The Flag Shop stays on top

Moving from flag retailer to digital textile printer and manufacturer, the Flag Shop sets its sights on U.S. market

Flag Shop president Susan Braverman, pictured with her mother, Doreen (the Flag Shop founder), turned the flag retailer into a lucrative textile printing company

When Susan Braverman returned to her family’s business, she found a company that desperately needed saving.

For years, the Flag Shop – founded by her mother Doreen in 1975 – held the monopoly on flag retail and manufacturing in Vancouver. It was the first store of its kind in Canada, and by the mid-1980s had become internationally known.

When Braverman returned to the business in 2006, after a six-year stint as a schoolteacher, she realized the industry had changed radically. The Flag Shop had changed with it, and it was steadily losing clients.

“I was noticing more banners on the streets that weren’t ours – and we were the ones who founded fabric street banners!” Braverman said.

Braverman took the company over, eventually purchasing it from her mother. In the time between, Braverman turned the company around from solely a flag-and-banner manufacturer to a Canadian leader in digi-tal textile printing. Today, the Flag Shop boasts annual revenue of $2.9 million.

“If we had just stayed as a flag store, we wouldn’t be in business anymore,” Braverman said. “So we had to expand.”

The Flag Shop is currently the only Canadian company to print digitally on polyester (the rest of the industry is still printing on nylon) and the only company in North American to use a versatile and very durable mesh banner. While expensive to produce, these banners opened the door for a flood of new business. Trade show backdrops, tablecloths, all kinds of soft signage were now supplementing the income from flags and street banners that they had previously relied on.

Today, the Flag Shop and its sister company, Textile Image Inc., have a client list that includes sports teams, municipalities, tourism agencies and big-box retailers. Another 12 independently owned and operated franchises are located around the country.

Braverman now has her sights set on the U.S. Her efforts were documented on CBC’s The Big Decision. One of the show’s hosts, marketing expert Arlene Dickinson, who is also one of the dragons on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, visited the store to decide whether or not she would invest the $750,000 Braverman asked for to help her business expand.

The show portrayed the Flag Shop as a company in distress, which Braverman claims was an editing trick. Braverman said she applied for the show not because she needs Dickinson’s money but because the marketing muscle that The Big Decision provides seemed too attractive to pass up.

“I’m in over my head, and I want to do it properly!” Braverman said with a laugh.

Dickinson decided not to invest, but that has not stalled Braverman’s plans. She’s hired Bellrock, a strategic planning consultancy, to assist with the sales process and the strategic planning as the Flag Shop focuses south of the border.

Bellrock president Tara Landes said the plan now is to first educate the market about the Flag Shop’s products and then start selling to it.

“I really think the sky’s the limit. There are umpteen opportunities [in the U.S.],” Landes said.

“[Susan] is a dream client because she has passion and enthusiasm, but she’s also really smart and she knows her market really well. Those things in combination, I honestly believe she can do anything that she wants to do.”

Doreen Braverman, crediting her daughter with saving the company, said, “She’s innovated where she’s had to innovate. It’s important in business that you do look into the future for what’s next.”

Doreen started the Flag Shop after purchasing a fledgling regalia outfitter in 1975. After taking over the store, she found a box full of flags, which she immediately put up for sale. They sold out instantly, and after a little research, Doreen discovered there was not a single flag retailer anywhere in Canada. So she started her own.

“Everybody said, ‘You’re crazy, who’s going to buy your flags?’” Doreen said. “I soon found out, well, the consulates want them. Businesses want them. People in nice parts of town with flag poles.”

Her first customer was the Chinese consulate. Hotels and retail stores followed. The Flag Store began sewing all the flags in-house, and early annual sales hit $67,000.

Doreen said that maintaining the Flag Shop as a family business has been the secret to its success. While she’s no longer involved in the company, there’s little doubt that her influence has left its mark on the way her daughter handles business today. It is, simply, all in the family.

“There’s some tradition there,” Doreen said. “And there’s certainly some pride.” •