American Hero Clothing is bursting at the seams!

Dreamer: Michelle Sanderson Winner

Business: American Hero Clothing

Location: Larchwood, IA

Industry Contest: Retail/Wholesale

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Founded by an Army veteran in 2011, we are an e-commerce on-trend boutique. We specialize in custom, high-quality women's rhinestone-decorated apparel to honor American heroes. We are bursting at the seams due to amazing growth & loyal customers and need to expand!
Business Description:
American Hero Clothing’s mission statement is clear - “Honor Your Heroes.” Owner Michelle Sanderson, an Army veteran, wants just that-for everyone to be able to show their support and love of their heroes with her unique and trendy clothing and accessories.

Beginning with only offering custom rhinestone clothing geared toward American heroes (Our troops & veterans, firefighters, law enforcement, EMTs & paramedics), it has since expanded to other mediums of clothing decoration (screen print, embroidery, vinyl) and any subject matter for the design.

The year before American Hero Clothing (AHC) began, Michelle was surprised with the addition of identical triplet boys to her family of four. With five boys now to raise, all under the age of 5, Michelle wanted to be able to both provide extra income for her family and also be able to be home to raise her children. The strong desire of wanting to be home with her young children pushed Michelle to work hard and make a business that women world-wide can't live without!

Having gained 7 1/2 years of experience with graphic design for screen printed clothing at her parents' business, she combined that with her love of her country and all those who serve. The result was that she started creating beautiful rhinestone designs on clothing and began promoting her small business on social media.

What she was not expecting was how quickly her business would grow! Word spread and orders were coming in faster than she could keep up. Originally set up to decorate clothing with rhinestones by hand, as more and more designs were being requested she soon realized the need for an automatic rhinestone setting machine.

From the beginning, Michelle worked only when the boys were sleeping, Michelle is now flooded with orders and working whenever she has a spare minute. By 2014, she had sold 150% more than the year prior. January 2015 has been a record breaking month in sales for AHC. In a month that is typically the slowest of the year for retail sales, this is monumental for this thriving at-home business.

Although the growth has been thrilling, it has become more and more difficult to keep up with designing and production as well as giving each customer the important midwest customer service experience. With Michelle being the only employee, she handles customer service, advertising, social media, designing, producing clothing, website design and upkeep, shipping and follow up as needed.

It is clear that word of mouth from amazingly loyal customers has helped American Hero Clothing become successful. E-mails, YouTube videos, raves left on the website and social media all have helped new people to find the business. The love that pours into the clothing is witnessed by all customers who receive our products. American Hero Clothing's customers are proud to wear our clothing and share the love with their family, friends and co-workers.

AHC is beginning its fourth full year of business. It has a very strong customer base that continues to expand. There is no direct competition to American Hero Clothing. Michelle feels she sets herself apart from any company with her focus being on the highest quality clothing and rhinestones and small-town, midwest customer service. She truly loves each and every one of her customers and is thankful beyond words that they are helping her to be a work at home mom to five children.

American Hero Clothing strives to give back to veterans and its local community in Lyon County. A percentage of the profits are donated to military charities. Clothing is also donated to ATLAS of Lyon County.
Reason for Entering:
Michelle is in need of a way to be able to be more efficient. With as many orders as she is taking in on a daily basis and handling hundreds of orders at once, help is necessary. Michelle would like to hire an employee to help handle the day to day functions of the business as well as help with production.

To help make the growth as seamless as possible, she would need an additional computer, rhinestone setting machine, heat press and vinyl cutter. Michelle would also like to move her office space, which would include minimal renovation to the space. She would use her winning grant money to help renovate the new office space and purchase this equipment that total over $10,000.

There have been times when equipment has needed maintenance, and that has brought production to a stand-still. Having additional machines would not only help with efficiency in getting orders done, but also is essential in keeping her business going, even when one machine needs a rest! Michelle strives to have not just great quality, but also great customer service-including reasonable production time.