What began as a small bicycle shop in New York City in 1909 has turned into Kent International, Inc., a designer, manufacturer and supplier of bicycles to some of the biggest stores in the United States.
Kent made the transition from small shop to bicycle manufacturer around the time Arnold Kamler, current CEO of the company, decided to join the family business in 1972.
“I take pride in what we do here, because this is a family-owned business all started by my grandfather,” Kamler says. “When he immigrated to the US, my grandfather began working in a bike shop and developed a love for cycling. So, he eventually decided to open up his own shop.”
Kamler’s father opened up a larger store in Newark in 1947 – supplying bicycle parts to the eastern part of the country. Today, the Parsippany-based company is the second largest bicycle supplier in the US.
The road to becoming a top bicycle supplier wasn’t all smooth “cycling” however. In the 1990s, the labor cost imbalance between America and China, along with the subsidies China was offering all exporters at the time, forced the company to completely outsource production, while keeping its headquarters, distribution center, marketing and product design teams in Parsippany. However, this month, the company will be opening a new factory in South Carolina and returning production to the US, while still maintaining operations in China.
According to Kamler, the company imports approximately 3 million bicycles a year, mainly to large stores like Walmart and Toys “R” Us. In starting the new US operation, most of the parts will be from China, but by 2018, he hopes that 70 percent of Kent’s parts will be produced in the US.
“Right now, there are virtually no parts made in the US for bicycles, so either we will encourage other companies to set up factories in the US or we will do it ourselves,” he says.
“Our growth in the past five years has been exceptional, so we are producing a lot of bikes,” he continues. “In New Jersey, we have gone from 50 to 70 employees, from 2008 to 2014. In that same span, we were growing at a 20 percent rate in sales. Today, we are growing at a 5 percent rate. As a private company, 5 percent is really great.”
Kamler says that the company’s design team is always looking at ways to improve the look and geometry of the bicycles, but adds, “You can’t reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes. A bicycle is still going to have two wheels, a frame and handle bars; otherwise it’s not a bicycle.”
The company’s overall goal “is to make beautiful bicycles that work well at affordable prices,” Kamler concludes. “Not everybody can afford a $3,000 bicycle, so we try to make quality bikes that 95 percent of American families can afford. We want them to love riding bicycles as much as we love making them.”Related Articles: