By Sandy Seha
If you were to ask Threads Custom Apparel owner, Lisa Vaupel, 10 years ago if she would be a successful business owner 10 years later, she would have replied “when pigs fly!”
Lisa knew she wasn’t cut out for a traditional career – especially one that required her to dress up. She prefers jeans, tees and flannel. She was employed by Bluff Country News Group doing pagination and graphic design when she came across the classified listing Chosen Valley Threads for sale. “My customer experience was through the roof, but I didn’t know how to sew or run a business,” remarked Lisa. “What I really wanted to learn was screen printing,” she said. Chosen Valley Threads’ screen printing was done by their son who operated the screen printing as a separate business. He discouraged Vaupel. He said screen printing takes years to perfect. The Vaupels went ahead with the purchase in 2012, which included the embroidery machines in use at Threads today.
Within six months of becoming business owners, 203 Main Street came up for sale. “This was huge,” exclaimed Lisa, “especially after committing to being a business owner. The opportunity to own the building was a plus. It’s a beautiful historic space with an excellent main street location. The rental units made it possible financially.”
Lisa had a vision for Threads Custom Apparel, but she felt completely out of her element. She said, “I kept telling myself, if I can make it two years, I won’t be completely mortified. I took baby steps and was constantly regrouping and learning, but two years came and went. I made it!”
Part of her vision was to beef it up – to grow and expand and offer different services. She especially hoped to increase the in-stock inventory. “We had to make a huge investment in something that would just sit waiting to be sold. The in-stock inventory helps customers visualize what the product they are ordering will look and feel like.” Threads has a lot of Chatfield spirit wear along with other fun apparel and gifts. “Maroon and white are great school colors because many other districts have the same colors and this makes it even easier for them to make selections when custom ordering,” states Vaupel. Over time, Lisa learned what clothing lines are reliable and have consistent sizing and color dye. Threads has a fantastic 10-year partnership with their screen printer. Confidence in vendors increased her confidence with customers – most local, but some as far as Iowa and Minneapolis.
“We didn’t have a glorious business plan. I was constantly evaluating and making changes to do it better, listening to what customers wanted and asking myself what I can do to make customers want to bring business to Threads.” Just two years after purchasing 203 Main St., the adjacent property became available to purchase. “The two were once connected, but a wall had been built. It was pretty easy to make them into one store again,” stated Lisa. “I always wanted to have some home décor and gift items and the extra space made this possible.”
COVID-19 required Threads to adapt and get creative. They had a steady past two years regardless. “We found a vendor during the shutdown to make senior yard signs. Our old time cash register was replaced with a modern POS. We were able to create an online store with a start and an end date for teams and special events to place and pay for orders. Students can order and pay for sports apparel through our website directly.” remarks Lisa. The vinyl transfer material Threads uses has improved in longevity, wear, cost and quality. “Vinyl allows us to make small quantities and do fun custom stuff cost effectively without the set up fees of screen printing. Screen printing is the way to go for large quantities.” Even with these great advances in the last two years, Lisa says the supply chain is still a huge issue. “If any part of a hat – the plastic bill or the grommet – is unavailable, the product is unavailable. We get alerted when something we want is back in stock, but within minutes of the alert it’s already gone. This is especially hard for small businesses with less purchasing power.
The staff are incredible and it’s obvious they work hard and have a ton of fun working together. When a longtime employee moved on a year ago, employee Jennifer Halverson stepped up to the plate and helped tremendously. “We hired two part-time staff to replace the full-time person and we streamlined duties to be more efficient. One person focuses on embroidery and the other focuses on customer service,” Lisa shared.
There’s a collection of flying pigs behind the service desk. Lisa collects flying pigs and has been gifted many. What started out whimsical, has become much more. It’s now the official trademark of Threads Custom Apparel. They’ve designed a fantastic new logo based on the flying pig and Andrea Hindt painted a flying pig mural in the alley behind Threads. The phrase “when pigs fly” resonates with Lisa regarding customer service. “Flying pigs are impossible. To me, this evolved into meaning that anything is possible. If a customer wonders if it’s possible to create a custom item for them, I’d like to think it is,” smiles Vaupel.