Family Owned for 80 Years
People often ask me how we transformed our family-owned, Midwestern die-cut letters and numbers business into a multinational supplier of apparel decorating systems and supplies with operations around the world. Basically, how did we go from being Stahls’ Felt Stamping (the original name of the company) to Stahls’ to Stahls’ ID Direct, a GroupeSTAHL company? And what is GroupeSTAHL anyway? Don’t mind answering this question over and over, because it is a story of which we are very proud. Let’s back up a bit. Stahls’ was started by our grandfather A.C. Stahl back in 1932. (Hard to believe that was 80 years ago!) The company was known as Stahls’ Felt Stamping and had several divisions, including embroidery, chenille and sewn felt lettering. Legend has it that A.C. grew tired of taking the flak for misspelling names, so he decided to stop offering the service of sewn lettering and just sell the letters—and let people make their own spelling mistakes! And so the die-cut was born. We still have one of the first foot-operated die-cutting machines in our front office.
We also introduced the first thermal or heat-set adhesive for those letters and numbers, making it even easier and faster for people to letter their own shirts. Our father, Ernest, and mother, Ricki, also did their share of taking the business to the next level by introducing and marketing improved thermal adhesives on the die cuts, custom cutting services and a variety of new materials. So you can see that the tradition for customer-driven products was started by generations previous to mine. Although both my brothers Brian and Craig and myself did work for the family business from a very young age, there came point where I wanted to go out on my own and prove myself in areas outside of the Stahls’ world. Over the years, I established four successful retail jewelry stores, ran a wholesale jewelry business and marketed and produced events including concerts, pageants and even a singles mixer. I was a true hands-on marketer, who mailed postcards, networked with vendors, put out sidewalk signs, passed out flyers, ran Yellow Pages ads and learned the importance of finding, satisfying and keeping customers. In 1972, when I returned to Stahls’, along with brother Brian, we had a vision for what the family business could become. Since we understood the challenges retailers faced on a daily basis, we knew that they needed whole programs and a variety of decorating options, not just products and equipment. Our vision—and the vision for the entire company—was to focus on providing our customers with a variety of programs that would make their businesses more successful. And that meant we needed to offer customers the whole enchilada, or everything that’s a part of a successful t-shirt business, from the heat press and the lettering to the CAD-CUT® and CAD-PRINT® technology businesses depend on today. That’s the story behind GroupeSTAHL—we kept growing as we strived to bring you a wider variety of decorating options. The companies that make up GroupeSTAHL—Transfer Express, Hotronix, Stahls’ ID Direct and others in the group—all have the same driving force. To help you be more successful. So that brings us to today, 80 years after the founding of Stahls’ Felt Stamping. Believe it or not we still sell some of the same exact products that we did back then–although the adhesive we use on the back of our felt letters today is much more sophisticated.