Hometown Highlights: Spartan Flag Company
Did you know, the majority of the world’s golf flags are made in Northport, Michigan? I had no idea. That is, until I had the chance to get a tour of the Spartan Flag Company, in beautiful Northport, Michigan. It was there I came to see why the golf industry has grown to depend on the craftsmanship of this hometown family business.
If you’re a golfer you may have heard of a company called Standard Golf. They supply over 75% of the world’s golf courses with quality nylon golf flags. And their exclusive manufacturer is the Spartan Flag Company, located at the tip of the Leelanau peninsula.
A small business, in a very small town, the Spartan Flag Company is a family operation dedicated to producing quality products. With only 10 employees, most of whom share the Kilcherman name, 18 sewing stations and countless bolts of colorful nylon, they create flags which last a lifetime. Casey Kilcherman, president of Spartan Flag Company, is a third-generation family owner. She purchased the business 5 years ago from her aunt in order to keep the company in the family. “I wanted to make sure my father and brothers would always have a home here at Spartan Flag,” said Casey.
My tour guide for the day was Carnie Kilcherman. Like a proud mother she welcomed me to her home-away-from-home. And it’s no wonder she feels this way. Her daughter is the president, and her husband and three sons were working away behind the scenes.
The Spartan Flag Company is located in an unassuming building right in the entrance to the village of Northport. If you’ve followed M-22 to Northport, you’ve probably driven past without noticing. It’s here in Leelanau County that all of their flags are made. The room we first entered was longer and narrower than an average two-car garage, but filled with sewing stations, cutting tables, and boxes of flags in various stages of production. Carnie ushered me to a small station along the wall where she spent the morning working on black and gold checkered flags. I came to learn that every flag produced by Spartan Flag Company is machine-stitched in a process called applique. Pieces of fabric are cut to size and sewn onto a larger piece of fabric. Or, in the case of the checkered flag, several pieces are sewn together to create one large flag. This requires attention to detail and precision. And it’s the reason Spartan Flag Company flags will last a lifetime.
Much like other manufacturing facilities there were several jobs in progress, at various stages of design, and everyone was busy. We visited with her sons, who were packing boxes for shipping, and Carnie’s husband Dave who fills in wherever he’s needed. There were four sewing stations stitching with expert care, and speed that I couldn’t muster on my best day.
While there were many golf flags, ranging in colors and design, the Spartan Flag Company also creates banners, pennants and International Shipmasters’ Burgees (maritime flags). Their craftsmanship has been utilized by schools throughout the area to create marching band flags, school banners and seasonally to decorate light pole flags in the Village.
One thing I didn’t see on my tour was a computer system for creating templates or custom designs. That’s because they don’t have one. “All of our designs are drawn by hand,” explained Pino
. When a customer brings in a family crest, or wants a custom banner, they work with an artist who translates their designs into flag templates using only a pencil, paper and practiced skill. That’s craftsmanship you don’t see everyday.
Here are a few more interesting facts I learned on my visit to the Spartan Flag Company:
- The secret to the longevity of their sewn flags: new waxed thread. While it makes a mess of the machines, it produces a longer-lasting stitch
- One of the most intricate banners was created for a wedding and covered with roses
- Most notable golf flags were created for a special golf tournament with President Bill Clinton
- Standard Golf holds a patent on the plastic part of the flag which attaches to the pole; one of the reasons they hold the corner on the golf flag market
- At one time or another nearly every member of the Kilcherman family has worked for the flag company
The Spartan Flag Company has been sewing flags, pennants and banners since 1950. If you’re in the market for a new flag for the cottage, or perhaps a nautical flag for that new boat, give Casey a call. They are also a great resource for American flags. While not made in-house, they will guarantee that your American flag was made in the U.S.A. To contact the Spartan Flag Company call 231.386.5150 or visit the Spartan Flag Company website.