Virginia Beach company originated from a family vacation to the resort city
Anyone who is in the market for outdoor table tennis equipment, patio furniture or a tricycle for the kids has probably come in contact with the products of Virginia Beach-based Kettler International Inc. “Nationally our leading business is table tennis, followed by tricycles,” says Stephen Mannix, the company’s vice president of finance. “Locally in Tidewater our leading business is patio furniture.”
A sister company of Heinz Kettler GmbH in Ense-Parsit, Germany, Kettler International was founded by Heinz Kettler who wanted to establish a U.S. presence for his company. He learned about Virginia Beach on a family vacation and liked the area because of the availability of land, the business environment and the city’s proximity to the Port of Virginia.
“Virginia Beach also has a large workforce,” says Mannix. “It’s a good mix of people. Since our business in the U.S. includes Canada and Latin America, we are looking for knowledge and experiences beyond the region.”
Kettler started the company in 1981 with a wholesale operation and several stores in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Newport News. He closed all of the company’s stores except one in Virginia Beach when he decided to concentrate on the wholesale end of the business.Kettler International’s Stephen Mannix shows off a tricycle amid the company’s offerings of patio furnishings.
The company currently has 35 employees in Virginia Beach as well as 140,000 square feet of warehouse space and 6,000 feet of office space. Products include table tennis equipment, patio furniture, bikes, toys and fitness equipment.
The company sells to specialty stores such as C.P. Dean in Richmond and Kinder Haus Toys in Arlington. Products also are sold through the company’s website, www.kettlerusa.com, and large online retailers such as Amazon. Smaller online retailers carry their products as well.
The popularity of e-commerce has changed the company’s business model. “Now we have more direct contact with consumers,” Mannix says. “We always make it easy and quick for a person to find a local retailer.”
The company handles sales, marketing and warehousing along with parts and service for the Americas. Its sister company in Germany, now headed by the founder’s daughter, Karin Kettler, is focused on manufacturing and product development.
The Virginia Beach office sells to Canada and Latin American countries, including Colombia, Chile, Panama, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. “Mexico is our number one market in Latin America,” Mannix says, noting the company serves many of its customers through its Spanish-language site, www.kettlerlatinoamerica.com. “We are developing relationships in Chile, Colombia and Panama.”
The company also has a warehouse in Brighton, Ontario, that ships products to Canadian customers. “Everything is shipped out of Canada except patio furniture, which is shipped from Virginia Beach,” Mannix says. He adds that the company “built the website www.kettlercanada.com to support” its Canadian business.
The Toronto area is one of the company’s main sales areas in Canada. “Canada is a very large country but the population is very concentrated in Ontario and Quebec,” Mannix says. “Toronto is a great market for toys and table tennis. We have good retailers there.”
The company’s main sales area in the U.S. stretches from Washington, D.C., to New England. “We also do a good business in California and Texas,” Mannix says. “Also, a lot of our products that are geared toward the outdoors do well for us in coastal areas.”
Mannix finds that styles and tastes differ in regions of Canada. French-speaking Quebec is more Europe-oriented than other Canadian provinces, he says. “It’s also multi-lingual. Sometimes you will have folks that are not fluent in English.”
He believes that doing business in Canada is more personal than it is in the U.S. “Retailers know each other on a national basis, and they know their suppliers more than retailers in the U.S.,” he says. “For example, a retailer in Toronto may be very aware of a retailer in Vancouver. The marketplace is more intimate.”
Economy in Toronto
Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is now the fourth largest municipality in North America, following Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles. The city has a large media presence that includes several Canadian networks such as CBC and CTV. It also is home to the Toronto Stock Exchange as well as the majority of Canada’s largest law practices and top 10 accounting firms. Film and television production helps boost the economy. In 2012 major productions topped $1 billion, a 6 percent increase over 2011. The city also is a hub for biotech and technology firms. Large companies based in the area include luxury hotel operators Four Seasons Hotel and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
What to see in Toronto
Toronto is known as a city of skyscrapers, with 63 tall buildings. That number is expected to grow 40 percent by 2016. One of the most prominent buildings on the city’s skyline is the CN Tower, named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The building, looming 1,168 feet in the sky, includes the attraction The EdgeWalk at the CN Tower, where people can walk on the edge of the man-made wonder. Other points of interest include the St. Lawrence Market in the historic Old Town neighborhood and the Eaton Centre, with a similar design to the Galleria in Milan, Italy. The Toronto Zoo with over 5,000 animals and the Royal Ontario Museum are popular tourist stops as well. The city’s Broadway-like strip includes the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres.
Economy in Virginia Beach
With a population of more than 447,000, Virginia Beach is the 39th largest city in the U.S. Its main economic sectors range from agribusiness and construction to the military and tourism. One of the city’s big economic draws is the $206 million, 515,000-square-foot Virginia Beach Convention Center. The greater Virginia Beach area also has seven of the world’s top 10 defense-related companies and 11 major military installations, including Naval Air Station Oceana and NASA’s Langley Research Center. The Hampton Roads area has four Fortune 500 companies — transportation giant Norfolk-Southern, Dollar Tree Stores, Huntington Ingalls Industries and Smithfield Foods. The state recently announced that PRUFREX Innovative Power Products GmbH, which will supply ignition components for its U.S. customers, is investing $7.33 million to open its first U.S. manufacturing facility and U.S. headquarters in Virginia Beach.
What to see in Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach’s 35 miles of shoreline make it one of America’s favorite destinations. The boardwalk, originally made of wood in 1888, is now three miles long. Some favorite destinations include the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, the largest aquarium in the state, and First Landing State Park. The 8,500-acre reserve of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is made up of barrier islands, dunes and freshwater marshes and includes False Cape State Park. Both are home to wild horses and American bald eagles. The Association for Research and Enlightenment attracts people interested in the late Edgar Cayce, known as the “Father of Holistic Medicine.”