By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Evelyn Hou, owner of Bellevue Embroidery, prides herself in doing things right. Her business’ Facebook page is filled with photos of satisfied clients and customers with the hashtag: SwagQueenDidItAgain.
“We can do many things that online stores can’t,” said Hou.
Think Vistaprint on a local level — personalized attention, attention to detail, highly specialized, and more meaningful.
Located in the Factoria Mall, Bellevue Embroidery does embroidery, screen printing, corporate apparel, and other promotional products. If, for example, you want a customized T-shirt to give as a birthday gift, Hou will take the time to educate you.
“I’ll ask the customer if he intends for the shirt to be worn more than once,” said Hou. If the answer is yes, Hou would suggest wording of something the receiver might say often, such as, “Been there, done that,” instead of “Happy Birthday.”
“It might become their favorite shirt and they’ll wear it more often, as opposed to once a year — it just becomes an expensive rag then.”
All year round, and especially during gift-giving time like the holidays, it’s not unusual for Hou to get frantic calls from customers needing something the next day. Then those same customers would remark at the cost.
“They’ll tell me it’s cheaper online and ask why my cost is higher.”
Hou then explains, “You can order online, but you’re not going to get it today. If you pay for the rush fee — it’s still not guaranteed that you’ll have it in your hands tomorrow. It takes time to process orders. But we can take care of that for you.”
Joy Sircar McMillen agreed. “The service factor is so different when you’re in the store.”
McMillen owns Kahini Fashion Boutique, also in the Factoria Mall, which carries long dresses, cocktail dresses, tops, sweaters, and jackets. McMillen has her own design line, and her store features clothing created by emerging local designers, as well as those from Los Angeles and New York.
One product that has withstood competition of online sellers is the long dress.
“People are more careful about the fit of a long dress and the measurements are harder to
gauge online,” said McMillen.
“We have done custom dresses for pageants, weddings, mother of the bride, mother of the groom,” said McMillen. She said she loves interacting with customers. Aside from helping them with their choice of clothes, McMillen offers additional consultation on accessories and jewelry.
“You can’t get that kind of personalized service online.”
Like Hou, McMillen has seen the growth of online companies affect her business. Both owners said it has become more difficult for people to find them.
“It’s hard to be found online, especially against some other companies who have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on Google AdWords and end up on the first page of a Google search,” said McMillen.
Hou insists the quality and workmanship her store offers is better than what you can find online.
“Have you ever seen embroidered logos on shirts that curl and pucker? People think it’s the norm, but it’s not.”
“Other companies don’t understand the depth of embroidery like we do,” Hou said. “It has to have a certain density, certain design color, and the correct backing so after laundering, the logo doesn’t pull (on the fabric).”
Hou recalled seeing a fellow business owner at a local Chamber of Commerce meeting wearing a shirt with his company logo. She said to him, “You must be dirven.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Dirven. That’s what it says on your shirt,” replied Hou.
“It’s supposed to be ‘driven,’” said the man.
Hou then explained to her friend that if she had been commissioned to do the job, she would have caught that mistake.
Or she would have fixed it without charging an extra fee.
“We are very meticulous,” said Hou. “We cannot do it wrong. There are hard costs. We cannot make mistakes. If that shirt was $20, guess what? It just cost me that and more to replace it with another shirt and do it right.”
Hou said some customers will bring in personal items that they want to put a logo or design on.
“It could be something they’ve had for a long time. We can’t replace something like that. We HAVE to get it right.”
“We’re still here,” Hou said of small businesses. “We’re harder to find (online), but we’re still around to help you.”
Ruth can be reached at email@example.com.