STANFORD — A Stanford woman who grew her garage-based sewing and alterations business into an international sportswear corporation was recognized by the Kentucky Small Business Administration in 2012 for her unique story.
Beulah Hester, founder and owner of Ump Attire, was featured at the SBA’s lenders’ conference in November as a “Small Business Success Story.”
It’s a far cry from the early 1990s, when Hester was a one-woman sewing operation, working out of her garage.
Hester had trained under an Italian tailor at a sewing factory before opening her own alterations shop in 1985. She brought that business home in 1989 so she could care for her husband after he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
In 1993, a customer brought her an umpire ball bag that needed some work and something clicked. Hester had played softball in her youth, and now that experience was merging with her sewing abilities.
“My softball playing and my training in the factory came together and I developed an umpire ball bag for the National Softball Association,” she said. “The neat thing about that ball bag — it had been used I guess for 100 years, but I had changed it and added new features. A ball bag had never been patented and I was able to patent that ball bag.”
Hester used higher-quality fabric, added elastic, extra pockets and a zippered pouch on the back where umpires could store personal items.
“This bag was used as the product that we grew our company by,” she said. “This is me. I’m a developer of products.”
Over the years, Ump Attire grew, adding new product lines and finding new customers, learning to sell online and utilizing the skills of Kentucky’s Amish to manufacture its products.
An Amish factory facility in Munfordville still makes many 100-percent USA-made Ump Attire products today, Hester said. And there seems to be plenty of demand.
“Right now the Amish are booked up all the way through April,” she said.
Hester said the success of her company would not have been possible without help from area organizations that provide assistance to small businesses.
Hester said Eastern Kentucky University’s Small Business Development Center taught her essentials of operating a business early on, before she knew what she was doing.
“I didn’t know enough about the business to write a complete plan,” she said. “I learned what my strengths were; I learned what my weaknesses were.”
The SBDC then connected Hester with the Berea-based Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which has provided her with business advice and access to loans that helped her through rougher times.
Greg Doyle with MACED said one of his organization’s main goals is to create job growth by helping small businesses succeed and Hester is a shining example of just that.
“Out of all of our clients, she’s been through so much, she’s persevered, and she’s bounced back in so many ways and become remarkably successful,” Doyle said. “She is the first client we brag about to anybody.”
Hester said more small businesses would probably succeed if the owners would acknowledge their shortcomings and seek help from groups like the SBDC and MACED.
“The statistics say that … only 6 percent of small businesses in business today reach out to somebody for free help and advice,” she said.
“It’s one of the things that’s wrong with our economy today. I just really think there’s not any one person who knows everything they need to know about running their business.”