I came across this great story on the Kenneth Cole website. There is definitely a lesson here for early-stage entrepreneurs on resourcefulness, and doing what it takes to get the job done. As a side-note, Kenneth Cole is now doing revenues of over $500M each year.
THE BIRTH OF A SHOE COMPANY AS TOLD BY KENNETH COLE
Twenty years ago, I wanted to open a shoe company with limited money. From experience I knew one had to get in quickly because so often new companies run out of cash flow before they get the chance to conduct business. I also knew it was easier to get credit from factories in Europe who needed the business than from American banks that didn’t. So I lined up the factories, went to Europe, designed a collection of shoes, and returned to the states to sell them.
At the time, a shoe company had two options. You could get a room at the Hilton and become 1 of about 1100 shoe companies selling their goods. This didn’t provide the identity or image I felt necessary for a new company, and it cost a lot more money than I had to spend. The other way was to do what the big companies do and get a fancy showroom in Midtown Manhattan not far from the Hilton. More identity, much more money too.
I had an idea.
I called a friend in the trucking business and asked to borrow one of his trucks to park in Midtown Manhattan. He said sure, but good luck getting permission. I went to the Mayor’s office, Koch at the time, and asked how one gets permission to park a 40 foot trailer truck in Midtown Manhattan. He said one doesn’t. The only people the city gives parking permits to are production companies shooting full length motion pictures and utility companies like Con Ed or AT&T. So that day I went to the stationery store and changed our company letterhead from Kenneth Cole, Inc. to Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. and the next day I applied for a permit to shoot a full length film entitled “The Birth of a Shoe Company.”
With Kenneth Cole Productions painted on the side of the truck, we parked at 1370 6th Avenue, across from the New York Hilton, the day of shoe show. We opened for business with a fully furnished 40 ft trailer, a director (Sometimes there was film in the camera, sometimes there wasn’t), models as actresses, and two of New York’s finest, compliments of Mayor Koch, as our doormen. We sold 40 thousand pairs of shoes in two and a half days (the entire available production) and we were off and running.
To this day the company is still named Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. and serves as a reminder to the importance of resourcefulness and innovative problem solving.