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Newport Harbor has Uniforms Covered

Quality and integrity have been cornerstones of business for Whaling Manufacturing Co., makers of the Newport Harbor brand, since its start in 1969. Led by President James Pavao from day one, consistency in product quality has never wavered, despite major changes in the marketplace. During the first 24 years, his brother, Joe, was also involved at the top level of the business, but he has since retired.

Its the dichotomy of sameness and change that make Newport Harbor such an interesting case study in apparel manufacturing.

Pavao has always loved clothing and worked in a sewing plant when he was young. He says, I learned the entire production process and climbed the ladder very quickly. I enjoyed what I was doing and saw a great opportunity and enjoyed working with people.

In March of 1969, he started Whaling Manufacturing because he wanted to make a better quality garment than what he saw available in the market at the time. The company made fashion apparel on contract including some uniforms. As the production abilities grew, it began designing its own product line strictly for the fashion sector. The Newport Harbor brand was sold in such stores as Nordstrom and private label stores as L.L. Bean, Brooks Brothers and Jos. A. Bank as well as approximately 800 specialty stores. Through it all, Pavao had control, steering direction and providing his vast knowledge to staff and dealers.

As time went on many specialty stores fell by the wayside and the fashion retail business became more and more competitive. Dealing with markdowns, charge backs and returns became a nightmare. The profitability continued to become eroded, Pavao says.

Then, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened. It changed so many aspects of life in the United States, and one of those changes was an increased demand for police and security officers. Pavao saw a perfect opportunity to provide better apparel to those on the front lines of police, fire, security and specialty forces. He could take what he knew so well and apply it to creating police, fire, security and airline outerwear, rainwear and Class A apparel. And the fit was perfect for Whaling Manufacturing, he says.

We went into the fire and police business because it was more of a basic, everyday business. It doesnt change so rapidly [as the fashion industry]. Items that have been sold for 50 years are still being sold today with the same style. To change, we didnt have to do too much because the plant was already set up to make a tremendous amount of styles and products, we already had all the equipment, and all we really had to do was train our people to do a few different jobs or do them in a different way, says Pavao.

The basics of garment construction are the same whether creating womens fashion wear or a policemans winter coat, he says. The seaming, process and features are basically the same for both the fashion and uniform industries. But because trends do not change as quickly nor does seasonality have such an affect, uniform apparel is steadier and easier to navigate. Plus profits are a little easier to come by because the company isnt dumping stock at the end of a trend or season.

Staff has been drastically reduced since its height in the 1980s. Instead of 700 employees, Whaling and Newport Harbor now has about 45 employees on the payroll. Three major factors have accounted for the change: computerization, cross training and international importing. In the early 1980s, the entire company went from manual processing to computerization including Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). The employees who remained after computerization were all cross trained to perform multiple duties, meaning the company could streamline even more.

Until 2005, Whaling Manufacturing Co. Inc. was solely funded through several banks. This was the traditional type of funding. However, in 2005 Whaling entered into a purchase order financing agreement with Capstone Capital Group I LLC. This unconventional type of funding has allowed it to continue to do business today.

Within the last decade, Whaling Manufacturing has begun importing about 80 percent of its product from Asia and South America and is working on adding Mexico and other countries. It maintains complete control over the quality and product line created in its manufacturing plants in those foreign countries.

The Fall River, Mass., facility encompasses 100,000 square feet on the third and fourth floors of a 120-year-old building 50 miles south of Boston. From this plant, approximately 10,000 units per month are processed and/or produced. All research and development, administration, customer service, warehousing and shipping as well as some production are housed in this old mill building.

Seamstresses at the Massachusetts facility complete custom orders on site. Emblems, stripes, buttons, eyelets and braids are added to standard off-the-shelf garments. If orders are received before noon, most times they are shipped out that afternoon. Because there is always a cache in Fall River of the same fabrics used in its plants around the world, custom sizes can be cut, sewn, finished and shipped within a week or two. Pavao says the fast turnaround is an essential aspect to gaining customers.

The company manufactures more than 100 styles of outerwear, rainwear and Class A uniforms. In addition, 30 to 40 percent of the business is private label. These custom-order garments can originate from a single large department or from one of its many distributors and require a minimum of 500 units.

This is a big business police, fire, special services and security. Its over a billion dollar business, and wed like to have a good share of that business. Right now we only have a small share, so we want to grow, Pavao says. Were starting to offer more products, not just rainwear, outerwear and Class A. Going forward, well be offering shirts and pants because the end users are wearing and buying shirts and pants every day. They may buy outerwear and rainwear once every few years or only once in a lifetime, but they need three or four new pairs of pants and shirts every year. The demand for hi-visibility products has also led Newport Harbor to become more involved in the ANSI-certified business as well. That is where we are looking to grow.

It is enough for Whaling to manage all those existing styles, private label items and potential new growth without needing or wanting to sell its products directly to end users. Pavao says its a decision he made years ago and will always follow.

If we did start selling direct, wed be burning the dealers who helped get us where we are today. Many of the dealers already have relationships with the police or fire departments, and we dont want to disrupt that. Its easier on us too because were not chasing the end user, he says.

The dealers and distributors know the chiefs, captains, purchasing managers and officers within their areas departments, allowing the company to access the end user indirectly. Pavao says it would take more than 100 salesmen to make those same personal connections in just the major cities. The dealers are showing their support of Whaling Manufacturing by passing along customer feedback as well as information of new styles or bids the departments are seeking.

That relationship between Whaling and its dealers and distributors is maintained by the strong sales staff, headed up by National Sales Manager Joe Pinto. Pinto has been working with Pavao at Newport Harbor for 27 years and has been transferring his depth of knowledge to the rest of the sales staff.

Pavao says, Joe has opened up a lot of doors by being involved and by his amazing understanding of the product. Hes from inside the company, so hes an expert like me on the products. I think if you look across the board, very few presidents and salesmen know what they are selling inside out as well as Joe and I do. That gives us quite an edge.

One of the tasks the sales team is challenged with is getting feedback from the dealers and end users. They contact departments directly for information and suggestions. Industry shows are key to getting some face time with the actual officers and firefighters. Customers are invited to wear test new products before full production begins. Annual questionnaires also help round out the communication loop. Catalogs and the website are essential components to boosting sales and making ordering easy.

Once we get a dealer or customer on board, he usually stays with us because of the quality of the product, Pavao says. We can tell him everything about every product from soup to nuts, and most companies cant do that. Most salesmen cant talk about the details like ours can.

Most of the employees have worked with Newport Harbor products for 20 years or more. Pavao says the entire company is driven by producing a quality product. That was true when the company was a giant in the fashion industry, and the same is true now that the focus is uniforms.

We should have been in this industry 30 years ago. If we had, we would be the major force in this industry today, says Pavao. We see ourselves as doing the best and being the best. But we have to prove that every day. Its easy to say it, but we make a point to follow through on those promises.

Pavao says he has never thought about retirement, even after 38 years in the apparel industry and building an enduring manufacturing company. He says he has made a commitment to become a major player in the uniform apparel industry, and that commitment is still not fully met. Hes essentially growing Whaling Manufacturing for the second time, and he says he wont stop until its as big in the uniform sector as it was in fashion. But hes well on his way to accomplishing that goal and proud of every step along the way.

Whaling Manufacturing Co. –
Newport Harbor

451 Quarry St.
Fall River, MA 02723
(508) 678-9061
www.newportharboronline.com

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 2008 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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