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How a stitch in time sewed up an NHL contract.

STAIRS LEADING TO THE SECOND FLOOR OF AN AGING, three-storey, converted warehouse on Logan Avenue take Carol Johnson, president of Pace Setter Swim & Gym Wear Inc., to her daily routine at 6:45 each morning. But routine is seldom the norm for Johnson. The angled French doors opening into her comer office can unlock calm or chaos, profit or loss, such as the call from her customs broker in Pembina, North Dakota.

"A shipment of curling slacks was rejected because, in their opinion, the label in the back seam wasn't within the tolerance level," says Johnson, explaining the ruling that labels should be placed `in or about two inches from the waistband'. Johnson felt it was an unfair rejection, but took her lumps and had the labels moved even closer to the waist, bands, then paid shipping charges a second time to get her product across the line.

Twelve years ago, evolving into a manufacturer of jogging suits, jackets, uniforms, shorts, t-shirts, running and cycling gear was the farthest thing from Johnson's mind. She had other ideas about her future. "I planned to return to university and take my masters degree, but I never did."

A request from a Toronto company changed her course in life. "At the time, I sewed bathing suits for my children, who were competitive swimmers", she says. "When the company asked me to make suits for them, it sparked the idea."

Pace Setter Swim & Gym Wear Inc. became a reality on June 1, 1978. With 400 square feet in the old Royal Bank building at McDermot & Main, her personal savings, a DREE grant, a $40,000 loan from the Federal Business Development Bank and a bank operating line, Johnson was officially in business. For the first nine months she manufactured bathing suits, but dropped the line completely because of their trendy nature. She kept the "swim" in the company name simply because of its founding roots, even though it can be confusing to new buyers.

Changing attitudes about physical fitness, combined with an increase in health clubs, were a real boon to the garment industry when Johnson began making nylon tricot shorts. Within a couple of years, Pace Setter had grown from a small operation with gross revenues of $30,000 the first year to $145,000 which meant being able to pay out the FBDB loan. Growth and development also meant moving to larger quarters on Home Street with over 6,000 square feet, where johnson stayed for seven years. In 1985 she paid $500,000 for a 60,000-square-foot facility on Logan which is now home to Pace Setter. Realizing there wasn't enough employee parking, Johnson's next acquisition, in 1986, was a parking lot nearby for $45,000.

Inside the building, amidst the whirring and clickety-clack of machinery, johnson is temporarily running the sewing floor until production costs are back under control. "I spend 10 hours a day running production, and afterwards I do my office work, but some of that is going a little shy these days," she confides.

Johnson has a genuine zest for learning and certainly a strong desire for success. Somehow she manages to squeeze time out of some days to receive computer training in the marker/grader system for the cutting room, as well as keeping abreast of new features on equipment. "I'm in the niche I enjoy the most," she says of production. On the sewing room floor, Johnson lends assistance to supervisors in finding more efficient methods of sewing and using all the equipment to its full capacity. By using a different feature on a machine or simply adjusting the speed, a piece-worker can increase production substantially. "Some patterns need only a minor adjustment to be mass-produced more easily and quickly," she explains, using the example of a square pocket: "Two unnecessary stop and start steps can be eliminated by changing from a square pocket to a rounded one."

The adage "time is money" holds true at Pace Setter. Costing and time study people are on the floor every day, timing the potential profit or loss of a particular pattern. They count the minutes and seconds on their stop, watches to accurately set a rate for a garment. Costs can change depending on the number of operations that can be combined, like sewing and serging simultaneously, or by introducing additional features to a garment. johnson speaks of "time and motion," pointing out that a home sewing machine is used only 15 per cent of the time for sewing while 85 per cent of the home sewer's efforts are expended in motion - cutting threads, turning material. In a factory setting, not only time is minimized, but motion is significantly decreased due to the multiple functions of commercial machines.

"Product development is very expensive," says Johnson, expanding on the time and motion theory. "It can cost four to five hundred dollars just to develop a new jacket pattern." Costs not only involve the piece-work sewers, but a pattern-maker, fabric spreaders, cutters, computers, machinery and marketers, to mention only a few.

The latest and greatest news for Pace Setter is recently acquiring the Canadian National Hockey League licensing rights from the Licensing Corporation of America, thanks to months of endless hours of negotiations handled by Ray Gudmundson, vice-president of the company. "I'm not the only one who puts in long hours," Johnson says, ecstatic with Gudmundson's results. Cost of the license? A whopping $10,000 per year plus royalty fees.

Now Pace Setter has the centre ice program, which enables it to outfit NHL trainers, coaches and any player who wants to wear Pace Setter training suits. "Having the licensing is great for business," proclaims Johnson. "It provides us with higher visibility in the retail sector, and with the consumer." Pace Setter makes training suits for the entire NHL including the Winnipeg jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques. No wonder johnson is so excited. That's in addition to supplying a myriad of sporting good and retail stores across the country.

Over $1-million worth of material is purchased by Pace Setter per year and at least 100,000 metres of that is rip-stop nylon alone. The company employs approximately 115 people, and gross revenues have exploded, but Johnson won't reveal an exact figure - all she agrees to is a "seven-digit figure."

From the day she started Pace Setter with less than six employees, johnson maintains, There's never been a morning that I didn't want to get up and go to work." Reflecting on sales meetings, administrative duties, union negotiations and the busy fall schedule with shows and orders, she adds, "It's also hard to wear 10 hats in a day, but I'm learning and enjoying it."
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Title Annotation:National Hockey League; Pace Setter Swim and Gym Wear Inc.
Author:Taylor, Barbara G.
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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