Copper good as gold for Mount Kisco company [Westchester County Business Journal (NY)]
(Westchester County Business Journal (NY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) For a middle-aged man who describes his surgically repaired athlete's body as "26 percent metal." Thomas Kallish is a marvel of intellectual and physical energy. The specialty apparel company he founded three years ago is a marvel too of lightning-fast sales growth and debt-free innovative enterprise that has even New York's governor taking notice.
"I don't have one dollar of debt," Kallish said recently at the headquarters of Tommie Copper Inc. at 74 S. Moger Ave. in downtown Mount Kisco. Kallish - some call him "Tom" and some call him "Tommie," a name he found well suited for an American brand - bought the 8,500-square-foot former home of Colonial Furniture for his compression apparel business. The company already has plans to expand on the site.
"I didn't use a bank," said Kallish, a serial entrepreneur with a long record of success and prescient adaptation and innovation in the textiles and fabrics industry. "That's why the governor called me. He said, 'How did you do that?"
Kallish - a books-devouring autodidact who said he lacks both high school and college diplomas - sat at his desk in front of a tall portrait painting of his late grandfather. Louis Kallish, his grandson recounted, was a wealthy New York City couturier whose company was the first to license celebrity clients' names to retail brands.
His knack for business apparently skipped a generation, as Kallish's father went bankrupt and the family was forced to move to a small, crowded apartment in Ossining.
Kallish, who turns 60 in August, said he left home in his early teens for the South and returned to New York at 18. He worked as a fabrics salesman in Manhattan's Garment District. "Before I knew it, I was making a ton of money."
At 22, he bought a small textiles company and sold it a year later for $2.8 million. "I thought that was enough money for forever," he said.
It wasn't. Kallish went on to operate Coleport Fabrics for 13 years. Seeing the decline of New York's Garment District as manufacturing moved overseas in the '80s, he opened Alliance Integrated Contracting Corp. with offices in Hong Kong and Sri Lanka. Privately owned American apparel companies paid him a commission on deals he struck for them with Asian manufacturers.
He later co-founded Cocona Inc., a technology company that patented a quick-dry fabric for the outdoor apparel market. The company is headquartered in Boulder, Colo.
At 52, Kallish, a lifelong athlete, turned to competitive water skiing. Training with his boat driver for a national competition, he struck a submerged tree trunk. The skier suffered severe injuries that required a double hip replacement, knee replacement and multiple surgeries on his back over two years.
"That's what started all this," he said.
Kallish tried medical compression apparel and compression sportswear but found little relief from his chronic arthritic pain. And the bulky, constrictive apparel could not be worn comfortably when sleeping.
Using his knowledge of fabric technology and network of industry connections, he experimented with a weave of copper-infused yarn in lightweight compression fabrics that could be worn when active or sleeping. Copper, which his company in its marketing calls "the element of comfort," seemed to reduce his debilitating pain.
"At first I thought it was a placebo," he said. But as his self-experiment continued, "I stopped taking my pain medication."
Still, "I had to see whether I was in a placebo zone or not." He made about 150 copper-infused garments for professional athletes in his wide circle of friends. Their responses led him to launch the business.
"If you're going to create a brand, don't let the retailers create the brand for you," he said. Kallish's marketing strategy for his new company did not have a retail component.
Instead Tommie Copper used direct response television to reach consumers. "That's where we made our money," Kallish said.
His company's leading celebrity endorser is television talk show host Montel Williams, who uses Tommie Copper products to stay active despite pain associated with multiple sclerosis.
Kallish's team launched a company website and began working with bloggers.
"The first day (on the web), we sold 13 products," he said. "I thought, this is big. I think we did $385."
It has grown much bigger. In its first year after its marketing launch in November 2011, Tommie Copper did $25 million in sales of what was then a line of 20 products. The company's Connecticut fulfillment center shipped 1 million packages last year, Kallish said.
"This year we're on target to do about 60 million, 65 million dollars."
Manufacturing is done at a plant Kallish acquired in the Dominican Republic and at three factories in Mexico.
Kallish coined the term "industrial athletes" to describe the typical buyer of Tommie Cooper products. "The guy who wears my clothes is an everyday worker," he said.
Tommie Copper opened a small retail shop this month in its Moger Avenue headquarters. "It's kind of like a laboratory for me," Kallish said. "If I can build destination shopping here, I can do it almost anywhere in America."
That modest retail debut in Mount Kisco could be followed later this year by a national retail rollout. Kallish said a major retail chain has placed a multimillion-dollar order for Tommie Copper products for a fourth-quarter launch of the specialty apparel brand in some 600 stores.
The company has quickly grown to 57 employees. "By this time next year, it'll be 125, 150" employees, Kallish said.
The rapid growth led him to hire Malcolm Robinson, former group president for wholesale sportswear at Phillips Van Heusen, as CEO of Tommie Copper. Robinson was given an equity stake in the company.
Kallish said of the company will need 40,000 square feet space for its operations by 2014. While keeping headquarters in Mount Kisco, he wants to acquire another property in Westchester or the Hudson Valley region.
"I love being by the water," he said. "I envision an old mill-type building on the Hudson River. It could be in Poughkeepsie or it could be in Tarrytown."
Governor and New Castle resident Andrew Cuomo, who wants to keep entrepreneurs like Kallish in the state, might want to help him search.
(c) 2013 Westfair Communications
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