Small golf business in Cary looks locally to manufacture products

vbridges@newsobserver.comNovember 25, 2013 

  • Small Business Saturday

    • American Express founded Small Business Saturday in 2010 as a way to help increase traffic in independent shops on one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year. It’s tucked between Black Friday and Cyber Monday and is Nov. 30 this year.

    •  Information on local deals: Shop Local Raleigh www.shoplocalraleigh.org and Sustain-a-Bull www.sustainabull.net.

    •  Shop Local Raleigh’s business-to-business service providers: bit.ly/17VbuGK.

— Yarn is twisted in Hickory. Leather is sourced from High Point. Liners come from Burlington.

That’s part of the Cary-based Stitch Golf’s production line that snakes across the state to the Triangle in tracks left by a deflated furniture industry.

More than two years ago, Charlie Burgwyn of Holly Springs packed a suitcase and went door to door, factory to factory, county to county. He was looking for a production line of products and services that would allow him and his partner to build a company around a sleek and classic leather, “Made in the U.S.” golf club cover with a price between $29 and $55.

Determined to find vendors within driving distance from Cary, Burgwyn stopped in Hickory, High Point, Albemarle and Troy.

“Everywhere that they had some type of manufacturing of textiles,” he said.

The company shipped its first cover on Nov. 21, 2011, to the Winged Foot Golf Club, 25 miles north of New York City. Since then, Stitch Golf has manufactured 200,000 club covers and brought in several millions of dollars in revenue, distributing to 1,200 private clubs and resorts across the U.S.

While the “shop local” message is emphasized by campaigns – such as this weekend’s fourth annual Small Business Saturday – some businesses and organizations are highlighting the benefits of taking that practice to another level through local business-to-business sourcing.

Local goods? Start small

Retailers might not be able to coordinate an entire manufacturing process, but it’s possible to incorporate some locally-made specialty items and turn to local businesses for services and items such as rug cleaning, tax calculations and supply paper and ink, said Jennifer Martin, executive director of Shop Local Raleigh, an arm of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association.

“In the last three months, we have really started making this a big focus of what we are doing,” Martin said.

Studies have shown that when consumers buy products and services from independent, locally-owned businesses instead of from big-box retailers, it helps to strengthen the community’s economic base.

When small-business owners use local business-to-business providers and vendors, it brings the “shop local” practice full circle and makes that multiplier effect that much stronger, Martin said.

It may take owners more time to find the most appropriate service providers, Martin said, but the advantages include working with professionals who are more vested in community business and who can offer personalized services and products.

Shop Local Raleigh has created a business-to-business service section to help small businesses find the services they need.

Becca Smith is the director of marketing for Smith & Smith CPA, a family-owned-and-operated business in Cary. She said local firms such as hers provide better customer service and have more knowledge about the area and its related laws and regulations; additionally, they can serve as a resource for referrals to other businesses.

Smith has been meeting monthly with a Shop Local business services task force, which monthly seeks to emphasize the importance of local businesses.

“You don’t have to outsource it to somewhere else in the country. Put local first,” Smith said.

A quest turned local

When Burgwyn set out on his quest, he wasn’t really thinking about the shop local movement, he said. He was thinking about the hassles of shipping overseas and the importance of quality control.

“It is a necessity for us to be able to keep a watchful eye on what we are doing, and to be able to get a product and turn it as quickly as the demand is,” Burgwyn said.

Burgwyn and business partner Steve Pena founded Stitch Golf in 2011. Burgwyn has worked in sales and licensing for golf accessories and apparel for about 12 years; Pena has been in apparel design and luxury retail for about 18 years.

Burgwyn talked to owners of businesses in the furniture and textile business, looked at equipment and helped everyone to visualize the possibilities of entering the golf industry.

Not everybody was accepting, but once they understood the volume, “they changed their tune,” he said.

After Winged Foot, Stitch Golf sold to Pinehurst Resort. In 2012, the company went to the U.S Open and the PGA Championship.

“It just quickly snowballed, and you know everybody else wanted to have a Stitch cover in the shop,” Burgwyn said. Now they are distributing their covers in Japan, Korea, Germany, Canada and major U.S. retailers.

Stitch Golf’s Cary home base employees 12. They also have 20 independent sales representatives and contracts with various businesses, including four sewing facilities: two in High Point, one in Morganton and another in Troy.

“We are actually getting ready to launch a fifth in Liberty,” Burgwyn said.

All together, there are about 45 people across the state on the average workday creating Stitch Golf covers, he said.

The company keeps a few thousand covers in its inventory for online sales, but it otherwise manufactures product in response to demand. That system is what drove Stitch Golf to be a profitable, debt-free business in a short period of time.

Stitch Golf is also launching a new knit club cover product in December, which translates into 10 new employees and more work for vendors in Hickory and Troy.

Tom McFadden, owner of Royal Embroidery & More – which is located down the street from Stitch Golf in Cary – started providing custom embroidery for Stitch in the spring. Royal Embroidery’s revenue has increased by 25 percent because of the partnership. McFadden expects revenue to continue to rise, as he has increased his production capacity by 50 percent in the last three months. He has also added two employees and expects to add more.

“If I add additional capacity, they will have the work,” McFadden said.

Burgwyn said that he thinks small-business owners could take advantages of local sourcing if they take the time to explore all the niche and interesting businesses nearby.

“There is a lot in your backyard,” Burgwyn said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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