Christopher H. Koch, CEO of New Era Cap Co., which began on Genesee Street in 1920, decided to return the company and nearly 300 staffers to Buffalo. New Era, the official supplier of uniform caps for Major League Baseball, outgrew its Derby offices. Koch discussed the move and company-wide expansion plans.
>Q: Why did you decide to move the company's offices to downtown Buffalo?
A: There were a lot of reasons. First and foremost, we were completely out of office space in Derby. We wanted to be in downtown Buffalo, where we started, and felt that it would help the city as well as help us in our recruiting efforts. It's hard to get people to come to Buffalo and then, once they come to Buffalo, to tell them that they're going to be working 30 miles outside of the city -- that's the challenge for us. This year, we've hired about 100 administrative and corporate office employees, but it's been a bit of a challenge.
The opportunity came up for the federal building and, when we looked at it, we thought it would be a great, old landmark that we could restore and make our home. It had room for a retail store, which downtown Buffalo needs more of, and we're working on a small history and cap museum, which we thought would be a nice draw for people to learn more about New Era.
>Q: What was involved in the $15 million transformation of the defunct Federal Reserve Bank Building?
A: We pretty much gutted the entire building. We took it right down to the concrete walls and girder beams. We took out all the old systems, electric, water, power and started over from scratch. Once it was all gutted out, there were just huge floor plates and we were able to do exactly what we wanted to do. But we did keep some of the unique features of the building like the giant eagle, which sits outside the Delaware Avenue entrance, the granite window sills, the steel vaults and gun turrets.
It was a huge project to pull off in seven months, and everything from the top floor right down into the basement has been redone.
>Q: How many more people do you plan to hire in Buffalo?
A: We hired 100 this year. If we continue at the current pace, we'll have another 100 people in this building in the next 18 months.
>Q: How do you plan to extend the company's international retail reach from 200 apparel partners to 1,000?
A: Branching out into the apparel business was a big project for us this year. We did have a successful launch and it will deliver in the spring. We have about 200 retailers around the world, very high-end and more boutique in nature, who will handle our sports heritage high-end, fleece, hoodies, track suits, outer wear, polo shirts, high-end T-shirts, etc.
We're going to do another launch in February and we're going to broaden the distribution to around 1,000 retail stores around the world.
We plan to double the size of the company, worldwide, by 2010 and then plan to double it again. Our long-range plans are to try to double our size every four to five years. International markets for us have just started over the last couple of years and there's a lot of growth. We still believe there's more growth on the domestic side, although the percentages won't be as high as the international side.