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2011 Supplier Entrepreneur of the Year: Kevin Nord, Pro Towels Etc.
By C.J. Mittica
June 2011

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Stepped on, flung to the ground, covered in sand, soaking up spills – towels have never had the most glamorous reputation, but Kevin Nord has seen a radical change in the perception of towels in the 10 years that Pro Towels Etc. (asi/79750) has been in business. “Pro Towels Etc. has been a leader in taking a category that was under the radar and putting it above the radar,” says Nord, the company’s president.

The family business’ roots actually started in the food purchasing industry before Nord and his father, Stuart, transitioned into wholesaling bath and hand towels to hardware store companies like Ace and TruServ. A customer’s request for golf towels led them to the ad specialty industry in 2002 when the company (then known as Towels Etc.) realized that the margins were better. But the next few years presented a roadblock to quick growth in a crowded marketplace.

The playing field changed in 2006 when the Pittsburgh-based supplier acquired Professional Towel Mills. “The eyes and ears had always been open,” Nord says about seeking out opportunities for growth. Overnight, the supplier jumped from $3.5 million in sales to $10 million. Not only that, Pro Towels Etc. went from outsourcing to running its own manufacturing and decorating facilities. The 12-18 months it took to integrate the companies was a slog, but in the end it was worth it for Nord, who makes no secret of his desire to be at the top of the towel food chain. “That’s one more stepping stone, in my eye, to reaching the pinnacle within this category,” says Nord, 45.

Another acquisition last year gave the supplier a presence on both sides of the country. But Pro Towels Etc., with expected revenue of $15 million this year, hasn’t rested on its laurels. The company has created partnership programs with suppliers like Cutter & Buck (asi/47965) and Leed’s (asi/66887). It aggressively involved itself in social media. And it places major emphasis on communication and customer service, which has earned it a 5-Star Supplier Rating on ESP.

“We always talk that it’s sun and fun here,” Nord says, referring to the company’s expanding product offerings of beach, golf and rally towels, but also painting a future that is bright as can be. – CJM

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