Back in the mid-1990’s Ken Shwartz had an idea.
“Mr. Shwartz eyed an opportunity in the golf industry and created a company that would specialize in graphically enhanced headwear for golfers,” said Jim Keenan, marketing director for Ahead Sportswear of New Bedford, Ma. “At the time, the marketplace was void of such ingenuity and creativity.”
Most of the golf hats created prior to the mid-1990’s consisted of a simple logo and a few other minor graphics,
Shwartz launched his startup business near his home, opening the plant’s doors on Front Street in New Bedford in 1995 to meet a pent-up demand for forward-thinking, stylish products. The company had only a few employees at the time, but Shwartz’ idea, and business, quickly took off. By November 1999, the company relocated to a new building in New Bedford’s Industrial park.
Ahead’s success didn’t go unnoticed as Inc. Magazine chose the firm as the number one fastest growing inner city company in the U.S. Ahead also earned first place for Product Ingenuity for Emerging Companies.
Ahead, an acronym for Advanced Headwear Embroidery And Design, saw its sales skyrocket and it became a major player in the sports apparel marketplace.
Said Keenan, “Eventually, golfers wanted more and the company expanded and now operates four distinct business units: the Ahead men’s apparel line; Ahead Headgear, Ahead Heavy Metal line of golf accessories and the Kate Lord Collection of ladies hats, apparel and accessories. A few years ago, Ahead redefined its acronym to better represent the company it turned into: Apparel, Headwear, Embroidery, Accessories, Design.”
The company has shrewdly been able to capitalize on the golf industry’s desire for specialized, high-quality graphics on headgear and garments and the brand-conscious nature of those who play golf and shop for apparel to meet personal taste and on-course style requirements.
Said Keenan, “Ahead strives for efficiency and productivity, and so the plant in New Bedford is currently optimized for both, which includes both manufacturing and storage. Of course, this is continuously being addressed as the needs of the industry change.”
Ahead’s cutting edge technology and commitment to innovation can be seen in its new X-Cap that the company specially designed to accommodate sunglasses and other eyewear. The cap has built-in retractable cords that can be used to attach onto the eyewear and hold it firmly in place in all weather conditions, whether being worn on the face or placed on the bill of the hat. The company says the X-Cap is “an ideal solution for those golfers who use prescription eyewear or sunglasses,” when playing.
Ahead also specializes in a wide range of accessories for the golf market, from ball markers and bag tags to poker sets. The accessories can be combined in a myriad of different ways in custom golf gift packs, corporate gift packs, charity gifts, and executive gift packages.
The company has agreements with such luminaries of the game as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk, Aaron Baddeley and Brittany Lincicome to wear Ahead apparel.
One of the reasons Swartz began his now booming company in New Bedford was because of that city’s proximity to his home. But the firm’s relationship with the region has served it well and continues unabated.
“New England has a very talented and broad work force to draw upon, making us able to maintain our competitive edge,” said Keenan. “In particular, we have a dynamic creative department with talented designers that continue to help us pioneer and stretch the boundaries of our industry.”
Keenan said the company has a long-term commitment to Massachusetts and New England in general.
“Ahead’s commitment goes beyond keeping the business in New England. It also makes special efforts to support local vendors when it can. We all play a part in this economy, and supporting your neighborhood businesses is important.”
As for future plans, Keenan said the company is keeping an eye on the economy and trends in the marketplace before it launches any significant plans for growth.
“There’s always an eye on the future and while things are slowly improving, there are no current plans for expansion at this time.”
For more information about Ahead and its products, visit www.aheadweb.com.