Chamber honors Suffolk’s small business of the year

Published 4:56 pm Friday, June 2, 2023

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Suffolk’s Embroidery and Print Shop is in a celebratory mode after being named the 2023 Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award. 

Pamela and Marshall Miller, the married couple that owns the shop, said they were shocked at receiving the nomination. After a lengthy questionnaire and making the first round, visits followed from chamber judges. Soon after, they received notification that they won.

“Next thing you know, they came out a week later with flowers and a bottle of champagne and said ‘Congratulations, you won for Suffolk,’” Marshall said, reflecting on the moment.

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In a statement, President & CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber Bryan K. Stephens congratulated the Millers saying that they have “built a wonderful small business that serves Suffolk’s gift shop needs.”

“Small businesses are what makes the Hampton Roads region great-they are at the heart of the business community,” Stephens said. “We are proud to see veterans such as Marshall choosing to open up their small business here in our region and are proud of all they do for the community.”

Pamela said she’s been doing embroidery since 1999, noting that in her early days she operated another shop out of her own home.

“It was kind of just a home base, and that’s where I got most of my clientele from before,” she said. “And when I met him [Marshall], I had sold my shop and he was in the Coast Guard, and then we got stationed in Louisiana,”

Following their retirement, they came back to Suffolk and received inquiries from citizens about why Pamela didn’t start her shop back up again. Marshall reflected on this moment when he was working as a realtor for Rose and Womble following his retirement.

“So I was doing my thing, but we had a lot of Pam’s previous clients that kept bugging her about expanding this business,” he said.

Marshall said that was the catalyst that led them into the business and led them to open up another embroidery shop outside of their garage.

“At first we didn’t even know if we’ll be doing it full time, and it just sort of took off after that. As business grew, we both had to make it a full time job,” he said.

Pamela thankfully said that Suffolk “let us work outside of the garage,” recalling the restart of her shop. 

“I personally didn’t ever think it would get this big, and we’re small business, but in the garage, you’re really small,” she said with a laugh.

Pamela calls her husband the “mastermind” of the business.

“He does the back and does the business part of it and he runs the embroidery part now. I manage the gift shop, the fabric shop and I do all the artwork,” she said.

Pamela said they both have their places, noting that “it works.” Likewise she gave thanks to her crew who works with them as well as the clients who support them. For young adults starting out who want to have their own business, Marshall to be upfront and honest with yourself.

“Look at revenues, look at expenses. At the end of the day, you have to make money,” Marshall said. “You can be passionate about this, but if you want it to be a hobby that’s one thing, if you want to make a living at it, you really got to be honest with yourself and say ‘Is this really a smart move?’”

Pamela shared a few words of encouragement for those wanting to start a small business, recommending they do their research and do it well.

“Just because you like something doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at it,” she said. “When I first started screen printing, you wouldn’t believe the pile of shirts I had in the corner. You got to practice. Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t always make it, do your research. Be willing to sacrifice a lot,  and it’s a seven day a week job… but it’s rewarding, but it can be stressful.”

Marshall also emphasized that others interested in following in their footsteps need to seek out mentors for other businesses.

“Even if it’s not in your line of business, just to find out what it’s going to be really like,” he said.

The Small Business of the Year award is based on the requirements of having 250 or less employees, a gross revenue of less than $10 million in the previous year and for being in business for more than three years consecutively. 

Judging was based on six areas — business plan or strategies and goals, community involvement, customer service and satisfaction, financial performance and business history, staff training and motivation and strategy for growth. 

Judge remarks on selection of Embroidery and Print Shop commended the Millers for their “great expansion in their space going from one shop and expanding into their neighboring store.”