Person of the Week
Wes and Allison Hurner
People ask, “How can you work with your husband? How can you work with your wife?” We look at them and say, “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
1. What led you to the mission of being custom embroiderers?
Allison: Wes did hand embroidery when he was growing up. I had a ladies’ clothing business before I met Wes. When we met we wanted to combine the business between clothing and embroidery.
Wes: I grew up as a little kid on the farm in the Red River Valley of Minnesota, coal country and some of the richest farmland in the world. We had a thousand acre farm. It’s in Moorhead, Minnesota, near Fargo, North Dakota. It’s the bottom of old Lake Agassiz from the ice age. It’s some of the coldest country up in that area. It’s not uncommon between Christmas and the middle of January to have two or three weeks when the warmest it gets is between twenty below zero to forty or forty-five below zero.
I remember when my dad tied a rope to the barn – maybe a hundred yards away – and attached it to the house. During blizzards you couldn’t see any more than a hand in front of your face. We would hold that rope to get to the barn. We had to take care of the cattle, milk the cows, and follow the other livestock.
My dad always did tatting – like making the really fine doily lace. There was nothing to do on those forty below zero nights. So, when I was a little boy, I watched my father do tatting and got interested in hand embroidery. When I saw embroidery done by machine, I thought, “Wow!”
Allison: Your older brother does hand embroidery also. He’s over seventy years old.
Wes: Yes. I watched him do embroidery with my dad. We didn’t have any TV or anything else, so there were lots of times to embroider in the winter.
Allison: Those were the days when you didn’t have TV to occupy your time. You had a lot of quality time to do things.
Wes: That’s the reason why I’ve always liked embroidery. Allison was in the clothing business, so we started off by personalizing clothes. It grew from there. A lot of our work is taking people’s ideas, designs, and logos and putting them on fabric.
Allison: We’ve been doing this for eighteen years. To do this work, you have to have the artistic ability to draw out the designs and digitize them on the computer.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
Wes: It’s self-fulfilling because I can take logos, designs and pictures, build them, and watch as I put them on clothing
Allison: There’s nothing more satisfying then to have customers come up with their child or grandchild. We’ll make them a new t-shirt and right away they’ll put them on because they are so excited. Especially during the holidays, you’ll have customers come up and say, “Oh I got my dad a hat and that’s all he ever wears.” Or they’ll say, “I got my mom a sweatshirt, and she doesn’t take it off.” They really enjoy that personalized gift.
Wes: I was walking around an Airstream rally once, and about ninety percent of the people were wearing the shirts and hats we had embroidered.
Allison: I feel we are very blessed.
Wes: How many times, Allison, have people come up to you to say, “How do you work together? How can you work with your husband? How can you work with your wife?” We look at them and say, “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Allison: Wes is my best friend.
3. What was your best day being custom embroiderers?
Wes: We look forward to meeting customers. That’s the highlight of every show – to renew the friendships of the customers that are so loyal and just keep coming back. A lot of them will come by just to say, “Hello.” They might not even buy anything, but we let them know for sure, “That’s great! Thanks for stopping by!” They’ll greet us and go on their way. Here’s a highlight. They’ll stop by and say, “Last year you made me a jacket and I wear it all the time. Every time I go into some place, everybody comments about it.”
Allison: I just got an email from a customer that we met five or six years ago. They live up in northern New York. We made them two jackets. She emailed us and said, “I don’t know what I ever did without those jackets.” She just absolutely loves it. She’ll drop me an email every now and then. We develop friendships with our customers.
Wes: We went to Montana and came into the campground. There were people across the road, standing hand in hand blocking the way, and making sure we got out of the truck to give them hugs. Only then would they let us in. When we were unloading or loading, people came and offered their help. Our customers are wonderful people. They don’t realize how neat they are!
Allison: We’ve gone on vacation with customers. We’ve had them at our house. It’s just overwhelming. We’re very lucky to know them.
4. What was your worst day being custom embroiderers?
Allison: When you are sick and you have the flu and you have to work! Nobody pays you when you are sick, so you have to work even though it is a struggle.
Each show we do, there is a different circumstance. For instance, when we do the New Jersey show, it’s over 100 degrees and the humidity is outrageous. But, most times we are inside where there the temperature is controlled.
Wes: Some days, everything I do – meaning running the machines – goes wrong. For example, I’m totally colorblind. People are always commenting about, “How do you do this or that being color blind?” What I do is memorize where all of my spools are on the racks. They all look the same, so we keep them in the same spot. When I put a spool on a machine, I have to remember what color it is, where it goes, what part it is for, and so on and so on. If I mess that up, it becomes a really bad day. If all of a sudden I put the wrong color in, we’ve got to throw the garment away.
Allison: It’s usually because I put a spool back in the wrong spot. You do so very well.
Wes: Well, here’s how we do it. I’ll draw out a design and when I’m done and happy with that design, Allison will come and sit down with me and say, “Here’s the steps of the design, you assign the colors to make it look good.”
Allison: We’ve got computerized equipment. Two years ago our computer went down so we were working on a back-up computer. We were basically limping along. Then two machines were down. We were hoping, “Just get me through the show!”
Wes: On that day I got one of the machines going and felt really good, but the computer went out on me. If I’ve got people who want something right away, I just can’t do it.
Allison: You can’t go out and buy any computer. It has to be one that can run certain software.
Wes: I have to have specially made computers. The computer I have built for us is not capable of going on the Internet. They don’t even print out anything. It only does the embroidery program – a very complex and detailed program. That computer is built just to handle that program alone. When it goes down, we don’t have another one that is ready to go. There is no back up. That’s just the way it is.
Allison: It doesn’t happen very often. We carry a backup computer with us, but if you don’t use that computer, it becomes obsolete. For instance, the backup computer is slower. It’s like everything else, once you buy it, they come out with something else.
I think two years ago, we had to pull out our backup computer because the computer went down. We were running on the back-up. Then the back-up went down. Fortunately we have a friend in Pennsylvania who builds computers and he was able to build more computers for us so we can have enough back-ups.
Wes: Yes, if one goes down, I just pull out another one, put in the software, reload it, and then we’re off and running. I train people for Toyota — the brand of machine we use for embroidering. When you go out and fix machines and train people, they don’t realize that this can happen. When their machine goes down, they say, “Oh, I didn’t realize what I’m getting myself into.”
5. How did you survive your worst day?
Wes: I truly ask, “What am I going to do? How do I get all these processed? What are people going to say?” Allison will come over, take me aside, and say, “OK. We’re going to do what we can do. I’ll tell people so-and-so. We’ll mail this out to them and so-and-so will be all right with this.” She works it all out. That’s how I get through it. Really.
Allison: Most people understand. They realize you are dealing with computers and equipment. As long as you do what it takes to make the customer happy, everything ends up OK – even if it costs you a little money. It’s just better to do it that way.
We’ll go to a show and people will see how busy we are and think how we must be making a lot of money. However, what they don’t see is that we are the first ones in and the last ones to leave each day. The extra long, hard hours really play into it.
Wes: We work eighteen-hour days — almost every day. That person who is thinking about a career in embroidery has to consider: Are they willing to put in sixteen to eighteen hour days? Are they willing to make a tremendous investment? Will they take risks? Because… they’ll never know if a show is going to be good or if the economy will start sliding or if people are going to buy their product.
Wes: See. She’s a rock. She’s my rock.
Allison: Ha! I’ve always thought you have to have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. If one doesn’t work, you have to have a back-up plan. Dealing with the public for many years, I just learned to be customer oriented. They may not always be right, but the customer always comes first.
Wes: She’s able to see past the current hour and see the big picture on how this is going to work.
Wes and Allison also have a laser art company. You can see their designs online at kingsdoumcollection.com. An example of their artwork is seen in the picture on the right of this text.