RI Entrepreneur Hoping to Make Big Impact by Thinking Small

August 12, 2014

Max McVay

Originally published by the Providence Journal


WARWICK -- Gary Goldberg says he may have stumbled on to the secret to his success in business -- stop trying to make millions of dollars.


“I don’t need a $150-million enterprise anymore,” said Goldberg. “I’m suspecting the more I let go of that, the easier it is to get there.”


The 44-year-old Barrington resident is the third generation of a textile-business family that once employed 2,000 people in Fall River.


But, Goldberg has put aside the idea of overseeing 1 million square feet of factory space the way his father and grandfather once did.


Instead, he’s pleased to employ 50 people in a two-division textile business growing one step at a time


The first part of Goldberg’s business grew out of his son’s medical problem.


In 2004, 4-year-old Sinjon Goldberg was having difficulty breathing at night. Eventually, Sinjon was diagnosed with an allergy to dust mites.


Having spent most of his life in the textile business, Gary Goldberg figured he could apply textile science to the problem.


He worked at Duro Industries, a company his grandfather cofounded in Fall River 60 years ago.


After his father sold the business in 1997, Gary Goldberg started a company that provided designs and manufactured products on contract at factories he owned in Mexico and Vietnam. He also acquired a Woonsocket business that produces performance outerwear.


He found that pores in fabrics used to cover pillows and mattresses were too large to keep out the dust-mite waste that sets off allergies and asthma attacks.


He created a technology that can make fabric with pores no larger than one micron -- one millionth of a meter. He found a South Korean manufacturer that could make the fabric cost-effective.


Goldberg started CleanBrands LLC using that fabric technology -- dubbed MicronOne -- as the company’s core.

CleanBrands products are now sold at places such as home-furnishings retailer Bed Bath & Beyond under the CleanRest brand label.


Goldberg realized supplying larger retailers such as Walmart is both hard and expensive. So, he puts a lot of effort in selling to distributors that supply hotels and to pest-control companies.


“As we were trying to grow this business we realized the retail environment is controlled by a couple of giants,” Goldberg said. “The giant retailers of the world are just tough.”


The big retailers demand a lot from small suppliers such as CleanBrands and yield little on price. “That’s the tension,” he said.


Rather than fight the big boys, Goldberg turned to distributors who supply hotel chains and institutions. They buy in bulk and don’t worry about store shelf space.


Hotels and places that sleep lots of people also have a problem -- bedbugs -- for which Goldberg found a solution - the “Zip-n-Click.”


Bedbugs bites can cause itching and prompt allergic reactions. They can burrow into uncovered mattresses. The Zip-n-Click locks and covers a zipper slide in the closed position, preventing bedbugs from getting to the mattress fabric.


How did he come up with the idea? By taking a cue, he said, from the Hungry Hungry Hippos children’s game made by none other than Pawtucket-based toy giant Hasbro Inc. In the game, players use a lever to manipulate the mouth of a plastic hippo to gobble up marble-sized plastic balls.


Goldberg’s device swallows a green zipper slide in pretty much the same way.


“This simple, elegant design increased the value of our line,” he said. “Our sales have ticked up like a little staircase.”


Now, the mattress covers come with a warranty backed by CleanBrands.


“I’m certainly in the insurance business now,” Goldberg said.


The next product in the CleanBrands line got its launch this summer -- a foam pillow that can be sold in tandem with the company’s mattress covers.


First operating in Bristol, Goldberg moved his company first to East Providence and then to its current home at 240 Bald Hill Rd. in Warwick, a building that once housed the Eclipse Coffee Syrup Co. The building now houses a different type of manufacturing.

Its 34,000 square feet of space gave Goldberg the room to run his other company -- SquadLocker. (SquadLocker itself is a spinoff of another Goldberg company, Turfer Athletic.)


SquadLocker provides customized sports and team outerwear, uniforms and gear to athletes from youth- to college-level.

The building houses embroidery and screen-printing machines that can turn out team-sized batches of gear with player names, numbers and logos on them.


“Getting someone’s name and number on a garment is a sticky proposition,” Goldberg said. “We believe there is an opportunity to use e-commerce and mass customization to serve that market.”


The company sells its athletic products to about 6,000 teams through leagues around the country.

And as for Sinjon, he’s growing right along with the business. Now a teenager, he’s an intern working with SquadLocker’s Website developers.

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