The Nathan Kimmel Company, started by Nathan Kimmel in 1956, is an prime example of how one familyīs hard work, lead by a memorable man with an unwavering philosophy of how to do business, laid the foundation for a company that continues to thrive a half century later.
Nathan Kimmelīs company was started in 1956, in the garage of the family home, with a bundle of surplus parachutes purchased from Douglas Aircraft. Nathanīs daughter Carol Kimmel Schary, now president of the company, recalls how it all began.
"This little mom and pop industry started out of our garage. He bought a īlotī (container) of parachutes, and he decided he was going to take the webbing from them and resell it. We would come home from school and weīd take out the webbing, and my parents would go to the Laundromat at night and wash it, and then heīd sell it. He could make a huge profit from it since he did all the labor himself."
Part of Nathanīs success was his ingenuity. Carol remembers when Barrington Plaza in Los Angeles was undergoing renovation. Fireproofing and plastering debris was coating the area, including all cars parked nearby. Someone asked Nathan if he had a solution, so he started making tarps out of his surplus parachutes.
"All the buildings were covered in camouflage!"
"Initially, he started selling surplus. The second or third time he bought one of these īlotsī, there was hose in it. It was bulletproof hose. He didnīt know what it was, so he researched it, and he found a plasterer that said `this is great!ī and asked him if he could get more. So heīd go buy a īlotī that had this hose in it, and it would have other items, and so on."
The surplus selling business was, in every sense of the word, a family business.
"There were 4 kids at home, and since we ran the business out of our house, whenever the phone would ring, we would have to freeze and turn the television off and no one could talk. Now when the phone rings, I think I still freeze!"
"Everybody loved my father. He worked out of his station wagon, and they loved his personality and his pricing and the quality of service. They would ask him `Can you get me this? Can you get me that?ī He moved into a warehouse, and from there moved into this business. Whatever he could find, he would sell. That was about 1952. In 1956, he incorporated."
In the nearly fifty years that have followed, the Nathan Kimmel Co. has continued to serve the niches that got the company off the ground- and out of the garage. Today, the building trades still represent the companyīs biggest lines.
"Since he had started with the plastering industry, that became one of his main niches, and from there he moved into sandblasting, and the drywall industry, and the moving industry. We opened a retail store and started selling to the pest control industry. Thatīs our second big line."
But in those early years, Nathan didnīt limit himself. Buying surplus lots means buying blind, and sometimes what he wound up with had absolutely nothing to do with the construction industry. It made no difference, however. Whatever Nathan came home with was packaged and sold in the familyīs cottage industry.
"One time, he got thousands and thousands of Purple Heart and Stars and Stripes medals. We put an ad in Popular Mechanics and we would sell 10 for a dollar. After school we would package them in plastic bags. The big excitement every day was when the mail came- deciding who would get to take the dollar bills out of the envelopes! To this day, when the mail comes, I get excited. Itīs a throwback to that time, Iīm sure."
As Carol and her siblings grew, their roles in the business grew deeper and more varied. But as the kids grew, generational conflicts- so familiar to those of us in family businesses- began to arise.
"My older brother became the delivery boy, and as he got older, he started developing products and helping with the buying. He worked with my dad until 1990. He and my father butted heads because he had gone to college and gotten his degree in business. [My brother] knew the right way to run a business, but my father wouldnīt give in."
"He was of the 'old school.'— girls donīt know about machines, girls donīt know about parts. But I used to sit in a chair across from him in the office and listen to his philosophies of buying and selling. He was a super salesman."
Her fatherīs philosophies and skills as a "super salesman" kept her at the company through college and beyond.
"I used to work here part-time typing statements for my father, and that paid for my college. I came back to work full-time for a while, and part-time once I had my kids. Iīve done almost everything here. I never realized that I was getting another college education in how to run a business."
When Nathan died in 1993, the family convened to discuss the future of the business their father and mother had worked so hard to develop. No one felt prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of standing at the helm. After a great deal of thought, Carol decided that, with her motherīs blessing, she would take on the challenge. She bought out her siblings, and now runs the Nathan Kimmel Company out of a rapidly expanding warehouse space in Los Angeles.