By DSH Webster
Americans born in the first decades of this century are largely responsible for one of the most incredible periods in human history. Everyone pitched in, did his/her proud part to enrich the fiber of our nation. People were not afraid of work; success was by sweat of the brow.
MADE TO MEASURE would like to profile a few individuals of that generation, still active in the business, whose diligence and commitment helped build the uniform industry into what it is today.
Dave Hindlemann: Bell Mfg. Co. & Custom Uniform Co.
In 1916 New York City, where a kid made a living by the seat of his pants, Dave Hindlemann, entrepreneur, began at the age of 10 juggling three paper routes and an elementary school career. Whether it was his first bicycle, his Model T Ford with a crank that he bought for $50, or his upgrade to a roadster with a gear shift and rumble seat, Dave always paid his own way. He grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, where his father, Harry, was a contractor in the garment business. The Wall Street crash with its domino effect, destroyed the elder Hindlemann's career when the majority of his clients went bankrupt.
The family headed West. Dave abandoned his hopes for a future in engineering or law, apprenticing with his father in a small, Denver-based clothing company. He earned his Bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Denver. Working by day and learning at night, 20-year old Dave Hindlemann started his first company, Pioneer Wholesale Tailors, in 1936, and later, Bell Tailors. "I've never regretted owning my own business," Dave relates. "I never go to sleep at night worrying that the next morning some executive will tell me my job has been abolished."
Dave's success allowed him to bring his parents, sister and brother into his business. He saw to it while he was in Europe for three and a half years during World War II that the company continued to thrive, by converting its skills to the manufacture of military uniforms.
1945 came and the boys returned home--not to proprietary pinstripe suits--but to open-collar shirts, slacks and sport coats.
Dave adapted the military uniforms for marching bands, parochial schools and ceremonial groups. He converted from the cost-prohibitive wools to the new technology of synthetics. His tailoring shop mushroomed from five or six tailors to 50 or 60 sewers. Bell Tailors became Bell Manufacturing Company.
In 1981, he was offered a buy-out, readily gave up the high overhead and stresses of operating a large factory and went back to a smaller staff and shop, again modifying as the baby-boomers graduated from school and budgets for band uniforms got smaller. "Flexibility is everything in the manufacturing business," he notes.
Today, after 22 years in partnership with his daughter, Deb, Dave's smaller business, Custom Uniform Co., Inc. is bigger and more challenging than ever. All types of custom designed garments are manufactured under private label and the Custom Uniform label; he complements his inventory with ready-made uniforms.
"I like being a big fish in a small pond. We can make small quantities. It's fun. If you don't enjoy coming to work every day, you'll never be a success at what you do."
Married for 58 years, Dave and his wife, Phyllis have three children and three grandchildren. He states without hesitation, "Family has always been first. Even in the early years I always tried to make time for my family."
Dave insists that he is retired. "Retirement means doing what you want to do. I love to work, travel, read and enjoy my family. I'm doing all of those things, so I guess I'm retired." At the age of 89, he still works six days a week.
"So many things have changed," Dave Hindlemann reflects. "It used to be a handshake was a man's word. Now, it's lawyers and contracts--cut and dried. The personal element is missing."
Excerpted from story that first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 1997 issue, updated Winter 2006. © All rights reserved. Photo appears by special permission.
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