This story originally appeared in the Florida Times Union February 2, 2006.
Last modified Thu., February 02, 2006 - 02:16 AM
Originally created Thursday, February 2, 2006
Kim Spruell's previous efforts at
entrepreneurship led to her current venture, KSI Safety.
By ERIKA TORRES, The Times-Union
Kim Spruell has made a living out of starting businesses. Among her start-ups: a private investigation firm, an answering service and a secretarial company.
Her latest venture has been her longest -- KSI, which first began as a sportswear and promotional company.
Now, the 47-year-old Jacksonville resident is venturing further into what many see as a man's terrain, the world of orange cones, flashing arrowboards, and even flame-retardant jeans.
Sixteen years ago, Spruell started KSI because she wanted an outlet for her creativity. During her first years in business she catered to small businesses that were looking for more name recognition to spur growth.
Soon after, one of her clients, a utility contractor, asked Spruell to put a logo on shirts his employees needed to wear to prevent electrical burns. That's when Spruell started adding protective clothing to her product line.
Now Spruell has opened KSI Safety to sell or rent everything related to safety, from traffic barricades to neon-yellow vests.
But Spruell is offering a twist -- something that sets her apart among other local merchants: she can customize anything in her store.
David Pratt, general manager at Ritz Safety, which also sells safety equipment and apparel, said his biggest competition comes from tool houses that specialize in tools but also sell safety equipment.
Pratt, who has been in the safety merchandise business for the past nine years, said competition in Jacksonville has accelerated in the past two years with more specialized safety stores coming online.
But, he said, a store like Spruell's has a distinct leg up.
"When it comes to bidding for contracts this company has an advantage because it's a woman-owned business," Pratt said.
Spruell, who claims she's never used her gender to get jobs, says she will use it to her advantage in her new division when it comes to bidding for government contracts.
But Spruell's small-business status has already earned her some clients.
Sam Norman, an area manager for utility contracting company Henkels and McCoy has worked with Spruell for a year not just because she can "get things in 24 hours," but also because she fills a niche his contracts require.
"Some of our contracts from the Department of Transportation, JEA and the JTA require that we hire small, emerging businesses." Norman said.
That's led to purchases of custom-made, fire-retardant shirts, designed to protect his employees from electrical burns when they work on transformers.
Meanwhile, long-time customers say they plan to buy more now that Spruell has expanded. Tom Kelly, who owns three different businesses including a garage construction company, has worked with Spruell since her first year in business, he said.
"I bought lots of T-shirts from her," Kelly said, who uses the T-shirts, jackets and baseball caps that KSI designed to promote his businesses.
Now that the new division is open, Kelly also plans to buy safety goggles from her.
Right now, KSI employs eight people, including six women, but Spruell said she plans to add six more employees by the end of this year.
erika.torresjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4402