Team managers, business owners and event organizers travel across the Berkshires to see Alfred Enchill and his son Auric of Elegant Stitches when they want custom embroidered and silkscreened t-shirts and apparel. Their business grew substantially since it started in 1990s. But, it was starting to level out and needed help to grow to the next step.
“This business has changed many times,” said Alfred. “Somewhere in 1994, my then wife was designing African clothes and we would go to trade fairs and such to sell them. Our Husqvarna sewing machine had the ability to do embroidery, so we would embroider names on bibs and stuff and take them to the shows to sell with the African clothes.”
“One day I said to my wife, ‘have you noticed that we sell more of the embroidery than we do of the African clothes?’,” he added. “So, I started looking around noticed that there wasn’t an embroidery shop in Pittsfield. I looked into it more and found out that people in Pittsfield who needed embroidery were ordering it from somewhere else. So, we started the embroidery business in our Pittsfield basement.”
The early days were hard. Alfred has a contract delivery business working for the post office as his main source of income.
“When I finished my post office route, I would do the embroidery business. I changed myself into a suit and tie and went door to door, mostly in Pittsfield’s industrial parks. I would give out cards, show them samples, and go to trade shows,” said Alfred.
Alfred believes that Berkshire businesses like to support local businesses and that helped Elegant Stitches to grow. They opened a shop at First and Fenn Streets near downtown. The store was destroyed a few years later in an arson fire.
“That was heartbreaking,” Alfred said. “But the community came out to help us. A guy even offered us a storefront on Tyler Street for free to use for six months.”
Now operating out of a building they purchased less than one-half mile from their original location on First Street, the company expanded to include screen printing and vinyl heat press printing in addition to embroidery for hats, sweatshirts, t-shirts, stockings, shorts, outerwear, towels, blankets, business apparel and more.
Yet, Alfred and Auric believed that the company needed to change again in order to grow. They believed that any potential growth was limited because customers had to come to the store to place an order. For example, a sports team member in a southern Berkshire town would need to travel to Pittsfield to customize their product.
“We had a website, but it was really outdated,” Auric said. “We needed something new that would give customers the ability to design products and place orders online.”
Elegant Stitches applied for and received a technical assistance grant from the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation (PERC) to create a new website.
“PERC has been phenomenal. Everyone is super friendly and approachable. They’re willing to help you out, which is what you want,” said Auric.
“Laurie made it very easy for us and the Board was extremely friendly,” Alfred added.
With the new website in place, Elegant Stitches expanded across the county and has entered the college market, with sales to Brown University and Wesleyan College.
“Parents and students can go on our website and personalize their order. We can then ship it to them or they can pick it up. It is really much more convenient for them. Parents can be coming from North County or South County and we are in the middle of it. We don’t want them to have to travel if it is not convenient for them,” said Auric. “With Brown and Wesleyan, we created online stores just for them. I can’t be in Rhode Island to take orders. So, having an online store means that they can purchase custom items and then we will ship it out to them a month or three weeks later. It has really revolutionized the business.”
In less than one year, the business grew more than 30%, Auric said. They also now have an online database of their customers and plan to use it for email and online marketing to increase business further.
“Pulling the customer through the sales funnel is now much smoother and requires less work. We don’t have to cold-call customers as much. It allows us to have more time on the machines to produce more products. It has freed up our schedule and made us more efficient as well,” said Auric.
“Yeah, it really turned our business around,” Auric concluded. “And, it literally would not have happened without the PERC grant.”
– by Roger Matus