In 14 years, Barbara Kaplan Seres has moved Kappie Originals Ltd. craft designs from her kitchen table to the pages of leading homemaking and needlecraft magazines.
Seres, whose "Nobody's Perfect" needlework design of three owls on a limb, one hanging upside down, says, "It never dawned on me those owls would be the next pet rock. They are what put us on the map."
A former U.S. swim team diver from Memphis, Seres dived into the business of creating needlecrafts in 1969 because a friend asked her to paint a canvas. Unwilling to accept remuneration from a friend, Seres took in trade more canvas on which she painted more designs. Seres renders the designs on the canvas, which are then followed as patterns by people doing needlepoint or embroidery work.
Encouraged by the reception these canvasses were getting, Seres approached the owner of a needlework shop in Chevy Chase with 25 designs. The owner bought all but one, gave her more canvas and advised, "Go home and work to your heart's content."
After a year of successful sales at the one shop, Seres branched out to other shops, hired two artists and met a fellow interested in investing in her business. "He put up $7,500. My contributions were patterns and knowledge, the latter not being all that great at the time," she admits.
Today, with the owl design as her logo, Kappie Orginals Ltd. is a million-dollar business and one of the largest wholesale manufacturers of hand-painted needlepoint canvasses in the country. Production has expanded to include Kappie Cloth, ties, hobby kits, felt calendars, soft sculpture, totes, pocketbooks--just about anything into which one can stick a needle and thread. There are also how-to books for the various crafts.
Things didn't always run smoothly. Two years after her investor put up his money, she bought him out for $15,000.
In April 1972, she put together a line of about 100 pieces and for the first time entered Kappie products in a regional crafts show. "Business was not good," Seres says with a laugh.
But an independent marketing representative saw her work and liked it, asking if he could represent her product. Seres agreed. "He was very successful" at selling her designs, she said.
Fortified with this success, she entered a second show the following June, this time in New York City. "I consider this the turning point in my career," she says. From the exposure at this show she made contact with "The Stitchery," an influential needleworkers' periodical. "Nobody's Perfect" was snatched by them and ran as a catalogue item in the magazine for the next five years. "That is what put us on the map and in the black," Seres recalls.
About this time Barbara Kaplan met and married Rockville attorney Ron Seres. He issued an ultimatum, "Either you run this like a business or get rid of it." Ron saw a new creative approach from the business person/lawyer point of view.
"I did not want to stifle the creative beauty Barbara has. I eliminated the kinds of problems I knew would be oppressive for her," he says.
One of the first problems Ron mastered was moving the business from cramped Gaithersburg quarters to 12,000 square feet of space in the recently renovated East Street Trading Center in Frederick.
Today, 25 employes cut, stitch, paint and package under one roof, working along with those in charge of administration, manufacturing and design.
Ron Seres gave up his 16-year law practice to become executive vice president for administration, sales and operation for Kappie Originals Ltd. He oversees a national sales manager plus 12 sales representatives throughout the United States and three foreign representatives.
Barbara travels to Haiti two to four times a year where the "models" used for sales displays are made. Here, Kappie employs 125 workers for 10-day periods. The workers continuously stitch and finish the product. She deals personally with each of them while they work, checking and double-checking instructions and directions. "The final touches are added here," she says.
Barbara has moved from creator to director, justifying the move by saying, "I think it is just one step more in growth. I still spend most of my time in the design office. I feel I have that seventh sense, which is the ability to realize the consumer's creativity and self-satisfaction."
Her work appears on the pages of national magazines. Better Homes and Gardens editors wrote a feature item about the Kappie red and white, candy-stripped mouse. Family Circle featured the Kappie Kitchen Witch, and Western Town, a crewel piece, appeared in Women's Day.
The company is on sound financial footing, Ron Seres says. "We have been able to finance our growth essentially from internal profits. Kappie did 47 percent more business in fiscal '81 than in fiscal '80," or $1.8 million in sales.