By  on November 12, 2007

MONTREAL — By the time most people turn 81, they are well into retirement, but Hermann Grunwald, owner of Reliable Hosiery here, just opened a new division to manufacture women's socks.

"Everybody is importing these days, but with a highly automated operation, there's no reason why local manufacturers need to completely close down their domestic operations," said Grunwald, who opened Reliable in Quebec City in 1959 before moving his plant here in 1964.

The octogenarian recently invested $2 million to install 30 knitting machines made by Lonati of Italy, and expects to be in full production before the end of the year, manufacturing about 6,000 dozen pairs of socks a week, or roughly 300,000 dozen a year.

Grunwald was inspired to get into sock production after Wal-Mart Canada president and chief executive officer Mario Pilozzi said during a recent news conference his company would like to buy more local products, even if it meant a smaller profit margin. He has also been approached by another major Canadian chain that expressed interest in his new venture.

While Chinese imports may be cheaper by about 10 to 15 percent, Grunwald said just-in-time delivery, better quality, seasonal styling and patterns give him a leg up on the competition. With the Canadian dollar worth about $1.07 U.S., his imported cotton from the U.S. is about 30 to 40 percent cheaper than it would have been two or three years ago.

"I've also just developed a totally new way of merchandising socks," which he declined to explain for competitive reasons. "My long-term goal is to eventually sell to the U.S. market."

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