Black Hills Stock Show Agribusiness of the Year: Black Hills Embroidery
It began with a broad knowledge about sewing, a strong entrepreneurial desire, a leap of faith and a tremendous amount of hard work. In the fall of 1986 a small family business was fashioned that has carved its own niches, stood the test of time and created a family legacy for the Pflegers, owners of Black Hills Embroidery.
Their contribution to the Black Hills Stock Show is being recognized this year, as they’re honored as Agribusiness of the Year.
Tami Pfleger, who owns Black Hills Embroidery with her husband Lowell, said, “The recognition is nice because it allows my team to be recognized for their efforts for making us successful as well.”
Black Hills Embroidery worked with the Stock Show to create the logo that is still used to brand Black Hills Stock Show merchandise decades later, and has created quality promotional merchandise every year since.
Lori Maude, secretary for the Black Hills Stock Show Board of Directors, said, “They’re a great partner in bringing our logo to life and being consistent in how it is represented. [Their work] allows us to promote our event in a much broader way.”
“We’ve always tried to provide a positive client experience with top-of-the-line quality service,” Pfleger said.
As for the being awarded Black Hills Stock Show Agribusiness of the Year, Pfleger said that she was “taken off guard… [winning the award] was nothing I had ever thought about.”
Maude said, “Our event wouldn’t be successful without the volunteers and partners that we have…they don’t do this to be recognized, but from our perspective, we know our event wouldn’t be what it is without our partners.”
The BHSS Agribusiness of the Year award nominations come from the public as well as suggestions from the board of directors and award committee members. The award goes to a business that not only helps move the fair and stock show forward, but also helps to move agriculture forward in western South Dakota, Maude said.
A stitch in time…
From the humble beginning in the basement of their rented home, it was always Lowell and Tami Pfleger’s goal to create a unique business based on providing premier quality products, excellent customer service and to always dream big. Lowell’s background in ag lending, coupled with Tami’s background in 4-H and competition sewing background and infused with network marketing skills quickly proved to be a winning combination. Lowell was employed at Farm Credit Services when their first Ultramatic 4-head single needle machine arrived from New Haven Connecticut. They had two small children at the time, so the goal was to run the business from their residence allowing Tami to be home with them.
Custom embroidery orders came in steadily as Tami reached out to the local businesses and sporting goods store in the West River area. Computerized embroidery was a new way of embellishing apparel in the Midwest, so it caught on quickly. The Ultramatic Embroidery Company recognized Tami’s machine operating and sales skills when she attended their factory trainings and hired her to work major industry tradeshows around the country. This allowed her an inside track to the latest apparel, business tools and machine technology, plus created a network of industry professionals for her to reach out to if needed. These experiences gave her the confidence and vision to grow their homebased business in creative ways. Lowell became a certified machine repair technician and the couple began selling Ultramatic embroidery machines in a 5 state area in conjunction with growing Black Hills Embroidery. This strongly influenced the regional growth of the computerized embroidery industry.
At the beginning of 1987 Lowell came on board full time to help to expand the business. He started working with SCORE, an organization that helps with small business development, in Rapid City, to help assure that the business foundation was being solidly put in place. It was through this connection at SCORE that Tami met with the manager of the Mount Rushmore gift shop about selling embroidered polo shirts. With samples in hand she and SCORE representative Oscar Wamsley headed to the meeting, which resulted in an order of 500 polos, which eventually turned into thousands of polo shirts being delivered to the mountain over the next several months. Their 4-head machine ran literally around the clock to meet delivery deadlines.
Expanding out of their home and buying more equipment was the obvious next move. Lowell’s background in finance and him being an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe helped
BHE secured South Dakota’s first BIA/Small Business Administration grant/loan. The business was moved to a retail location on Highway 44, and bought an additional 8-head embroidery machine. Lowell’s sister Jane Crawford, who had worked part time for them during the past two years, became their first full-time employee. They also added digitizing equipment to program the designs for their embroidery machines and Steve Roselles was hired as their art director and digitizer. During the three years at this location, they added a full-time sales and marketing person, as well as a full-time office assistant.
The late 80s brought BHE massive growth, as another business opportunity presented itself with a school/business partnership with Black Hills Special Services. Tami through her tradeshow travels saw a nationwide industry need for USA made caps that offered a panel program to other embroidery business. That meant sending those embroiders the front panel of caps before they were assembled so they could be embroidered flat, then returned to the cap manufacturing company to be completely assembled. So, an alliance was born, the company Alive Headwear was opened in Belle Fourche, SD, through this school/business partnership. The factory provided much needed employment opportunity for the small town and several local ranch wives were hired, which assisted those local families as the ag economy had taken a downturn. Special needs students from Black Hills Special Services utilized the cap factory as a training ground to learn the basic vocational skills required to hold a job. This partnership at its peak saw 16 full time employees and 16 students produce 1,000 caps a day and ship caps all over the US.
For BHE it garnered repeat embroidered cap orders for major companies like British Petroleum, Justin Boots, Marvin Windows and country music singer Clay Walker. The Clay Walker connection also rolled into doing a line of embroidered souvenir merchandise that was sold at his concerts.
The early 90s continued to bring rapid growth to their business. Lowell was bestowed the honor of being named the Small Business Administration’s Minority Business Person of the Year for 1990. Their success to that point had catapulted them into a larger facility. In late 1990 they purchased their own building and BHE moved to their new home at 705 East Watertown Street, where they still reside today.
During this same expansion phase came the opportunity to become the exclusive merchandise vendor for the Black Hills Stock Show. BHE had been vending at the Stock Show for three years when show manager Lisa Kiewel approached Tami about creating an official logo for the event and developing a branded line of souvenir merchandise to be sold. Both Lowell and Tami were excited at this opportunity, as Tami had grown up on a registered Angus farm and Lowell’s family was involved in the Chianina cross cattle, both had a heartfelt tie to the agricultural community. Art director Steve Roselles went to work on creating a logo that would become the recognized “brand” for the growing event. Tami, working alongside Steve, wanted a logo with simple lines that would stand the test of time. In 1990 the official logo was introduced. The first booth was small, along with the line-up of merchandise options, which included embroidered jackets, sweatshirts and Alive Headwear caps, also introduced were screen printed t-shirts that featured a saddle bronc rider. This was the first in a series of rodeo event themed t-shirts that would be offered in the coming years. The merchandise was well received with the first year being basically a sell-out. The “BHSS Brand” caught on and 30 years later, the booth is now 70 feet long and features a huge selection of the latest trends in apparel.
The Black Hills Stock would be the link for BHE’s next venture, which was Lakota Designs. Renowned Native American Artist Donald F. Montileaux worked at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center and became acquainted with Black Hills Embroidery during the annual event. With Lowell’s roots in the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, he appreciated the culture and Don’s pictorial style of artwork. After a few convincing conversations with Tami, Don agreed to design a couple of pieces of artwork that BHE could recreate in thread and embroidery on apparel. Lakota Designs became a premier line of unique apparel that featured Plains Indian artwork, in addition to Don Montileaux, Lakota Designs went on to work with additional Native American artists, such as Rich Red Owl, Martin Red Bear, Jim Yellow Hawk, Wade Patton, Sandy Swallow, Ivan Long and David Dragonfly. The line was promoted at major gift shows, around the country, Wesa in Denver, Colorado, Smokey Mountain Gift in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Dallas Gift Show in Texas, Oasis Show in Phoenix, AZ. Lakota Designs sold locally at Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Prairie Edge. But went on to also be featured at Yellowstone National Park gift shops, Foxwood Casino, Colorado History Museum and numerous other gift shops, museums and trading posts throughout the US.
Lakota Designs then led BHE to their largest order in their business history. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC contacted Black Hills Embroidery to inquire if they would be interested in putting in a bid to produce the souvenir t-shirts to be sold at the Grand Opening of the Museum of the American Indian in 2007. BHE was awarded the bid and produced over 20,000 t-shirts that featured artist Tony Abeta’s artwork for this event. BHE continued to work with the Smithsonian the next three years, providing the souvenir apparel for the National Pow Wow in Washington, D.C. and their Annual Folklife Festival, along with other numerous museum apparel projects.
On the local front, Black Hills Embroidery continued to grow to 40 in-house embroidery heads, a complete art and digitizing department, 14 full time employees and two production shifts a day. The gaming industry was booming in SD and BHE began embroidering the elaborate chair back featuring the different casino logos for Sodak Gaming that would be used in their establishment in Deadwood and Las Vegas.
It was in this decade that the Pfleger children, Ross, Sara and Katy would become involved in 4-H and National Little Britches Youth Rodeo. Since Lowell and Tami had met while on the SDSU rodeo team in college, having their children rodeo was the perfect family past time. They instantly volunteered at the local Black Hills Little Britches Rodeos in Hermosa helping out wherever they could. Both came to serve on BHLBRA for 20 years. Lowell served the majority of those years as the Vice President and Arena Director and Tami handling the sponsorship and rodeo promotion duties. Lowell went on to serve on the National Little Britches Association Board of Directors for 13 years, and served as its President for 2 terms and Vice President for 3 terms. When the new Event Center at the Rapid City fairgrounds was proposed, Tami helped Ron Jefferies campaign to make it happen, attending county meetings and advocating for the project to happen. She was also instrumental in moving the Black Hills Little Britches Rodeos from Hermosa to the Event Center, where for over 10 years the association held five weekends of youth rodeos in the facility. With Lowell still serving as President of the National Little Britches Association and the children aging out of competition, the executive director of the association approached Tami about doing the same thing for that association regarding logo branding as she had done for the Black Hills Stock Show. In 2009 BHE signed on with the NLBRA to become their exclusive merchandise vendor to create a lasting brand for the association. BHE travels to the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma and vends at the National Little Britches Rodeo Finals each year in July.
With BHE’s extensive experience in merchandise vending and their commitment to the western way of life, the company has also been invited to vend at the South Dakota State High School Finals, South Dakota 4-H Rodeo Finals and Western Junior Livestock Show.
Family has always been intertwined with Black Hills Embroidery; all three of the Pfleger children put in their time working at the business throughout their teenage years. Sara graduated from Chadron State College with a BA in Business Management and minor degree in Accounting, and joined the family business in 2007. Sara is art director and oversees the direct garment printing and vinyl transfer departments. Katy graduated from Dickinson State University with a BA in Business Management and minor in Marketing and joined the business in 2011, where she is now the lead Sales Specialist and handles the majority of BHE’s custom embroidery clientele.
Lowell and Tami also operate Cross P Select Horses; they have a small band of broodmares that they breed to their home-grown stallion PF Indiana Jones. Both girls still participate in barrel racing, and Ross and his wife Kelli Jo compete in amateur rodeos in North Dakota. The whole family enjoys their ties to the equine and rodeo community, where they not only participate in the events, but also provide sponsorship to the 5 State Breeders Futurity, Fizz Bomb Classic, Grid Iron Futurity and Fresh Start Futurity.