Stitching a Fix
Ever wonder how the Nike Swoosh first came to be on their clothes instead of just in their advertisements? The now ubiquitous logo can be seen on all of their apparel in a variety of forms — screen printed, embroidered, various colors, large or small.
Paul Gallagher, CEO of Hirsch Solutions Inc., a leading provider of equipment automation software for the apparel decoration industry, says the Swoosh and Ralph Lauren’s Polo Player were two of the first in what is now almost ubiquitous branding found on sports and leisure apparel.
A Rocky Start
Paul’s first day as CEO of Hirsch was September 11, 2001. He commuted out of the city that morning to the company’s Long Island headquarters.
With a history in corporate turnarounds, Paul was entering a company that had seen its stock price drop off a cliff in the late 1990s when offshore manufacturing started to enter the scene. The company had gone from $150 million in revenue to $50 million. “It was a very chaotic company at that time,” Paul says.
Paul whittled the company down to 100 employees, brought the stock back to about $5 a share. Things were OK. “We thought we could do no wrong up until 2006 or 2007 and then people just stopped buying equipment.” Paul says the business dropped by 50% or 60%, which wasn’t going to allow for growth.
“In 2009 I went to the board,” Paul says. “One of the big costs we had was being a public company.” Paul bought the company in 2009 and decided to take it private. “We fixed the company, broke the company, and then fixed it again.”
Private and Profitable
Turns out it was the right move. They came out of the financial crisis moderately profitable while their competition had weakened substantially. “As the economy came back and people were ready to buy and expand, we grew,” says Paul. “We also used the down time to develop some new technologies,” he says. Today’s customer list includes the “who’s who” of the apparel industry from Adidas to Walt Disney.
He says he came in as “the turnaround guy” but stuck around because he saw a competitive advantage in Hirsch’s customer centricity. “Part of the company was in the Midwest managed by now President Kris Janowski. Kris’ team knew how to take care of a customer.”
Since Paul and Kris took the company private in 2009, Hirsch has experienced an annual growth rate of over 20%.
“Our guiding light was to take care of the customer and provide high-end, industrial equipment,” Paul says. “So we never got into [working with] the cheaper brands even though I suppose we could have made money with it.”
Hirsch has developed relationships with some of the top manufacturers in the world. They do their embroidery out of Japan, screen printing from Austria, digital printing out of Israel, and laser systems from Italy.
Through their long-standing relationship with Pulse Microsystems out of Canada they started developing new networking and automation technologies; Paul calls them the “brains behind the automation.”
Team and Growth
Hirsch employs the best in the industry. He has just over 100 team members today. The company does significantly more business now than when they had 350. Says Paul, the team is “in tune with the customer’s needs in a way that is a little more intimate than what is normal.”
Many of these employees date back to the years before Paul’s tenure as CEO. In fact, he says, it was the quality of the team that attracted him to the business. “It’s not something I did,” Paul says speaking of their talent strategy. “It existed. It was just hidden within the company.”
His team really shines in their consultations with customers and manufacturers who come to their Solutions Studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. Opened there three years ago, it’s where they bring in their partners to educate them on what is going on in the industry and invite key accounts to work face-to-face with their team.
“As an example, L.L. Bean came in and said this is the way we’ve been doing it, we know it’s very cumbersome, what else should be doing?” Paul says. The ability to give customers like this not just an answer, but partner with them on a solution is what really sets Hirsch apart.