No job too big or too small!

Mowbray Sports’ unit in South Shields

Created out of a desire to do things better, P&P editor Melanie Attlesey speaks to Geoff Hemmerman, founder of South Shields-based Mowbray Sports about ice hockey, printing, embroidery and more.

When you think garment decoration, I’m sure that ice hockey is not a sport that immediately springs to mind. But it is for Geoff, for he has spent the last nine years supplying and managing all the apparel for ice hockey teams across England and Scotland.

It wasn’t a business plan that was just plucked out of the air, but one that was moulded over a period of time owing to a growing frustration with unreliable suppliers and a lack of choice.

For many years prior to the formation of Mowbray Sports, both Geoff and his business partner Jacqueline Pye were involved with running separate ice hockey clubs at both junior and senior level.

Geoff picks up the story: “Through this we both became involved with the governing bodies for the sport. As with the clubs we had run there were many frustrations around team uniforms, including poor garment options, garment suppliers using third party embroiderers, lack of consistency of supply, not getting deliveries on time and discontinued garment ranges – everything that makes life difficult for a sports club. For example, our suppliers could supply for a year one or two and then products were no longer available, which is not a good scenario when you are constantly going back to parents saying they need to buy new uniforms.”

In 2010 the pair decided that they had had enough of suppliers letting them down.

We can do this better

“I turned to Jacqueline and said, I’m sure we can do this better,” says Geoff. “We started with one commercial Brother sewing machine in the dining room, which quickly grew to three.”

If you attend an ice hockey championship you may very well see the Mowbray Sports team selling merchandise they have printed and embroidered. Here they are at the 2020 Olympic qualifiers held in Nottingham

Now Mowbray Sports supplies and manages all the apparel for the English Ice Hockey Association regional ice hockey teams, England and Scotland ice hockey teams, along with all the Great Britain ice hockey teams.

In addition to all of this, Mowbray Sports also runs its own website with specialised dedicated web shops, carrying out contract embroidery for a number of schoolwear, workwear and sportswear clients. Mowbray Sports also produces event merchandise for various events from production through to point of sale.

All of these contracts require high-quality equipment and apparel to produce high-quality prints and embroidery. The list of equipment that Mowbray Sports uses is quite extensive and includes one eight-head ZSK, one six-head ZSK, two four-head ZSKs and one single-head ZSK Sprint.

“This mix of machines gives us great flexibility for large embroidery jobs along with the options to carry out multiple smaller jobs as you always get, for example when top ups are required as not every job is a large job,” explains Geoff.

Everything from embroidery design and conversion is done in house using Wilcom Embroidery Studio 4.2 and CorelDRAW, something which sets Mowbray Sports apart from the competition.

Alongside embroidery, Mowbray Sports also offers full colour transfer printing and vinyl printing using a Roland Versacamm SP300I and Roland vinyl cutters.

Different production methods

“The machines we use gives us options to use different production methods. We can cope with large orders or small orders. We do not have any minimum order quantities, so this brings many orders from companies that do not want big bundle offers. Stocks Sewing Machines and Print Max have both been a great help to us,” Geoff explains.

For the four-man team, comprising of Geoff and Jacqueline who are joined by Rebecca Pye and Kerry Lovelle, no job is too small, too big or too complicated as Geoff explains: “We have found some vinyl logos particularly challenging because of tiny detail some people ask for, which can be very time consuming. But we never give up and always deliver a logo that the customer is happy with.”

When it comes to garments, being associated with ice hockey naturally drives Mowbray Sports to ice hockey brands such as Bauer, Warrior and CCM. On occasions, Mowbray Sports also turns to other brands such as Joma, Errea, Macron and Kappa when football, netball, cricket or rugby teams seek out branded kit.

For other aspects of decoration, Mowbray Sports also uses hoodies from Papini and garments from Chadwick Teamwear, the reason being: “They are all very good quality and come from a reliable supply chain,” says Geoff.

No average day

No one day is average in Mowbray Sports’ production facility. The team of four are busy throughout the year, but May through to August is when they will embroider the majority of their school garments.

“Like many embroiderers, ours is not a 9-5 job, nor is it five days a week. It’s a case of putting as much time in as we need to meet required deadlines,” says Geoff.

Hoodies for England ice hockey team being embroidered on a six-head ZSK

It is this drive to please and meet customers’ requirements, which has led customers to comment on the team’s friendly approach and willingness to meet deadlines. Customers also enjoy the fact that they do not have to commit to minimum order quantities, as well as the support offered in setting up and developing logos, which is Mowbray Sports’ speciality. “I guess most of our customers would say our specialty is our large logo team and supporters’ hoodies that we produce,” says Geoff.

Having been in the game for nearly a decade, there is plenty about the job that Geoff enjoys, and with this experience, he is in a good position to be able to impart advice to those who are thinking about getting started in garment decoration.

He offers: “It’s very hard work. Margins are very tight and it’s a very competitive. You will make mistakes and you need to be prepared to absorb that. I would advise that you spend a lot of time considering what machines you need and what type of work do you want to do. Good luck to anyone that is considering garment decoration.”

Business hurdles

Hurdles are something that business start-ups must become accustomed to jumping over on their road to success. And at this moment in time there is no bigger hurdle than the current coronavirus pandemic. Geoff describes this as the most difficult of all situations and during his 10 years in business he has not had to deal with anything bigger.

“Nothing we have ever had to deal with will be more difficult than COVID-19 as this horrendous virus has closed down every customer we have. This is not something that only affects us but everyone in the industry. It’s very difficult times. Like many companies the staff have had to be put on furlough with me doing all the jobs I never get chance to do – in the hope that when the time is right we are in a good place to keep pace with our customers as business such as schools, sport and leisure start to come back to life. All this being said beating the virus is by far the most important thing and something we all have to play our part in,” he says.

Once the UK, the economy and the garment decoration industry overcomes this gigantic hurdle, Geoff has plans for the further development of Mowbray Sports. He says: “I would like to see us get more involved with direct supply of school uniforms. We know we can manage the volume and have options to expand. Having undertaken contract school embroidery for a number of years now, I know that this is something we can undertake with very little change to our current structure.”

For someone who has never played ice hockey, Geoff has done quite well making a successful business producing high-quality teamwear and merchandise.

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