By Douglas M. Hoy
“Success is in the details.” How often have we heard this poignant proclamation? Let me introduce you to two local men whose business is based on exactly that — the details. Their names are Dan Wambaugh and Brian White. They are the sole proprietors of Wambaugh, White & Company. With no local notoriety, they produce sought-after, authentic Civil War clothing to customers across the nation. And they do it all right here in Charlotte.
I listened to Dan as he chronicled the beginning days of the business — to the how and why it all started and the formation of their partnership. We walked a bit among the vast amounts of fabric as Dan educated me. The work area was filled with numerous bolts of material. A huge pile of what a novice would consider scraps lay in a multicolor mound at the end of the cutting table. Dan pointed out that these pieces, now too small for any practical use, are sold to others. This secondary market will use these to make a wide array of cushions, headrests, cup cozies and if nothing else, stuffing. Nothing goes to waste.
For Dan, this all began in the summer of 2000, while he was attending Michigan State University. To produce extra income while following his desire for marketing management, he started a small sewing business in his room. Upon graduation, he ventured into retail sales, thinking this would help him with marketing practices. Let’s just say it did not go that way. Dan soon left the company — with not much to fall back on other than the small number of clients he had cultivated while in college.
Like most companies, this started small. However, with each contact came growth. One day, Brian, then a customer, had placed an order. Brian came by to discuss some of the finer points of what he needed. After a few hours of discussing what should be, could be, done, the idea was floated that just maybe they could work together as a team.
It has worked out wonderfully. Brian does much, not all, of the cutting of fabric. This frees time for Dan to work on the website, return phone calls, deal with supplies and so on. Tasks are divided yet combined, and it all works.
Most of their current business comes from Civil War “reenactment players.” Predicated by their combined belief in detail, they both do a vast amount of research. Dan gave me many examples of the importance of their striving for absolute authenticity to a degree which most would not even bother. It is not only the hard-to-find material for items such as the blankets, jackets, shirts and undergarments which require conscientious consideration. It filters down to items such as the buttons, how they are made, how they are finished and even the sewing loops to attach them to the uniform.
And the attention to detail does not stop there. The thread they use in many of the items is specially made per their request. This thread is not just limited to a certain texture, color and weight; it is down to which way the thread was spun, as there is a difference. You and I would never know, but they do. Due to this sort of detailed concentration, they are often sought after for movies as well as stage plays. They have done production pieces for both.
As we sat and talked, Dan stitched up a couple of canteen covers — a big seller for them. He told me their main source of business is what he calls “kits.” Their company will cut out all items to specification — supply all the “sundries’” to go with it and a set of easy-to-follow instructions. When the customer receives the package, all that remains to be done is the actual sewing, which surprisingly most customers prefer to do.
Dan and Brian do have a website, wwandcompany,com. But much of their business comes from well-satisfied customers who want to upgrade to more authentic parts of their uniform.
It’s much to handle day-after-day. There’s the research, ordering, going to the various fabric manufactures to verify the authenticity of products, processing orders, manufacturing and shipping. All emails are answered daily. All phone calls receive a response. They believe these small steps are what keep their customers happy and coming back. It’s all in the details.
Dan Wambaugh (left) and Brian White are the sole proprietors of Wambaugh, White & Company, making authentic Civil War clothing for customers across the nation.