New Bedford company leverages core strengths in new markets

By Pamela Berard
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Darn It! Inc. president Jeff Glassman proves diversity and ingenuity are key to not only surviving, but thriving, during economic challenges.
Glassman reinvented his family-owned manufacturing business in the 1990s, creating Darn It!’s quality control and refurbishing division which solves problems that arise when products come into the United States. Instead of throwing product away or returning it overseas, the retailer, wholesaler or manufacturer contacts Darn It!
“99.9 percent of the time they need to get this product to the shelves of the store as quickly as possible. That’s what we are here for,” Glassman said. Issues include fabric flaws, tears or stains, or labels that have incorrect information. Darn It! can repair or re-label the garments. Other garments need to be pressed, or have a mold or mildew smell that Darn It! can purify in its brand-new ozone room, which accelerates the airing out of a product.
“Our job is to come up with as much first-quality product that we can, to get it back onto the shelves as first quality,” Glassman said. “We’re not doing anything to the garment to make it irregular.”
Glassman said overseas factories are getting “better and better,” but he laughs, “thank goodness they aren’t perfect.”
“There is a need for this service and we are hoping we can continue,” he said.
But Glassman is also diversifying.
Darn It! is looking to grow its fulfillment and distribution business, managing the distribution process for companies that don’t have a brick and mortar building and staff. He is targeting young entrepreneurs as well as big manufacturers and wholesalers, and planned an advertising campaign in July to U.S., Canadian and European markets.
That division has been operating at 686 Belleville Ave. since the company purchased the former Fibre Leather building about three years ago. The balance of the business moved into the 315,000-square-foot building in March 2010.
The building has been another source of diversity for the company, which has been leasing renovated space.
“There’s quite a bit of history here so it’s been very exciting,” Glassman said. “We have been lucky to have some good tenants jump aboard. We still have about 60,000 square feet of first floor mill space (available for rent) that has been totally refurbished.”
Darn It! has installed 50-75 percent more efficient lighting in the building and is working on a plan for Beaumont Solar Co. of New Bedford to put a 290-kilowatt solar system on the roof.
Among those currently leasing are companies who work in fish marketing; film developing; sheetmetal fabrication; trucking; and recycling.
Separate from Darn It!, Glassman has also started a new business with a friend, Blue Hill Promotional Products, selling promotional marketing products to businesses and organizations nationwide, for example, custom logo pens, notepads, and shirts.
In this economy it’s critical to maintain as diverse an offering as you can, said Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Commission.
“What Darn It! is proving is that if you have different business lines, if one softens, and another picks up, you remain steady,” Morrissey said, noting that the city itself has fared through the economic downtown with its own diversity strategy.
Glassman started Darn It! after joining Ronnie Manufacturing, the company’s precursor in 1994. At the time, business was booming and company founder and Glassman’s dad, Norman, was looking to slow down.
“I learned the ropes and realized it was an uphill battle because of what President Clinton put into place with NAFTA,” which opened trade to Mexico, Central America, and other countries, Jeff Glassman said.
“A lot of our manufacturing customers started to test the waters in Mexico and the Caribbean base and found they could find labor for 40 cents an hour versus the 12 bucks and incentives per hour we were paying,” he said.
He said one of his largest customers brought a program down to Mexico, but a production manager told him that in the first shipment Ñ two of three trucks that left the factory were hijacked and the one that made it into Boston had many quality issues.
“They needed our skill-set to inspect the garments, to fix open seams, to fix crooked labels and to spot clean for oil stains from machines,” he said.
From that, the seeds of a new venture were born.
Morrissey said Darn It! is an example of how manufacturing in post-industrial urban places like New Bedford can thrive, by leveraging inherent, core strengths to move into new markets.
“These are skilled workers that he has retained who are now providing him the base to expand into new, very interesting markets,” Morrissey said. “In Darn It! you have a terrific workforce and loyal workforce, you have secure real estate for the business, they own the building that they are in, there is a diverse set of revenue streams coming into the business by virtue of the real estate, and the business is building equity as a result of owning the building.”
Many of Darn It!’s 60 full-time employees have worked for the Glassmans since their manufacturing days.
“That gives us a one-up on the competition,” Glassman said. “When they send us a project, for label inspection or spot cleaning or ticketing or pressing, we are able to identify those issues quickly because these are people who have made garments in the past and they know what to look for.”
“It is because of our employees that we are as successful as we are today,” said Glassman, whose father also still works for the business, managing finances throughout the year and production for a part of the year.
Glassman was quick to praise the NBEDC.
“They’ve been there for us,” he said, noting that in addition to two loans, Darn It! has also secured a $90,000 workforce training grant, which will fund a 12-month contract for consultants to work with Darn It! for efficiency and growth in its core garment business. The company has also benefitted from state tax incentives, “which saved us about $120,000 in real estate taxes in the first five years of owning the building,” Glassman said.
Morrissey said the relationship between NBEDC and Darn It! is an example of how the public sector can aid the private sector, not only by providing low-interest capital and grants, but by providing infrastructure around the building, such as additional parking.
“It’s an overall win for the city, for workers and for the business,” he said.
“Jeff and Darn It! have continued to surpass all expectations, being good partners in the city in terms of jobs they are creating and retaining, as well as being good corporate citizens,” Morrissey said.
Bulletin correspondent
July 22, 2011 7:18 PM
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