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Hobbyist has become embroidery entrepreneur

Rochester Business Journal
March 29, 2013

Pati Robben's creative mind took her love of art and an art history degree and turned them into the unlikely business of crafting decorated apparel.
"I supply custom-decorated apparel and accessories for businesses, sports teams and gift giving," says Robben, the 43-year-old owner of Robben's Nest Stitchery. "I really love what I do. I love the creative part of it."
Like many small businesses, Robben's Nest began as a hobby.
"When I got married and started having kids, I started a sewing business making children's clothes and other custom work," Robben says. "I did a lot of heirloom sewing where I would take people's wedding dresses and turn them into christening gowns when they had their first baby."
Through word-of-mouth the business quickly grew to include monogramming and personalization. Eight years later, Robben's once-small enterprise has two commercial embroidery machines, a digital cutter, a heat press and two cutting tables.
Robben works from a large studio in her Pittsford home. Clients include the Simply Crepes restaurant in Pittsford and Pittsford Crew, a non-profit organization that supports youth rowing.
Robben provides apparel for waiters and promotional items, as well as hoodies, ball caps, sweats and other "fanwear" that parents and fans might want to purchase to support athletic teams. Robben's Nest also offers gifts such as tooth fairy pillows, on which she embroiders popular characters to entice the tooth fairy to visit.
Prices vary significantly, depending on how complicated a design is, but they start at $7 for three-letter monogramming and business logos and average roughly $1 per 1,000 stitches. Robben declines to discuss revenue except to say that sales have tripled in the last five years.
Customers can order apparel from Robben's website or bring in their own items for embroidering, which differentiates her business from many other custom embroiderers that do not work on items brought to them.
Robben also sets herself apart from competitors with attention to customer service and quick turnaround. Most projects can be finished in three to five days, with larger items done in seven to 10 business days.
"I have an art background and I sewed for a long time, so I think that knowledge of how fabrics act under the needle is important if you want to have a successful embroidery business," she says.
While Robben has a support staff of outside individuals who handle accounting, insurance and bookkeeping, she is the business's only employee.
"As far as the design work goes and actual embroidery of people's apparel and gift items, I run the machines myself," she says. "And that's not something I'm willing to give up just yet."
Short-term goals include the possibility of hiring a helper as well as increasing online sales. Some 60 percent of Robben's Nest's sales are outside Monroe County, she says, and she would like to increase that.
Dealing with taxes and the paperwork that comes with being an entrepreneur are what make Robben want to pull her hair out.
"You get so caught up working in your business, just getting the day-to-day deadlines met, sometimes you forget to work on your business, and I think with help that would be a little bit easier," she says. "Get pointed in the right direction so you're not stumbling and making mistakes others have made."
Despite minor glitches, Robben says she feels blessed.
"I really like learning about what's new in the industry and working in my studio," she explains. "I'm able to work from home; it gives me the flexibility to do things with my children and also do something that I really like."

Small Business is a weekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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