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Business Spotlight: Customizing the Trimmings

In a short time, Bridge Upholstery and Drapery went from a sewing hobby to specializing in motorized shades

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At one point, Robbyn Bybee and Manda Brandt were just two friends sewing in Bybee’s house. But it wasn’t long for them to realize their sewing projects were becoming a real business that needed a larger space.

Brandt always loved to sew, a skill set she learned from the women in her family.

“I was raised in a home where my mom was a seamstress,” she says. “She taught me to sew, and both my grandmothers sewed. They kept me entertained, while I was visiting them, by teaching me how to sew.”

Bybee had taught herself to sew, and at first it was just personal items. Then, her friends and their friends started to take notice of her work.

“My friends would see drapes and other things I had done,” Bybee says. “It kind of grew from there. I was getting busier than I wanted to be. That’s when I asked (Brandt) to start helping. We started sewing out of my house for a while. Then, when we started upholstery, I realized that we needed a much bigger space to do that in.”

The duo made Bridge Upholstery and Drapery LLC official in 2015, first operating out of a rented basement space from People Centric Consulting Group, 429 W. Walnut St. A year later, they were driving on Commercial Street and noticed a “for lease” sign near the Boonville Avenue corner. They’ve operated from the 3,500-square-foot space ever since. It comprises a storefront level, used mainly for upholstery, and a portion upstairs, for drapery work.

Custom drapery and upholstery have been the company’s bread and butter, but lately, the big-ticket items are in motorized drapes and shades.

Brandt says Bridge Upholstery sells custom drapes and shades that open or shut by the touch of a button or on an automated schedule. The technology is hardwired into a house or operated by battery. The Bridge Upholstery team sews the custom drapes, programs them and connects them to home automation. Then, a subcontractor installs them.

“In a recent home we did, they have a movie theater,” Brandt says. “They can go in and push a button that says movie. We have a drapery panel on the back side that when they push the movie button the projector comes on, the speakers come on, the lights dim and the drapery panels close behind them to block off that end of the room to make it into a movie theater. We do the drapery part of that automation.”

Brandt is a civil engineer who studied at University of Missouri and worked at the Missouri Department of Transportation for four years, until she decided to be a stay-at-home mom when her daughter was born.

She knows the ins and outs of setting up the motorized drapes and shades.

Bybee has a background in elementary education and jokes though Brandt has the engineering background, she uses her elementary math skills “every day like a mad man.”

They say pricing begins at about $120 for manually operated wooden blinds on a standard size window. However, motorized shades or blinds add $400-$500 to the cost per window. Brandt says the fabrics range from $25 a yard to $450 a yard.

Nathan Taylor, principal designer and co-owner at Obelisk Home, says his company solely uses Bridge Upholstery for blinds, window coverings, drapery and upholstery needs for its clients.

Taylor says motorized window shades have been one of the more popular requests from clients over the last five years.

“Windows have gotten bigger, and we want a lot more natural light as opposed to closed in spaces,” he says. “They have done several, really amazing projects for us, as far away as Jeff City, here in Springfield and surrounding areas.”

Taylor says several local companies offer motorized shades and drapes. What’s unique, he says, is that an engineering-minded owner can do the window treatments, installation and automation.

“It’s a one-stop shop for me, and it’s incredibly convenient,” he says.

Though Brandt and Bybee decline to disclose annual revenue, they say sales have doubled in each the past two years. Bybee estimates 50%-75% revenue growth in 2020, and the plan is to add to the seven-person staff as the workflow increases.

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