Episode Thirty-One: How Robert Hinsch’s Curiosity and Connections Transformed TVF

Episode Description

Relationships and connections are important in your personal life and can have a positive impact on your professional life, too.

In fact, nurturing meaningful connections often serves as the cornerstone for these successful ventures.

In this episode of Empowered Owners, Robert Hinsch, vice president at TVF, shares his journey of helping start the West Coast division of TVF, a story of humble beginnings, resourcefulness, and the power of strong relationships.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How embracing curiosity allows us to deepen our understanding of products, customers’ needs, and the company’s operations.
  • How focusing on relationships with customers, vendors, and colleagues is a testament to the impact of strong connections in business. Nurture these relationships by showing empathy and prioritizing open communication.
  • How appreciating and supporting fellow Employee Owners and building a positive and supportive work culture, contributes to the success of the company.

Jump into the conversation:

[02:22] Robert’s journey at TVF
[05:44] How the textile industry has evolved
[07:43] TVF’s origin story
[15:34] Relationships and curiosity
[19:47] The secret to TVF’s success

How to Listen or Watch

Listen below or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Watch below or @Empowered_Ventures on YouTube.

Read the full transcript here or below the following media links.


Episode Transcript

Robert Hinsch: It’s just a lifecycle of a business. Everybody’s looking for a competitive edge, and the consumers are what drive that. And then the manufacturers are providing products that the consumer is asking for, and that’s always something bigger, better for less money.

Chris Fredericks: Welcome to Empowered Owners, the podcast that takes you inside Empowered Ventures. I’m your host, Chris Fredericks. In each episode, I’ll have a discussion with one of our employees to discover and highlight their distinct personalities, perspectives, and skills while also keeping you in the loop with exclusive news, updates on company performance, and a glimpse into the future plans of Empowered Ventures. This is an opportunity for me to learn more about our amazing employee owners and an opportunity for you to hear regularly from me and others from within Empowered Ventures. On this episode of Empowered Owners, I’m talking with Robert Hinsch, Vice President at TVF. Robert joined TVF in 1987 as the first West Coast employee and was empowered by TVF’s owners at the time to build an entirely new division from scratch, which he successfully achieved. He also brought about much needed insights and strategic direction that we get into in this discussion, and that played a big part in helping TVF grow to what it is today. Ironically, Robert was born in Anderson, South Carolina, which could be considered a textile capital of the world. His family eventually moved to California when he was very little, and after school in the Fresno area, he returned to Los Angeles and has been there ever since. Right out of school, he went to work for Burton Glass fabrics, where he got his introduction to what they called recreational fabrics at the time, and we now refer to as industrial fabrics. His career in textiles unfolded from there with a very entrepreneurial approach. He even ran an insurance company simultaneously for a time. In this conversation, we cover a lot of ground, including his career history and his strong desire to connect with people and how that and being extremely curious played a big part in his success with that, let’s get to my conversation with Robert. Hey, Robert, thanks for coming on empowered owners.

Robert Hinsch: Absolutely. Glad to be here.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. So we’ve had the pleasure to work together for a long time. You’re definitely one of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked with, and I thought it’d be fun to start with kind of your origin with TVF. And for those that may not know, you’ve been around at TVF for a little while now and really launched TVF west coast. So I thought we might start with just how you ended up at TVF.

Robert Hinsch: Yeah. What had happened is I worked for a competitor prior to coming to TVF and at that time we were fully vertical. It’s a company known as Brookwood today. At that time it was named Coded Sales. But I had worked for that company for a while, right out of college, and we couldn’t seem to get out of our own way at that company. And I was extremely frustrated and very driven, I guess, to do as good as we could. And I had to actually go to TVF or came across TVF and was buying inventory from TVF to fill holes in our inventory that we couldn’t fulfill just to keep customers happy. And my experience was really, first interaction was with Suzanne Freeman, who’s retired. But she was super great. Everything they did happened on time. Communication was clear, and it was just always such a great experience. And I was very driven at a young age, not to say that I’m not today, but probably even more impatient. I’ll call it back. When I was in my twenties I went to then the President of Coded Sales and made a few suggestions, or one might look at them as demands and said, here’s what I’d like to do and here’s how I want to do. He really, he was a sweetheart, he was very polite, and he said, robert, I just don’t think we can do what you’re looking to do right now. And you just really need to go do what you feel is best. And he was, again, sincere. And really, he took me under his wings early on, along with another gentleman, John Sousa. And they just said, yeah, have at it. So I contacted TVF, since that was such a great experience, and started working with Dick Leventhal, one of the other founders, and he got me in contact with Dick Hansel, the other founder. And I said, here’s what I would like to do. Would you guys be interested in opening up a location in the West Coast? And they said, absolutely. So I was off to the races in a sense, and I’ll share another funny little story. On my first interview, I missed the plane, so I was late for the interview. I think that’s a one and only plane that I missed, but that was a classic. But having said that, we started off very small and we actually started bringing in imported material, which was very foreign to the folks in Indiana and the Midwest. When I visited Indiana at that time, I don’t think I saw a Toyota or Honda in sight. Where? In Los Angeles. That’s what every other car was.

Chris Fredericks: So this would have been what, mid 80s?

Robert Hinsch: Basically, yeah, 1987 is when I started. And I started bringing in material first from Korea, and we stored the material at my family’s moving and storage business. And I went to my parents and said, can I borrow a little bit of warehouse space from you for a while? And they said, sure. You can have this spot right over here. And we started bringing in materials there and slowly built it from there and continued to move to larger warehouses over time in adding people. James Durant, who was still with us, was one of our first salesmen that joined us. And he’s the big teddy bear and giant that we all know and love. And I said, James, I think you ought to come over here and work. And he was at coded sales at the time. And I said, this is a great place. And he thought about it, and obviously he saw the light, as they say, and came over and has been over here for a number of years as well with me. And it’s every step of the way. We just kept building and building. And I think at that time I had this dream there was a competitor that I really looked up to, and that was a company by the name of John King Textiles. And that was my target. I said, I want to be as big as him or better than him. And that was a tall order, because at the time, he was very heavily involved in importing materials, innovative at the time in different markets, and really a leader in so many different ways. And we slowly did that. We accomplished the goal. We are certainly much bigger and then some than they ever were, and have a much better organization than really, I feel, anybody out there. So it’s been a great ride.

Chris Fredericks: I love that origin story for both you at TVF, and also you’re capturing a lot of kind of TVF’s history there. I wonder if it might be fun to paint the picture fully, like when you chose to join TVF. What was TVF before you got started?

Robert Hinsch: Yeah, that business was into cottons, number ducks, single fill ducks, things like that, both dyed and natural. They also did synthetics. They were heavily involved in 200 inures, four hundred thousand s, and one thousand and fifty s, doing them all domestically. And their model was similar to that of ours at coded sales. When I say ours, where I had worked at coded sales. And they were a competitor, really, they were a strong competitor. They just didn’t have the presence or I don’t feel that they were comfortable at the time at transitioning into other areas and possibly taking on imported fabrics and looking at that direction as well, and expanding their product line, really. Because as today we have both. We’re heavily involved in the domestic market as well as the imported where we can really cover just about anyone’s needs, depending on what their requirements are.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. And that industry, as many industries went through some big changes during the importing, became a big driver for a lot of different industries. I wonder what would have happened to TVF if they had never gotten into imported fabrics.

Robert Hinsch: Yeah, I really think today we’d be out of business, I think. Or we’d be much, much smaller than we are today. Unfortunately, the US textile market has gone through its life cycle, if you will. And while it’s still, in some respects, strong today, it’s nothing what it was when I started, or like you say, the 60s or 70s, when it was just going full tilt. It’s just a lifecycle of a business. Everybody’s looking for a competitive edge, and the consumers are what drive that. And then the manufacturers are providing products that the consumer is asking for. And that’s always something bigger, better for less money. And today, as we know, while we still have a very strong domestic market for manufacturing, a lot of the pack manufacturers and apparel manufacturers that we used to do business with, they just moved their business outside of the country to where once we using domestic fabric, then we were supplying them imported fabric for her domestically. And the next step was, how do we further save money? And they just transitioned the whole manufacturing process offshore. And the beauty of that is we’re in a lot of cases, still participating with those companies overseas to where some of our fabrics actually end up back over here as finished products, but not even produced here in the US.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, makes a lot of sense. So going back to that, how I think about it is you were another entrepreneur that Dick and Dick brought into the business to build up another arm. And that you joining really led to a lot of change, too, that ended up helping TVF be what it is today. With all the growth of the synthetics and nylons and polyesters and the imports and everything, any other kind of funny or surprising experiences that you had just building the business when you first got started, asking your in-laws for some space for some fabric? What else happened in the first few years that were like, wow, that was tough, or that was surprising or whatever? What were some challenges that come to mind?

Robert Hinsch: Looking back, how we built the business was very, like you say, from scratch, and I would say on a budget. I am, as you know, very frugal. I don’t like to spend money. And we really did things manually. We probably worked a lot harder than we needed to. And one funny story was we had a customer show up at one point we were unloading a truck, and back then we were getting things from a finishing plant by the name of Amarbell, which is closed today. And they would pack cordura in 300 yard cartons, and that’s about 300 pounds. And we didn’t have a loading dock. All we had was this aluminum ramp that we would set up on the back of the, which was a moving ramp that I got from my family’s moving company. But we’d set it up on the back of the truck, and we’d use a two wheel dolly and go down the ramp, get going about 100 miles an hour by the time he got to the bottom and the customer showed up, and I had them helping me unload the truck.

Chris Fredericks: I said, hey, get over here and.

Robert Hinsch: Help me unload this thing. What was really neat is we had so many people support us, and really, I think, in some ways want us to succeed, whether it’s our vendors. I’ve made so many great friends along the way on the vendor side, on the customer side, and I’m just really passionate about people and their experience and their successes and failures and how they did it. That was one thing that was always fun for me, is to ask people, how did you do this? And I’m not the brightest guy in town, but I could certainly look at whatever others were doing and say, okay, figure it out. I always want to figure things out, and how does that work? And that’s the fun of it for me, is understanding things and then trying to do it myself.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, and you alluded to it there, but getting to know you, I’ve gotten a sense that your really, relationships with people are so important to you, and I think probably has been a big key to your success with customers and vendors and your fellow coworkers and stuff. Where does that come from, that interest in people for you?

Robert Hinsch: I don’t know. That’s a great question. I’ll share with you. I don’t know. I think you have. You’ve read that book outliers before, Malcolm Gladwell, a lot of different great books that he’s written. And I come from a divorced family, and I had a very conservative father and then a very entrepreneurial stepfather and a very loving mother. And I think that combination, while coming from a divorced family, isn’t always great when you’re going through it, but because of the experiences that I learned from both sets of families, that was really a blessing in disguise and gave me a viewpoint of two different ways of seeing things. And I think the combination of that, I mean, my stepfather is a people person. My mother was, and I think I just caught on from them. And really my stepfather was definitely a role model of mine. And I saw how hard he worked. And, I mean, he’d be gone before I’d wake up in the morning and he’d get home at 1011 o’clock at night, every night. And he was just working hard forever. And I saw what that was bringing him and our family, and I said, boy, I want that, so how do I do that? And I didn’t follow his footsteps exactly, but I certainly got his work ethic and kind of dive in and do things a little bit like he did. But the conservative side of me comes from my father’s side. And you can see that’s a pretty strong driver I have.

Chris Fredericks: That’s great. I think curiosity, too. You mentioned you seem like you’re really curious both about how things work, but also how people work. Is that how you build relationships with people, do you think?

Robert Hinsch: On the business side, yes, I’m really curious how things work. Some of my hobbies, I love mechanical type things. I have a few motorcycles that I love working on. I’ve rebuilt a few cars before. In high school, I totally rebuilt a car from scratch. It was just something that I love to do. On the people side, I don’t know, I just like having connections with people. I’m curious about them. I’m empathetic to people. I always want what I think is fair for people. That’s always important to me is that they’re treated properly and that whatever they’re going through is deemed fair, if you will. And like you mentioned, I’ve made so many friends in this business, and I still keep in contact with people who have retired or have moved on into different industries. And that’s just super important to me.

Chris Fredericks: Who are some of your favorite customers or stories or experiences you’ve had? What stands out for you?

Robert Hinsch: I guess the biggest thing that stands out to me is when I see someone that is passionate about their business or they have the same set of guiding principles that I do. And one company that I can reference is Kokatat. We’ve been friends with that group of people for many years, and that group has got to be the most loving and fun group to work with. It’s incredible. And everyone from the top all the way down to every position that I’ve ever been in touch with within that company has been great. And it’s neat how you can see a leader bring people together, and then who they hire also impacts a whole organization. It’s just something that they bring in and it carries forward and it gets out even to their customer base. It’s really neat. I’ve worked with just about every backpack company that’s been here in the US over the years. Some that are in business and some that aren’t. I guess if I look at it, this is going to sound foolish, but I do care about the business because I’m very competitive. But my first interest is a person and their business. And through luck we get the business because we generally create some sort of relationship. But even if we don’t get the business, there’s people that I’m friends with and we have great times and we treat one another with respect and we don’t even do business together, but we’re happy. And I have one story. I think we hadn’t done business for at least 25 years and then that individual left the firm and moved over to another. And today we’re doing business together at a brand new firm that he’s doing business. And we’ve always had a great time together. And so I don’t treat it as, oh, I’m not doing any business, I’m not going to do anything with them. So discard it. The relationship is more important.

Chris Fredericks: That wasn’t a 25 year patiently trying to wait until you get more business.

Robert Hinsch: No, it wasn’t. Sure, we would have liked to have done business, both of us, but it just didn’t work for whatever reason. And that’s okay. But the relationship was always great and we always had great conversations and would check in and see what’s going on and then the things aligned and here we are today doing business together. So it’s those kind of stories and it’s great. Yeah, a lot of fun.

Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome. What would you say the secret to TVF’s success is?

Robert Hinsch: It’s people. Yeah, I think it’s really the people. Couple of different things. There’s more than just one thing, but definitely the people are what make a company. And then the systems that we have in place, the infrastructure, all the way from back when I first started doing business with TVF. Prior to coming here, it was always just a super well oiled machine and everything was transparent. We could be able to communicate information to our customers really clearly, tell them where things were, if we got something in production for them or what our inventory levels are or you name it. Anything that had to do with our business we were able to do effectively and efficiently. And that too has always been a real strength of TVF and then the other has always been, we’ve been well capitalized. We haven’t ever had to watch our P’s and Q’s, so to speak, to say, well, we can’t grow because we don’t have the funding or something of that nature every step of the way. We got a great finance team in place. We got a great sales team, purchasing team, warehouse team. The whole package is, again, really good.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun for me. Obviously, I’m not part of the official TVF team anymore, but I’m still very much involved with empowered ventures. But seeing and learning about what you and all your colleagues that have been with TVF from the earlier years and have built such an incredible business, and now a whole new generation of people have joined TVF. And I think the future is really bright. I’m just super grateful to you for what you’ve built. You and a few others really built an amazing company. And so many of us are now benefiting from that. So I just want to say thank you for that.

Robert Hinsch: Yeah, thank you. I couldn’t have done it without the help of everyone else. I was just one small part of it. And I was so fortunate to come across TVF back then, and I just super lucky. And with Dick Hansel really giving me the reins to basically do whatever I want within certain guardrails, but what better experience could someone have? It was just an absolute great time. And then the addition of you, I mean, you really came into the company and really changed the culture here and creating the ESOP, and it’s been phenomenal. It just keeps getting better.

Chris Fredericks: That’s great. Thank you, Robert. And I guess shout out to Bob Burns. Bob’s kind of has some similar themes in his. Yeah, so many people have been such a lot of fun to work with and have built an incredible company. And, yeah, I’m just really grateful. So thanks, Robert, for coming on. Empowered owners, I guess I have one more question for you. What advice would you give your fellow employee owners within TVF and all of our employee owned companies?

Robert Hinsch: Always be curious. Try to understand to the deepest level you can what it is we do, how we do it, and how our products are made, and then fully understand what it is that our customers are looking for and what their needs are. I think that’ll get you a long ways.

Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome, Robert. This has been fun. Thank you so much.

Robert Hinsch: All right, no problem. Good to see you, Chris.

Chris Fredericks: I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Robert Hinsch. Robert is one of my favorite people and I’m glad you had the opportunity to hear some of his great stories and so much of TVF’s history. Thank you Robert for joining me. Huge thank you as well to Emily Bopp and the team at Share Your Genius for producing this episode. Remember, we want to hear from you. Please give us feedback, suggest guests and topics for future episodes, and tell us how we can keep improving the show. To reach us, email [email protected]. Thanks for tuning in.

Tags: Podcast
Episode Thirty: Let’s Chat… Exploring Your Account Value Part One
Episode Thirty-Two: Let’s Chat… Exploring Your Account Value Part Two