Reprinted from 2/24/2014 Providence Business News
It wasn’t exactly an obvious progression for Steve Kaplan to go from his chosen career as a paramedic to running his metals company, Hallmark Metals
Steven Kaplan earned his emergency-medical-technician certification at the Community College of Rhode Island. He went directly to work as a paramedic in Newport and then Warwick.
“I loved it. I liked helping people. I worked at night. I’d go in at 4 p.m. and get out 8 a.m.,” said Kaplan. Being a paramedic didn’t pay much, so he supplemented his income by going on the road with his father selling chemicals and casting metals. That eventually turned out to be the natural progression of his career.
“There was a lot of interaction with people. Everyone loved my father. He’s the type of guy who could sell a freezer to an Eskimo,” said Kaplan of his father, Jerry Kaplan, who passed away three years ago. “He taught me the business.”
The elder Kaplan had left the T.H. Baylis Co., a chemical distributor, to become an independent sales representative for two chemical companies and three metal companies.
One evening, Kaplan and his father were in line at a restaurant and happened to run into the owner of TIN Metals, one of their clients, who suggested the three of them have dinner together in the near future.
The dinner turned out to be at Camille’s on Federal Hill - it was a fork in the road in Kaplan’s career.
“Bill, the owner, didn’t have a sales force then and was losing business. He said to my dad, ‘You and Steven have the clients and I have the equipment to produce the products.’ He wanted to make my dad a partner, but my dad didn’t want to be a partner, so I became a partner. I was in my early 20s.”
The partnership was formed by the time the three of them walked out of Camille’s that evening in September 1986. They decided TIN Metals needed a fresh start and they rebranded it as Hallmark Metals.
“In the United Kingdom, a hallmark is a stamp on a gold ingot, so you know the purity of the gold,” said Kaplan. The name signified that the company was dedicated to creating the purest, highest-quality alloys in the industry.
Kaplan’s father continued to work at the company.
“My dad was usually waiting for me when I came in to work at 6 a.m.,” said Kaplan. “His hobby was his work.”
The partnership continued until the early 1990s when the owner decided to retire, several years earlier than expected, and arranged it so Steve Kaplan could buy him out.
“He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. He held the note on the business,” said Kaplan. There were two office areas in the 12,000 square-foot building in Cranston, where the company is still located.
“I rented 10,000 square feet from him and he stayed in 2,000 square feet,” said Kaplan. “Every Friday I’d come over with the payment. I’d walk out one door and walk into his office and give him the check. After I paid off the business, I bought the property and he held the note on that, too.”
As the jewelry business in Rhode Island shrank and manufacturing was sent to regions overseas with less-expensive costs, Kaplan continued to develop new segments of the market for the alloys created by mixing different metals, such as tin, antimony, bismuth, copper, silver and zinc.
“In the 90s business was going overseas and I was losing volume per customer. It wasn’t like in the heyday of the jewelry industry where customers ordered 5,000 pounds of casting metal,” said Kaplan. “During the peak of the jewelry industry, 99 percent of our business was in the Providence and Attleboro area.”
As the market changed in the past 15 to 20 years, Hallmark Metals began selling to customers in New York, then Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and Florida. In addition to jewelry manufacturing, the customer base expanded to more manufacturers of souvenirs and novelties, including companies that made religious goods, Christmas ornaments, statues and charms.
Hallmark Metals began global exporting in 2000, with the first customer in Mexico. That export business now includes Venezuela, Israel and El Salvador.
Local business and the relationships that build that base are still critical. For example, Hallmark sells an alloy for fishing tackle to Zing Products in Wareham.
Kaplan has seen continuing growth in smaller customers, many of them hobbyists.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the loyalty between the company and its employees.
“We consider it a family,” said Kaplan. “Pretty much everyone who’s worked here has retired from here.” •