There are businesses that occupy specific niches, and then there are businesses that occupy super specific niches.
One of the latter of these uber business niches is held by Quality Image Embroidery, 74-5563 Kaiwi St., Unit 38, at the corner of Kuikini Highway next to the new Kona Brewery site in Kailua-Kona. It’s owned and operated by Mike Durand.
Quality Image Embroidery will custom embroider pretty much anything you want on pretty much anything you want. They work with restaurants, plumbers, electricians, and virtually any other company needing customized branding or identification, to embroider company names, logos or slogans on shirts, caps, uniforms, blankets, etc. Think of that restaurant you go to that has its name and logo on your server’s shirt. That’s a Quality Image Embroidery type of product.
They also work with non-commercial clients.
“The business/personal sales mix is about 50/50,” Durand said. “Items can be embroidered for baby showers, clubs, events, wedding gifts and teams.”
His most unique embroidery project, he said, was a casket liner for a funeral. Never thought of that, did you?
So how did he ever think of getting into this business?
“I was working in the retail clothing industry and heard about the embroidery business at a clothing show in about 1991, and it sort of took off from there,” Durand said.
Following his introduction to the industry, he owned a shop in Wisconsin from 1991-2012, during which time he won two national embroidery awards and established a patent on industrial embroidery equipment.
After moving to Hawaii he saw the need for industrial embroidery and kept hearing “we could use that here” from friends who knew about his background. Realizing there was a need to be met, Durand opened his current shop in July 2017.
“Embroidery lets people personalize clothing or other items,” he said, “and it allows businesses to standardize the impression they offer to customers while at the same time emphasizing their brand. All of the work we do is done in-house, at an affordable price, and with a fast turnaround that fits into your schedule. We like to think we will go above and beyond for our customers and can complete most projects within one week, with the cost of putting a logo on a shirt, for example, being about $6.”
So exactly how is industrial embroidery done?
If you’re thinking of a little seamstress with a sewing needle bending over a shirt, think again. Embroidery, at least on the industrial level, is done on high tech computerized sewing machines.
“Customers either bring in the design they want, or I can come up with the logo or whatever for them myself,” the business owner explained. “Then the design has to be digitized, which involves scanning it into the computer and setting the location of all the stitches. The machines then stitch according to that pattern on whatever item the customer wants. I’ve even embroidered toilet paper if you can believe it. In fact, one of the embroidery awards I got was for most difficult embroidery project and that was for embroidering ladybugs on an actual cabbage leaf!”
See what I mean about niches?
We all know we are way different here than on the mainland, so what were the challenges in establishing a business in Hawaii?
“Well, in addition to the overall cost of things, the hardest parts for me were shipping expenses and the differences between leasing here and on the mainland,” Durand said. “Finding available, decent looking space with ample parking and at an affordable price was difficult. I wanted a space I would be proud of, and I finally found it. It’s a whole different ball game from the situation on the mainland that I was used to.”
He was helped in setting up his business by the West Hawaii Small Business Development Center, and while he certainly brought a lot to the table in the way of experience and entrepreneurship, he praised the SBDC’s input as both a local information source and a “cheerleader.”
OK, we’ll take that.
“It’s a nice feeling building trust in people in general and in my customers, specifically,” Durand said. “Going from being a newcomer to being accepted as a part of the community and treated as an ‘uncle’ is a nice feeling. I truly try to make friends with my customers and make them feel like part of my ohana, and I love being welcomed as part of theirs.”
Business owners, pay attention: We could all learn a lesson in customer service from this friendly and experienced Midwesterner, embroidering his way into Kona’s heart.
Dennis Boyd is the director of the West Hawaii Small Business Development Center, which is funded in part with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of Hawaii at Hilo. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.