Less than three years after she bought an Omaha blanket sales company and turned it into a full-fledged textile manufacturing firm, Chooty & Co. owner Connie Garrett said demand for her products is higher than ever. Last year, Chooty did more than $2 million in sales.
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The ultimate DYI: Chooty & Co. makes a name for itself working magic on fabric.
They're making pillows, blankets, placemats and pet beds. Ottomans and cushions for bar stools. Curtains and shoulder bags. And they're doing it in the U.S.
It's work that's almost become a thing of the past, at least on this scale; the 16 workers at Chooty & Co. each can complete 250 pillows, with zippers, in a single day. Each can make an ottoman in about 20 minutes, a full set of bedding in an hour. And they can handle big orders, like the ones that flooded in after the company was featured on a “Today Show” shopping segment this spring. After the show aired, Chooty sold 12,000 decorative pillows in a few hours.
Less than three years after she bought an Omaha blanket sales company and turned it into a full-fledged textile manufacturing firm, Chooty & Co. owner Connie Garrett said demand for her products is higher than ever. Last year, Chooty did more than $2 million in sales. This year, the company is on track to grow by an additional 20 percent to 25 percent.
There's plenty of competition, most of it from overseas plants that can make things fast and cheap, but Garrett said her company is thriving because it can make products designed exactly the way the customers want them.
“Because there are so few textile manufacturers here, we can customize,” she said. “And online, we can offer something that importers can't.”
Before she started the company, Garrett spent more than 20 years working in home decor sales. She made plenty of good contacts in the industry and thought there was room for a textile company in the area. After all, no one else was doing it. Garrett can count the other similar U.S. manufacturers on one hand, and they're all located on the coasts.
So she bought a company called Blanket Barons and renamed it after its most popular product: a soft, plush blanket called the “Chooty Blanket.” (The company still sells the Chooty Blanket, which is the only product it imports.)
“It was a 10-year dream and a three-year plan,” she said.
Garrett found a 16,000-square-foot space in an industrial area and set up shop.
It didn't take long to find customers, but tracking down skilled people to sew and cut fabric proved to be a challenge. But over time, Garrett found them, from interior design companies, job placement programs, anywhere she could look. Most had experience, but some just had a natural knack for fabric.
“Speed they can build up,” Garrett said. “But you can tell in the first week if they've got the ability to be accurate, to sew straight lines, to know how to fix it.”
Now, she has a team that can make just about anything. Blankets for a nursing home in Utah or a new spa opening in Michigan. Bags to carry iPads. Twenty-thousand stuffed fish for a Lincoln organization that teaches kids how to fly-fish.
Lead sewer Maggie Vargas says she's never stumped by a new project, at least not for more than a few seconds.
“Just give me the measurements, and I'll figure out how to do it,” she said.
Arsenio Moyalde, who once worked as a bicycle repairman in the Philippines, is Garrett's top bag-maker, though he's modest about his abilities.
“He can do bags like nobody else,” she said.
Becky Summer, who has sewed for years — including making blue jeans in Sioux City, Iowa — said she takes pride in seeing her work on store shelves.
“I like to see the end result, to go from scrap and just make something,” she said.
Around Omaha and Council Bluffs, it's not hard to find products with a Chooty tag. Nebraska Furniture Mart is a big customer, along with stores like Mulhall's and House of J.
The company does have a retail store in its facility at South 35th Street and Nebraska Avenue, but about 95 percent of Chooty's business is wholesale.
Of that, about 30 percent is through online retailers like Amazon.com, Overstock.com and Homedecorators.com.
Garrett said online business is becoming an increasingly big factor for the company, which means her staff has to be ready to turn around and ship products right away.
That's especially true for big orders. Right now, one of the biggest items on Garrett's to-do list is figuring out how to get products ready in advance of another spot on the “Today Show” in early June. Last time, she was out of pillows before the show aired on the West Coast.
This time around, the segment — “Jill's Steals and Deals — is featuring placemats from Chooty & Co.
“On Monday, I've got to figure out a plan to get 48,000 placemats made by June 5,” Garrett said.
But she's not complaining. Garrett said she's excited to see the company continue to grow. She'd like to add a children's clothing line and boost sales on other products.
And while it might be easier to have built her company on one of the coasts, closer to her suppliers, Garrett said she has no plans to move Chooty out of Council Bluffs.
“I don't see that changing,” she said.
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