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Flying High

Brenda Simmons


September 11, 2001 is a date that is forever etched in the minds of all Americans, as it changed the country forever.  Thousands of innocent people were immediately and irrevocably affected by the tragic event, but millions more had their lives altered in the weeks, months and years that proceeded that fateful day. 


On that fateful day, Brenda Simmons, of Louisville, KY was busy at work as a Commercial Aircraft Dispatcher with a major U.S. airline, far from New York City, Washington, DC and a lonely field in Pennsylvania.  Like her fellow citizens she was shocked by the unfolding events of September 11, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.  Little did she know that she too would be a casualty.


In the days that followed, the country’s commercial airline industry began to fall apart.  Already on the brink of failure prior to that dark day, the resulting crash in the economy coupled with a virtual standstill in travel, led most of the U.S. airlines to quickly implement massive lay-offs and cut-backs.  Brenda suddenly found herself in a difficult situation as her position was eliminated on the same day that her husband was notified of furlough after fourteen years as a commercial airline pilot. 

“It was a rude awakening, as we both had good jobs in an industry that we loved,” says Brenda.  “Luckily, John was able to continue his career with a different airline, but for me things were more challenging as my Mom had developed some serious health problems and it was apparent that I was going to have to devote a good bit of my time towards taking care of her.  Thus, a nine-to-five job was really out of the question.”


But rather than despairing over the negative turn of events, Brenda decided to take a new direction.  “I bought an embroidery machine and started experimenting with its capabilities by doing personalized gifts, and such.  Before long I was hooked!”  Things began to come together pretty quickly after that as Brenda put her business experience, including a BS Degree in Business Management, to work and laid out the groundwork for her new enterprise: Simbellish. 


Initially, Brenda focused her business on doing custom work, mostly monogramming and a whole lot of names.  “Personalization was a good start and I still do a lot of it today, but both John and I have a real love of flying, (They even have their own private plane), and I couldn’t resist the lure of the industry, it was like it was calling my name.”


In August of 2006, she got her first opportunity to answer the call.  “While having our plane serviced at the aircraft’s factory location, the Chief Operating Officer of the company found out about my business and asked if I could create some products for the Owners Group fly-in in October.   I was thrilled at first, but as the date got closer I got nervous about the event.”  What had seemed like a great idea at first was now turning sour as Brenda received very little direction from the Aircraft Company as to what they wanted her to offer to the owners group.  Finally, she decided to digitize the aircraft and offer it on various garments along with the specific tail number.  (The tail number is the registration number for the plane, kind of like a license plate on a car.  Since it’s a unique identifier, tail numbers to airplane owners are like boat names to boat owners.)


“I went to the event with a heavy heart, telling myself if I just got one order, I would be satisfied.  My first sale occurred at 8:30am and amazingly, it never let up all day.  By 4:30pm I had ninety orders!  Plus, I did it without having a machine with me, just a few sample garments, catalogs and a sew-outs.”  And that was just the beginning.  As a result of her success at the Owner’s event, Brenda also got an exclusive contract with the aircraft manufacturer to produce a line of products for their customers.  In addition, she is negotiating a deal with the Owners Group to provide customized aviation related apparel.  She is setting it up where the members of the Owners Group can order online.


“My experience with this group has led me to approach other aircraft owners groups and manufacturers with the same concepts.  I see a lot of potential growth over the next couple of years with this market,” says Brenda.

For Brenda, Simbellish is truly a family affair, as husband, John, routinely contributes to the operation.  “John is constantly finding unique products that appeal to the aviation industry, based on his day-to-day job as a commercial pilot,” she says.  “For example, he found a cap that features red and white LED lights in the bill.  At first glance it looked like a novelty item, but John pointed out that it’s perfect in a cockpit at night for reading maps and charts, as the red glow doesn’t ruin the pilot’s night vision.  So, I added it to my line of custom aviation products.” 


Dog, Beacon, plays a very important role as well.  “She often goes to work with me as well as travels with us so, she meets a lot of our customers.  We introduce her as our Chief Supervisor and Primary Inspector,” chuckles Brenda. “In fact, she is part of my marketing efforts, as I use her image on the packaging with a label Inspected by Beacon.  It adds a personal touch to the business, plus, I also offer doggie t’shirts and custom dog collars (outside of the aviation niche), so she helps to establish the branding for those products.”

So what are the keys to success for Simbellish?  Says Brenda, “You must change with the market, by constantly developing new product lines for your market, in order to get their attention and set yourself apart from the competition.  Uniqueness sells!” 


Simbellish is proof positive, that niche markets provide opportunities for growth for Embroidery Entrepreneurs.  Having just taken possession of her second machine, Brenda is soaring with new business ideas and doesn’t see the sky as the limit.  “I love aviation and love the fact that it is generating revenue for my business.  My next step is to try mobile embroidery at air shows.  But I also think it’s important not to lock yourself into one thing, thus I have starting pursuing some other unique niches as well, which appear to be paying off.  But at the end of the day, aviation is still my true calling.”


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