to find another embroider or do the job ourselves, says Hall, whose company now has three single-head machines.  

Now, if I need 165 button-down polos, we can turn them around in four days by running our three machines around the clock, Hall says. One of the main reasons in doing it ourselves is our being particular and having quality control going out the door. We want the best product in a timely manner, coupled with the best service. 

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