By  on June 14, 1994

NEW YORK -- Nuance Textiles Inc., a three-year-old converter building its business in the crowded prints market, is ready to move in additional directions.

The firm was conceived after a bid by its three principals to acquire the converter they worked for was turned down. Nuance has reached a $20 million annual volume, primarily through exclusive prints on rayon and polyester fabrics for better-to-moderate sportswear and dress markets, and now is investing in some new opportunities, including beefing up both its open line and exclusive offerings and broadening its solid fabrics collection.

Barney Kelley, Ralph Annibale and Samy Nimroody, Nuance's principals, outlined those plans last week in an interview at the company's headquarters here. The three have no formal titles, although Kelley handles the bulk of the financial work, while Annibale concentrates on styling, and Nimroody handles import production. All three handle sales activities.

Yet while they look to expand Nuance's horizons, they won't ignore its roots.

"We are not going to forget what this company was built on, creating new prints," said Kelley.

Nuance was born on Aug. 8, 1991. That morning, Kelley, Annibale and Nimroody, who wanted to run their own company, walked into the executive offices of their employer at the time, converter Fisher & Gentile here, and made an offer to acquire the company. Their bid was rejected.

They then turned to plan B -- pouring in excess of $500,000 of their own money into forming Nuance. Later that afternoon, from a temporary space in Nimroody's Upper West Side apartment, Nuance made its first-ever sale -- a $100,000 order from JH Collectibles.

"We had made plans to move forward if they didn't accept our bid, and we were basically in business 30 minutes later," said Kelley, who asserted that the preliminary legwork, such as contracting dyers and finishers and searching for office space, "was done on our own time."

"We did not contact any prospective customers prior to our leaving Fisher & Gentile," he said, "nor did we borrow any money to get started."

On Aug. 12, 1991, Nuance, using dyeing plants in the South and in New Jersey, along with some in the Far East, set up shop in its current office on West 37th Street here. First-year sales were about $4 million, increasing to $16 million in the year ended in August 1993.Fisher & Gentile executives would not comment, either on the bid or on Nuance.

While at Fisher & Gentile, Annibale, 37, spent 14 years as a sales representative; Nimroody, 34, ran the company's import division for seven years, and Kelley, 39, after joining the company from Springs Industries, handled various financial aspects for about one year.

Nuance's first year saw the company concentrate primarily on wet and pigment printed fabrics of rayon failles and challis, and polyester crepes and georgettes. "We spend an awful lot of time talking to our customers, looking in stores, trying to find areas where we can grow the business," Kelley said.

"To be good at doing better [exclusives], you just can't show the line and wait for sample cuts to be made up," he said. "Instead, you're working on concepts and doing artwork, and getting very close to the customer. You're not just showing a header cap to the assistant designer and walking out."

Nuance currently derives about two-thirds of its business through exclusive programs.

"However we are doing more open line products as we grow," said Kelley. "We'd like to keep the focus where we are right now, perhaps doing some more, selected piece-dye items, but not run-of-the-mill commodity type stuff. Solids are going to be a bigger part of our business."

Over the last two years, in addition to the prints, the firm has increased its solid fabric lineup, including those of 100 percent linen, rayon and linen yarn dyes, textured piques in polyester, rayon and blends of rayon and linen. "Because we do a lot of private label business, we need to have versatility in our product line," Annibale said. "We don't want to do the same things. We want to move to new products quickly where the market demands them."

"Early on, we pursued rayon cross-dyed and novelty fabrics," Nimroody added. "We believed in them and went after them. Now, from checks, plaids and stripes, it's moved to jacquards, textures and piques. We've really diversified the group, targeting them at the better area."

Annibale said Nuance's styling is aimed at an "updated, traditional customer, one who has style and sophistication.""Styles I've consider missy, we've sold to junior cusotmers, and junior styles have been bought by customers in the traditional to contemporary markets," he added.

Nuance's customers said they've so far been pleased with the company's performance.

"We've been using Nuance for a couple of years now," said Richard Roberts, president of Cynthia Steffe Inc., a bridge and designer sportswear manufacturer here, who gave a nod in particular to the quality of its prints. "As our business grows, we're doing more with them. Their print quality is better than other firms that are in the same price range."

"We started using Nuance because they were a young, creative, talented resource in the market," added Pat Bilello, JH Collectible's textile merchandiser. "And in doing business with them, they've proved to be reliable and have delivered quality products. They show strength in trying to develop ideas on current trends."

As for the sales potential of Nuance, the executives said they don't want the firm to get too big too fast.

"We'd like to be much bigger than we are now, but the thing is, you need managed growth," Kelley said. "When you get to our size and you're growing faster than 20 to 25 percent a year, it's not manageable. It's going to put strains on cash flow, our personnel and ourselves. I think about 20 percent growth per year is doable."

Aside from its three principals, Nuance employs 18 in its office here, including four in-house salespeople. It also has a salesman in Dallas and a rep agency in Los Angeles.

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