Melbert Design Group Inc. provides sublimation designs to the apparel manufacturing industry
in the form of “transfer paper.” Sublimation printing delivers higher margins by allowing highquality
designs to be transferred onto low-cost garments, giving them a higher perceived value.
Melanie Torbert had helped launch the largest sublimation company in the world, Simso Tex, as
well as the second-largest, Avid Ink. While launching a division for another company, she realized
she didn’t want to be an employee—she wanted her own business.
Torbert first consulted with El Camino College SBDC Business Advisor Sharon Peterson in
2005 about plans to start a business printing designs on microfiber cloths used for cleaning
eyeglasses and computer screens. Peterson suggested she re-focus on the garment industry,
where her expertise lay. After taking a few years to lay the groundwork, Torbert launched
Melbert Design Group in September 2007. In addition to fine-tuning her concept, Peterson
helped Torbert develop a business plan and, in November 2008, obtain an SBA-guaranteed
Community Express Loan for $12,500 for inventory and cash flow.
• Keep overhead low. Peterson advised Torbert not to do too much too fast. “She
[helped me make decisions] about machinery and equipment, what I should
start off with and what I can grow into,” says Torbert.
• Different lenders have different requirements. “I had put a business plan
together before, but I had to redo my plan for this particular lender—they all
have different guidelines,” Torbert explains. “Sharon assisted me with information
and content, reviewed everything, and was really specific about the numbers.”
• Find a mentor. “There are a lot of friends and family who believe in you, but only
to a point,” Torbert says. “As much as they want to support you, they get tapped
out. I think of Sharon as a partner. She’s listened, she’s given me great advice—
and she’s really held my feet to the fire.”
Thanks to SBDC assistance, Melbert Design Group’s sales grew by $118,000 between January
2009 and September 2009. “We anticipate sales close to $500,000 by the end of the year,” says
Torbert. Future plans include launching a new product line (the microfiber cloths Torbert
originally discussed with Peterson) and creating a private-label apparel collection for sale
direct to retailers.
With Peterson’s help, Torbert recently applied for a $25,000 unsecured loan, which she expects
to obtain soon. She will use the funds to hire additional employees and free up more of her
time to focus on sales. Through it all, she’ll keep working with Peterson. “That infusion of
capital helped keep my doors open,” she says. “If it weren’t for the SBDC, I wouldn’t be where
I am right now.”