How I got my start: Corky & Company

The first entry of our series is written by Alan Macomber of Corky & Company, maker of children’s coats. We’ve only had two submissions so this won’t be much of a series if we don’t get more.  Anyway, here’s Alan.

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On a Memorial Day weekend back in 1994, Kim and I took a bag of hats to Cape Cod to see if we could start a business. While we sold out the hats and took orders for more, one store-owner suggested we should get a New England sales rep because we couldn’t do the selling, making and shipping and keep our sanity. Our reply simply was, “what’s a sales rep?” The store-owner politely explained and recommended we contact Dinah.

Kim diligently contacted Dinah and set-up an appointment. Kim, with our infant daughter, met Dinah to show her the hats and Dinah said something to the effect of “Honey, the hats are cute, but I can’t make enough commission to justify selling your hats. But, if you add a couple of coats I’d really be able to sell your line.” Kim left and as Dinah watch Kim wheeling the stroller away with our daughter, she made a mental note that she’d never see that person again.

Kim came home and asked what I thought. I said “what do you have to lose? Make a couple of coats.” The next week Kim called Dinah and said the coat samples were ready. Dinah was shocked, but true to her word she sold and sold our coats and that’s how Corky & Company began.
I’d like to share how I found sales people for Corky when we were a new manufacturer in 1994. Back then there wasn’t an Internet to do research, instant communication via email or jpegs that could be easily viewed by anybody. Being somewhat ANALytical, however, I set-up a data collection method and followed up with cold calls.

I collected a bunch of trade magazines like Earnshaws and Childrens Business (now defunct) and extracted all the sales reps listed in the manufacturers ads. Half the ads listed the sales persons name and phone number for a given territory while others only gave a phone number. I compiled this data by territory on a single sheet of paper to find out which sales person in a specific territory had the most companies advertising on their behalf. When an ad listed only a phone number, I simply matched the phone number with another ad that listed the phone number and a name.

This quickly yielded the biggest buying markets in the US as New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles. So now what? I called the rep with the most ads in each territory under the premise that the best rep had the most advertisements. If I was negged, I’d call the number two sales rep and so on. In the end we had five new sales reps in our second year in addition to our first rep from Boston. That year we started with a Philly rep instead of a Los Angeles rep, but that’s a twist of fate that I’ll save for another post.

When Corky started 15 years ago this is how we found our reps. Over the years we outlasted some rep’s business tenure, made some changes or were sent packing from a showroom (only once.) However, 15 years old and three of the original seven sales reps are still with us!

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7 comments

  1. Alan,

    I’d be curious to know how you managed growth. Do you manufacture in-house? I assume Kim made those first samples. When did you branch out from coats? How did you test the waters?

    Thanks for writing this. I wish we could have a forum where we pick the brains of people like you and Fit Couture and others who have succeeded.

    I’ll be sending in my own story, but it’s many steps behind yours (but still taking those steps).

    Marguerite

  2. Oops…this is why email, chat, etc. can lead to misunderstandings. I meant a LIVE forum, a conference for DEs. For me, it’s satisfying to be able to have a Q/A session with someone sitting right in front of me. It was a result of me reading what Alan wrote and having about a zillion questions for him.

    I’m really sorry you misunderstood–you know how much I am on the forum, so you gotta know I love it! It’s THE place to be.

    Marguerite

  3. Alan says:

    Hi Marguerite:

    Kathleen’s right, the FI forum is an awesome resource for start-ups and veterans a like. In addition to running Corky, I’m heavily involved with a tech company start-up. Until we close a round of venture funding, I’m pretty limited with free time.

    I love helping people in the apparel business and freely give advise when asked. If you have a specific question for me, just post it in the forum and then Twitter me the URL and I’ll respond. My Twitter ID is kidscoats.

    Best,
    Alan

  4. Alan…

    Thank you so much for writing your story. You and Kim continue to be such an inspiration for me.

    I want to thank you for always being there to answer questions and encouraging me! You’ve been a great mentor!

    Wishing you all things good in the New Year! Looking forward to meeting you later this month in NYC!

    With friendship,
    Lisa

  5. Andrea D. says:

    I want to echo my personal thanks to Alan and Kim. This spring I went to the Boston area to spend a few days with my daughters, and was able to go to “Corky’s” and meet the group. Alan was so generous with his time, as was Kim and their staff designer. They had succinct thoughts, good suggestions. One thing that Kim told me in reply to the “how did you begin….in those first days???” really touched me. She shared with me, in a very matter-of-fact way that she sewed the first 50 coat orders herself. (I think that was the correct number). That put a new outlook on things for me, I’ve been trying to get everything so “perfect and professional”, to want to make a good impression….Wow, Kim and Alan really inspired me–I thought, stop thinking so much and just do it. So, I put up my, imperfect, templated website; I narrowed my focus to a teensy beginning and I have been consistently progressing forward ever since. Just move forward each day, that’s what I learned from Alan and Kim. Thanks again to them and to all of you “big bros and sisters” who have so much to share with us all. Best Wishes, Andrea

  6. Trisha Stevens says:

    Hello Alan,

    I am a newbie and really am looking for some advice. I have a few children’s clothing designs and really would like to get them looked at? Do you have any advice? Should I first look at finding reps or is this at a later date? Is the new children’s law going to ruin this business or will there be another way? Any other helpful advice would be so great from anyone!

    Thanks for everything!
    Trisha Stevens

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