How One Distributor Grew Quickly by Getting in with Columbus’ Retail Powerhouses

The article was initially published by Dan Eaton in Columbus Business First.

Behind every successful retailer there are a slew of suppliers and smaller businesses making, moving and improving merchandise before it hits store shelves. At Dismas Distribution Services, that entails everything from applying or changing price tags to altering seams on apparel to gluing and folding cardboard retail displays. The company was founded by a former L Brands Inc. employee and passed through a few owners until CEO Bob Parsons and his partners acquired the business five years ago. The company’s reach now is worldwide, though nearly all of its clients are based in Central Ohio and include big companies like L Brands Inc. (Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works) and Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and smaller operators like Homage LLC and Project Aloha. Parsons talked to Columbus Business First about how it has learned to keep up with the speed-focused industry while Denise Falter-Conklin, director of sales, talked about the increasing importance of its sewing operations.

How did you come to Dismas? Parsons: I had one career. I went to the nonprofit world for about five years. I loved it, but then I was looking to get back into the dog-eat-dog world. The entrepreneur in me came out. I knew (Dismas) was floundering. I knew they were going to be up for sale. I had a couple of partners from a different company who were looking for someone to do a little bit of fulfillment, a little bit of labor work.

We partnered together thinking of that, but as we thought about it, we realized they weren’t doing the retail part of this business. That’s where the low-hanging fruit is. We get in on the retail side, we should be pretty good.

How has getting those retailers impacted business? The last four or five years, it’s 450 percent growth. We went from a 12,000-square-foot facility to a 37,000-square-foot facility. We were there for three years. We outgrew the 37 quickly and now we’re in (60,000 square feet). We’ve been here for about a year and eight months. With some things coming up this year we already know about we’re looking at some things next door, 10-20,000 more square feet. We tied into the retail market here. With (L Brands) here and all their offshoots — that’s some people we’ve done business with.

What has the business evolved into now? The core of our business is ticketing, tagging, re-ticketing, re-tagging, doing something to the merchandise to have it ready for the store. A customer may have 87,000 items that need repricing. They need new tickets on the bottom. They don’t have staff to do that. That’s not what they’re built to do. The other part of this is everything comes in store ready. If they have 350,000 units, they’re going to set aside 150,000 of those for e-commerce. To be e-commerce ready, it has to have different bar codes, new tickets, individually packaged, individually folded, those kind of things. That’s another real niche for us. The third is the quality control. That is when a client says, “We just got in 100,000 pieces. Our quality team checked the first 1,000 of them and said we’re seeing quality issues.” A seam isn’t right, the color is varying — those kind of things. They give us the parameters, we go through all 100,000. 

Denise, you’ve been brought on to expand the sewing operation, why is that important? Falter-Conklin: You can really see what the opportunity is here, especially in Columbus. It truly is a niche. Our current operations, we do a lot of repairs. So if a garment comes in and it left the factory but they didn’t follow exactly what the retailer was asking, we can fix that. 

Parsons: We have clients asking us to do this. It was basic seam repair and with all these newer age companies in Columbus, they’re getting T-shirts in and they’re printing their stuff on it. But they need Homage sewn in here, right? At 8,000 shirts, who’s going to do that? Stuff that goes overseas has to have certain care warnings sewn in. That’s how it started. And then we had more and more clients ask about it.

So you’re picking up work that was being done overseas? What’s amazing to me is that the $800 million giant in Sri Lanka says, “This will really help us. With clients saying they want speed to market and you guys are right there, if you guys can finish it off, great, it helps us.”

What’s the status of your collaborations with other third-party businesses? Parsons: Very early stages. You talk about the Beauty Park and about how there are eight suppliers right here. They’re local and they’re shoving that product right over … It’s kind of having our own little Beauty Park based around sewing, printing and dying. 

Falter-Conklin: Fabric will still be made overseas, it will come here, go to the dye house. We can cut and sew the panels then the printing company gets it.

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