By Sue Moore
By Sue Moore
Ed Bernard, a champion of people, started Bermo with literally nothing, and in 40 years has created a giant in the wholesale clothing industry; and his headquarters has been on US-131 in Schoolcraft for the last 20 years.
He opens the doors of the local warehouse for every winter and summer sale, not so much to get rid of excess inventory, but because his staff of 55 in the Schoolcraft facility love to see their friends and neighbors come in to shop . “It connects us to the community with our great product at very low prices and we can give our neighbors great value,” Bernard points out. He is usually at the front door on sales days to greet the customers.
In fact, he has been connecting with the greater Kalamazoo community since he arrived here in 1973 to start a jeans retail business from his home in Chicago. He has been here ever since, while opening wholesale and retail outlets all over the United States. The company sources their manufacturing from China, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has a sales office in New York City and for years, operated Mr. B’s Wearhouse and Max 10 in Kalamazoo. Bermo also licenses the Farmall and Case IH labels for apparel distribution all over North America.
In business since November of ‘73, Bernard said that “We’ve had 37 great years but I would have to say the last three have been tough for retail business in general and ours in particular. We filed for reorganization bankruptcy in November 2012, not to get rid of the business, but to unload some of our retail leases, mostly in urban and inner city areas, and downsize in order to stay afloat,” Bernard laments. “We exited this year with 12 retail outlets and are doing “B to C” business online through Amazon, Overstock, EBay and Sears’ web sites.”
“There is a much better margin online than we see in retail these days as we don’t have the bricks and mortar stores with their big overhead to deal with so much anymore,” he says.
He chose the Schoolcraft site to build offices and warehouse space because it was perfect for truckers, customers and employees to navigate. Their previous location on Glendenning in Kalamazoo had tough limitations due to traffic routes, thus the access to I-94 and US 131 was ideal.
But the best part of his business, he claims, is being able to give back to the community and kids especially. He has been a “Big Brother” for many years and has served on the board as well as being president of the board for the five-county area. “I had really great parents, but so many kids just don’t. it’s not their fault that they didn’t have a good parent base as I did. I try to instill the proper values in young people I encounter through this program.”
In fact, he and his wife, Diana, just returned from “Parents Day” at Dennison University, where his past “Little Brother” is enrolled as a college freshman. “He has lived on the south side of Chicago the last few years. His mom just didn’t have the ability to help him get prepared for college. We tried to help out by giving him support and allowing him to fit into a more regular world. Big Brothers Big Sisters works because of the one on one mentoring that help kids respond and succeed in today’s world. “
Bernard went to the University of Oklahoma on a tennis scholarship, but only had two years of school before he entered the working world back in Chicago’s garment district. Even though he does not have at least a bachelor’s degree, in 2011 he was asked to teach a business decisions class at Kalamazoo College.
His next real love is tennis, and in 2000 he decided that he wanted to try to win a gold medal in the Maccabiah games in Israel in 2001. After qualifying for the American team, he sat down with his wife to decide how to best train for the event. Since he still had one year of college eligibility they decided that competitive college tennis would be the best training. Bernard played on the team for five months while becoming a full time student. He was 49 years old. It was to be the thrill of a lifetime to compete with over 10,000 other players from 60 countries; but a few weeks before the event, Bernard and many other athletes decided not to go because of the increase of bombings in Israel.
He did win gold in doubles in 2003 in the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile. Bernard considers himself more of a singles player with a strong forehand and thus decided to try again for the main event over in Israel in 2009. In a very tense week with his family and friends watching, he won the gold medal in singles after not being seeded(favored) to do so. “My wife and I were treated like rock stars when I wore my medal at the airport. We were surrounded by many people wanting to know what sport I participated in. It was such an honor,” he says.
“I’m proud of being in business this long, having started with nothing,” as he deftly displays the first dollar he ever made back in 1973, hanging on the wall of his office in Schoolcraft.