Parents and grandparents who have a child who plays sports, especially club sports or select sports, know how many “fan” items are available to them today – T-shirts, sweatshirts, quarter zip tops, hoodies, blankets, different kinds of hats. . .
All with their team’s name and logo printed or sewn on, or even their player’s name and number, if they so choose.
Dave and Jane Kell, owners of Legacy Embroidery and Screen Printing/MVP Apparel in Washington, say the boom in club sports has been a big factor in driving their business in recent years.
“When I was in school, I don’t think I ever wore a sports uniform with my name on it,” said Dave Kell, a Washington native and 1984 graduate of Washington High School.
But times have changed.
Recently, Legacy fulfilled an order for a team of 60 uniforms which led to orders for some 800 fan apparel for the parents and grandparents of these young athletes.
To meet this type of demand, Legacy is offering teams individualized online stores where parents or grandparents can view a list of specialty items made exclusively for their team online, then select items from the sizes and colors they want and buy them directly.
In years past, that process was more cumbersome, Kell said. The child would bring home an order form that the parents had to fill out and send back to the coach with a check, hoping that nothing was lost or misunderstood in the process.
“Online is where you need to be now,” Kell remarked. “You always need salespeople, but now the internet has to be your biggest salesperson. Online marketing and social media is where it’s at.
Legacy, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, is also revamping its website so customers can go online to design their own t-shirts and items, even uploading artwork.
This service will be ideal for people who want personalized T-shirts for events such as family reunions and company picnics, Kell said. But it will be accessible to everyone.
Started as a side business
Dave Kell, who attended East Central College before earning a business administration degree from Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, was working for a Texas-based matchmaking company when he started taking orders in parallel for what would become Legacy Embroidery and Screen Printing. .
The Texas company only produced matchbooks, but after enough Kell customers asked if they could also supply t-shirts, hats and the like with their logo on them, he decided to pursue that by himself.
Initially, a woman in Washington did all the embroidery work and someone from Defiance provided the screen printing.
Dave asked his then girlfriend, Jane Toben, if he bought an embroidery machine, would she be interested in learning how to operate it? She worked in the district attorney’s office as the director of victim services, but was ready for a change.
He bought a table-top machine from the woman who had done his embroidery work and set it up in Jane’s basement. They went to Chicago for a weekend embroidery school, but realized the best lessons were hands-on.
“We thought it would be easy,” Jane said with a laugh.
“Then we came home and realized we had no idea,” Dave remarked.
“A lot of our dates were figuring it out, doing embroidery,” Jane said with a smile, thinking back on the experience.
It helped that the orders were small and the customers were local, mostly in Washington and St. Louis. Plus, the couple knew they could always turn to their old embroidery supplier for help.
As the couple became more proficient in using the embroidery machine, they added a second, but both machines could only handle one item of clothing at a time.
Eventually, they added a six-head machine (capable of sewing six garments in unison), which they installed in Jane’s garage. They still have this machine in the factory today.
“It’s computer programmed to put them all together at once,” Dave explained. “Each head has 15 needles, so you can do up to 15 colors.
“The original tabletop machine only had one needle, one color. If you changed colors, you had to change threads.
Growth forces new locations
As the business grew over the years, the Kells, who married in 2001, moved it to larger facilities several times.
The first location was on Jefferson Street, in the building where Big Boys Subs is currently located.
The second was the former Hillermann Nursery location on West Fifth Street. They bought the renovated building because it offered more square footage, which allowed them to start doing screen printing jobs in-house, rather than contracting them out. They had up to 10 employees at the time.
The clientele continued to grow, so after several years the Kells built a new facility along Bluff Road (behind The Chest). It was completed in 2005.
The 12,000-square-foot facility spans three acres, providing them with all the space they’ll need, Kell said.
The screen printing department operates three automatic presses and two manual presses, and the embroidery department operates 30 sewing heads.
The business, which includes both Legacy Embroidery and Screen Printing and MVP Apparel, employs around 25 people, depending on the time of year.
The busy season usually runs from March to mid-December, the couple said.
Legacy Broderie et Sérigraphie is the parent company that provides decorating services on various items. MVP Apparel, which was added about eight years ago, handles apparel orders.
Customer service is king
While demand from sports teams drives Legacy’s business, the corporate world has been its customer base for much of the past 25 years.
The company employs eight sales representatives to serve customers throughout the central United States.
“We’re not the biggest embroidery or screen printing company, but when you combine the two, we’re probably one of the biggest in the St. Louis area,” Dave Kell said. “A lot of companies just do one or the other.
“And we also offer specialty items – coffee mugs, pens, golf balls, magnets… Whatever type of item you want.
The Kells credit Legacy’s success to its customer service, which relies on its employees, many of whom have been with the company for 15 or 20 years.
“Our screen printing and embroidery is no different than anyone else’s, but it’s done on time, when we say it’s going to be done,” Dave Kell pointed out. “The sales people we hire are good; they’re nice. And our art department is really good.
Legacy employs three full-time artists who work directly with clients when they need help creating or modifying a logo.
“We’ve had people come in with designs on napkins, and we give them to the art department, and they get it,” Dave Kell said.
Sometimes clients come in with an idea, design, or image they’ve created, and they ask Legacy artists to “clean it up” or “make it more professional.”
In the early years, Legacy had to send the artwork to be scanned. Now it’s done in-house.
“Art is a unique service that we can offer,” said Dave Kell. “It is extremely important.”
“It was a bet”
Sitting in the boardroom at the Legacy facility where they are still catching their collective breath after a month of December brought many nights and weekends of overtime just to get all the orders ready and shipped on time for Christmas, the Kells feel a sense of pride. who just saw a company through the ups and downs of 25 years.
Eleven years ago, 2009 was the toughest time for the company to go through, they said. After the collapse of the US economy, clothing and items with custom logos were the types of extras that businesses and people decided against buying to save money.
The couple said they were fully aware that their decisions affected not just their own family, but the families of all of their employees.
“It was very stressful,” Dave Kell said. “We worried, ‘What if the economy keeps going down?’ ”
That year wasn’t the only downfall for Legacy, but it was the most severe.
Jane said the fact that they both work for the same company made matters even more concerning whenever there was a downturn or a change in the business.
“It was a gamble,” she said. “Leaving my full-time job to join him. I remember telling my parents that I was going to work for him when we were just dating, and my parents were like, ‘What?’ ”
But they were supportive. Jane’s father, the late George “Yatts” Toben, even came to work part-time at Legacy himself, though he did it more to keep busy than anything else.
“He helped trim and take out the trash, things like that,” Jane said. “Even when we were working in my garage, he would come get stuff, bring it to his place to cut or bend or do whatever.”
Yatts liked coming to the plant and the employees liked having him around, the Kells said.
“There’s a large plaque outside the conference room door dedicated to Jane’s father,” Dave said.
Today, Legacy, which has a strong and diverse following of schools, club teams, businesses and corporations, has lived up to its name in more ways than one.
Dave Kell laughs thinking back to how the name was inspired by an album cover, but it fit his vision.
“The idea is that the items we make will have a lasting impact, that they will be a heirloom for the owner,” Kell said.
And after 25 years, Legacy has become that for the community too.
For more information, visit mvplegacy.com or call 636-239-3733. Legacy Embroidery and Screen Printing is located at 6 Pauwels Dr. in Washington.