Ash City's Second Act
Meet Founder And Owner Garry Hurvitz
With North American revenues of $136.5 million in 2011 and on track to top that substantially for 2012, Ash City's owner and founder has decided to make major changes at the height of the company's success. Why? Because he knows that to be bigger and better, he needs an infusion of new blood, new ideas and a new perspective.
You've probably never met – or even laid eyes on – Garry Hurvitz, the founder, owner and enigmatic head of Counselor Top 40 supplier Ash City (asi/37143). This isn't because he doesn't like you. Hell, he may even invite you to his famous wine-tasting fete in Vegas this month. But he'll be the guy in the back, smiling as you drink his carefully selected and curated wines chosen specifically from his collection.
Behind the scenes is Hurvitz's comfort zone, where he observes with the watchful eye of someone who's built the business he started in his mid-teens to the industry giant it is now. You see, as a prototypical entrepreneur, Hurvitz is brilliant but eccentric, hands-on yet restless, charismatic though cantankerous. This is why he has handlers – a top-tier team that he's surrounded himself with who let Hurvitz be Hurvitz.
David Woods, who very much fills the roles of Hurvitz's right-hand man, consigliere and voice of reason at the company, maintains that Hurvitz is an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word. "They don't think or operate the way most people do, but they're the ones who do all the work and take all the risks," Woods says. "They may not be the easiest people to deal with all the time, but you have to respect their sheer drive, determination and talent for staying focused, recognizing their strengths and limitations and building a successful company."
Like a Rolling Stone
Much has been written about Hurvitz's start as a young entrepreneur – a street-smart autodidact who left school in his early teens and, through sheer force of will, built an apparel company on a foundation of selling Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin T-shirts at fairs throughout Canada. Consider that GH Enterprises – an early incarnation of Ash City, which Hurvitz has self-financed since 1993 – started over 35 years ago in a tiny office in Toronto with only Hurvitz and one other employee. Today, Ash City's facility in Richmond Hill, Toronto, is 200,000 square feet, with another facility in Lenexa, KS, that's just over 100,000 square feet. The company that was once known as an outerwear provider has, in the last five years, increased its market share in overall apparel categories like polos and women's wear to become an industry style and service leader. But Hurvitz, ever the iconoclastic outsider, did it all without the glad-handing and schmoozing that so many others in the industry rely on to get ahead.
With an entire new line, Core365, and 39 new styles being launched this month alone, combined with a 99% accuracy rate on the near-1,200 orders it processes daily, the company continues to leverage its undeniable strengths – its original, fashion-focused design and streamlined operation systems in place.
"Our strength, due in large part to the eight weeks of training we give our employees, is to give clients a ‘good, better, best' option for the promotions they're creating for their customers," says Cathy Rumsby, vice president of customer relations. "Where we try to shine is by responding, quickly and creatively, when clients say, ‘make me look good.' "
Mike Emoff, owner of the Dayton, OH-based distributor Shumsky, works closely with Ash City as it is one of the company's preferred vendors. "Ash City is excellent at developing relationships in the field – they understand what we want, make an effort to meet with me and my team individually and make sales calls with us when we ask them to," says Emoff. "But what really differentiates them is their service and designs – they excel in both areas in ways that other companies do not."
To that point, the company clearly puts an emphasis on its sartorial style. Elson Yeung, its product line manager and design wunderkind, was named as one of Wearables magazine's Designers of the Year, and the company itself is a finalist in five Counselor Distributor Choice Awards categories, is up for PPPC's Supplier of the Year and has garnered numerous other industry accolades for being the best of the best. It's the design of such items as the UTK Warm.Logik line – which many clients have compared to the quality and aesthetic sense of North Face and Patagonia – that's put Ash City on the map. "The gap between retail and our world of promotional apparel," says Mabel Kwok, the director of product development, "is becoming narrower."
And Hurvitz, who was named Counselor's International Person of the Year in 2012, has built such a voluminous and loyal network of contacts overseas and has so much experience in dealing with factories directly during his many trips – upwards of 14 weeks per year abroad – that when economic and raw materials conditions become tumultuous, Ash City has the benefit of foresight and can inoculate itself so the pricing and availability of its products stay client-friendly.
But one of Hurvitz's singular talents has always been to identify people with specific niche talents, whether it be Woods' steady hand, Kwok's and Yeung's design sensibilities, Tom Kennedy's ability to streamline the production process as the company's vice president of distribution and operations, the talented and ubiquitous sales triumvirate of Joe DeVault, Chris Turner and Chris Clark, or Geta Navodarszky, the woman who methodically – borderline obsessively, which is what you want in a sourcing and safety director – checks the ability of every item to withstand stains, the elements and wear and tear and makes sure they adhere to safety codes.
Then there's Rome Rousselle, one of the core group of employees who have been with Hurvitz for more than 25 years. Rousselle's knowledge of all things SKU, inventory and production is downright Rainman-esque. These are the types of people that Hurvitz has chosen to surround himself with, and who are, he says, responsible for making the company what it is today.
When to Say "When"
For Hurvitz, though, what defines his role as a leader is his ability to know that he's taken the company as far as he can. Hence, the recent announcement of Doug Hayes as the company's new president and CEO, thereby effectively replacing Hurvitz.
"Ash City with Doug Hayes at the helm, in addition to the announcements we will be making in a few months, will tell everyone where we are heading and how we will get there," Hurvitz says. "Our three-to-five-year plan is to triple our sales." And while Hurvitz will retain control over the sourcing and supply chain elements in their entirety, a new president and CEO will undoubtedly shake up the status quo in one of the industry's largest supplier companies.
Hayes, who joins the company from Crocs Inc., where he served as president of its Americas division, says that as a Canadian and having worked in the U.S. for the past four years, he has long admired Ash City and the business Hurvitz has built in both countries.
"If I can keep the same entrepreneurial spirit that Garry has built within the company and add the managerial disciplines that I bring to the table without putting out the flame, I'll be happy," says Hayes. "My goal is to let Garry, the consummate entrepreneur, drive the bus, but maybe show him where the guardrails should be. I know how to run a company, but I'll be relying on Garry and David Woods to help me learn this business. I can tell you, though, that what I want is to take Ash City in new directions that will make us bigger, better and more profitable. It's not about standing still." – E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @ASI_MBell