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Fighting industry Goliaths: Almar holds its own against cargo handling giants.

As the only black-owned cargo handling company at a major U.S. airport, Almar Airport Services is carrying some heavy baggage indeed. But even more daunting, the young firm is trying to break into a market dominated by long-standing industry giants like Dynair Services, Ogden Corp. and Hudson General.

Based at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Almar provides ground handling services, including cargo and baggage handling and aircraft cleaning. Last year, sales reached $900,000.

"At the 10 major U.S. airlines there are no minority-owned cargo companies," notes Alvin Brown, Almar president and owner, who holds a master's degree from the New York Institute of Technology and a bachelor's from Emory-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Before launching Almar, the 36-year-old Brown spent four years trying to get into Kennedy. Realizing that he had to compete with more established companies, Brown sought to make his firm stand out. So, he took advantage of Almar's small size to customize and personalize services.

Retired JFK airport manager Dick Rowe, impressed with Brown's enthusiasm, approved Almar's bid to lease a 66,000-sq.-ft. area from USAir. Former New York City Deputy Mayor Paul Gibson Jr., a retired American Airlines executive and that carrier's first black vice president, came on board as Almar's general counsel.

Still, Almar needed clients. Brown had to carry the business for seven months, paying $13,000 a month in rent--not to mention the high cost of equipment and insurance. It takes about $1 million worth of equipment to load a DC10, notes Brown, who has invested $276,000 of his personal savings along with loans from family and friends.

Brown was also lucky to make friends with AMR Services, a major cargo handling company and a potential enemy that subcontracted work out to Almar. "They are so big, they don't consider me much of a threat," explains Brown.

Initially, Brown targeted Caribbean and Latin American airlines, including British West Indies Airways. "BWIA was concerned most about theft," he says. "So we hired people that had never seen the inside of an airplane and trained them. This is how we sold BWIA. Our workers came with a clean slate and we rotated shifts regularly." Almar's staff of 25 part-time and full-time employees handle 500,000 pounds of cargo a month for BWIA.

But Brown says his competitors are still playing hard ball. One company underbid him three times recently. Now Brown aims at getting Almar into the international arrivals terminal at JFK, where one contract can mean $50,000 worth of business per month. But alas, this industry is dominated by Goliaths, and this ambitious young David needs to put in that extra effort to hold his own on the runway.
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Title Annotation:Almar Airport Services
Author:Brown, Ann
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Mar 1, 1995
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