After 50 years in business, it’s been a year of “big changes” at Elite Draperies & Home Decorating, says Greg Birtch, who owns the company with his wife, Mary.
Greg Birtch is the co-owner of Elite Draperies.
By Jacob Serebrin
In November, Elite Draperies moved from the Bank Street location it had occupied since 1963, to a larger space on Colonnade Road.
“It was difficult to do business out of Bank Street,” says Mr. Birtch. “We’re really not a retail business, we’re a manufacturer of fine goods.”
While the old location had its workroom in the basement, Mr. Birtch says the new 7,000-square-foot location has the showroom and workspace on the same level.
“It’s so much easier to work,” he says.
The fact that the company does all its work in-house is rather unique in Ottawa, Mr. Birtch notes.
“I believe we’re the last people to have on-site seamstresses,” he says. “To actually make everything on-site is very rare.”
The company, which currently has 14 staff members, fills only custom orders and faces stiff competition from larger companies selling pre-made drapes. This means it can’t compete on price alone.
“We try to balance price, quality and service.”
Mr. Birtch is a relatively recent addition to the company. While Ms. Birtch has been a co-owner of Elite for around 20 years, Mr. Birtch has only been on board for around four years, when he bought out his wife’s former business partner. Before that, he spent 25 years with Ottawa Fire Services.
Mr. Birtch says one of his priorities is business development. Elite recently got a new website, and the company is eyeing expansion to another city.
But it’s the company’s long history and reputation in Ottawa that’s driving much of its success. Elite has made drapes for prime ministers, governors general and embassies, says Mr. Birtch.
It’s an involved process that takes about five weeks, usually starting with a home visit by one of the company’s decorators to make sure that the fabric matches and to take measurements.
And “a lot of things can go wrong,” adds Mr. Birtch.
The difference between the humidity of a house and Elite’s workroom can change the size of the fabric, causing it to grow or shrink.
“It’s not like a piece of steel or wood,” he notes.
That’s where the “experience of the seamstresses” comes into play, he says. Elite also usually sends out a decorator to take measurements at a client’s house, adds Mr. Birtch.
While he takes pride in the fact that all the company’s drapes are hand-cut and hand-sewn, he’s not opposed to using new technology when it makes sense. The company recently bought a hydraulic machine to add pleats to its drapes, something that used to be done by hand.
Still, he doesn’t plan on fixing things that aren’t broken.
“Our sewing machines look old, but they’re the best,” he said.