Harris Reinhardt, CEO of Paragon Uniform and Apparel, has managed to balance the rapid growth of his company with a commitment to remaining within one of Westchester’s most urban areas. Reinhardt has been launching businesses since college, when he ran a successful startup from his dorm room. Ever since, the pioneering Brooklyn-native has continued to expand into new categories while staying true to White Plains and keeping his current business in the green.
Due to his business’ residency in White Plains, Reinhardt was recently accepted into the Inner City Capital Connections Program (ICCC), which was founded to aid small business growth and acquisition of capital for companies located in urban areas. Plus, for the second consecutive year, Paragon has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private businesses in America, proving that community support and big profits are not mutually exclusive.
How did he get his start? On summer break from Tulane University, Reinhardt took a part-time position at an understaffed catering company and was soon enlisting his friends to work alongside him. “The caterer liked the guys I brought out there and told me that he would pay me to bring him more employees,” says Reinhardt. “So, I started a little agency supplying this caterer with staff.”
Reinhardt soon realized that other caterers might be having similar issues. “I started supplying other caterers with staff and it grew very quickly. At a certain point I had hundreds of waiters working,” says Reinhardt. “I was doing this out of my childhood bedroom and it eventually grew so much that I couldn’t finish college. It was more than a full-time job.”
After setting up an office in Long Island, Reinhardt’s startup was soon supplying everything from hotels to country clubs with a variety of food service workers. The fact that the majority of these employees required a tuxedo in their work sparked the idea for Reinhardt’s next venture in apparel.
“I was often franticly looking for tuxedoes and I decided to find a source to provide my staff with their own in-house tuxedos so that they could work,” recalls Reinhardt. This was the genesis of Paragon Uniform and Apparel.
“It was the beginning of e-commerce,” says Reinhardt. “And I began selling tuxedos, and then shirts and accessories, through a website.” Reinhardt shortly thereafter developed a second site aimed at higher-end tuxedos, which exploded in popularity. “I got very excited about it because I liked the business. For me, the employment agency was very difficult and was very capital-intensive. The online work truly seemed fun to me.”
The backbone of this success was Reinhardt’s embrace of marketing through search engine optimization (SEO), which allowed him to draw traffic—and clients—to Paragon Uniform and Apparel. “I loved implementing SEO ideas I had read about and seeing the direct result of that,” remarks Reinhardt. The clothing sites grew so quickly that Reinhardt decided to sell the employment agency business he had developed in his youth and focus on apparel fulltime.
Of course, the entrepreneur could not remain in one category for long. “Paragon did very well for a number of years and I kept getting calls from friends needing help with their own websites,” says Reinhardt. “Soon it was friends of friends calling, and so I decided to start a little marketing agency to help other businesses with their SEO.” Typical of Reinhardt, this venture also grew at breakneck speed and soon had numerous clients.
However, the demands of the agency grew with its profits. “I got to a point where the marketing agency was taking up most of my time and causing me to neglect my own websites,” says Reinhardt. “So I let my contracts run out, and in 2010 decided to only focus on my own website business, and from that point on it grew exponentially.”
The Paragon Uniform and Apparel warehouse in White Plains
Paragon was soon selling on marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, while introducing a wealth of new products. “There is some seasonality involved with formal wear and I was looking to change my model a bit to look for products that would sell year-round,” says Reinhardt. “Now we sell everything from suits to hoodies, socks, undergarments, and women’s clothing.”
Paragon is now one of the fastest growing companies in all of Westchester County, with a three-year growth of 140 percent and revenue of $3.8 million in 2014, earning them a spot on the coveted Inc. 5000 list. “We have also started branding our own products and have a line of suits coming out in the fall,” adds Reinhardt.
The location for Paragon was just as important as the company itself. Through two separate moves Reinhardt has remained committed to keeping his company in White Plains and hiring from within the area.
“I wanted to work in a vibrant area and I wanted diversity among the people I hired, and I didn’t feel I could achieve that unless I was close to public transportation,” says Reinhardt. It was this commitment to remaining in White Plains, a city that fulfilled all of Reinhardt’s demands in spades, that aided Paragon’s rapid growth and Reinhardt’s induction into the ICCC.
Today, this decision still serves Reinhardt’s employees. “As a matter of a fact, I would say half of our current staff either walks here or takes public transportation each day,” he says. Above all, Reinhardt has learned to focus on his current sector and to make the most out of it. “Now, we are sticking to a core strategy and not veering off it,” says Reinhardt. “I feel like I have an obligation to my workers and my business, and I really can not take my eye off the ball.”