Twenty-two years after retiring, Paul Kalbfleisch is actually going through with it.
After 32 years of teaching, Kalbfleisch putting away the chalk in 1997 only to launch PK Sporstwear in Elmira. Now, he’s handed the baton to Jeremy Weber, his long-time partner whose relationship ties back to EDSS.
Looking to retire for real, Kalbfleisch knew Weber was the ideal candidate to take over the business.
“I wouldn’t think of it going any other direction, it wasn’t a question for me,” said Kalbfleisch of his decision to leave the business in Weber’s hands as he heads into retirement.
Weber says he hopes to continue the company’s traditions by sticking to the values that made it so successful over the years.
“PK has left a legacy of caring for people and customers, and we really think it’s important to carry that on. We want to make people feel good and provide a service or a product, but also building relationships and caring for people while doing that,” said Weber.
PK Sportswear operated for many years as a home-based business before setting up shop in 2017 at a Park Avenue location in Elmira. The two often worked from their respective homes, taking on different roles in the operation that specializes in the likes of team uniforms. Weber did much of the designing early on, as well as the computer functions that Kalbfleisch was not so well-versed in. Together they would visit schools in the region about three to four times a week and to display their apparel, explained Kalbfleisch.
By visiting customers in person, they created a strong foundation for the business, he noted.
“We built the business on good service, and we felt our prices were competitive. Being in this school system myself, I sort of found that you didn’t get the best of service, people didn’t follow up.”
Now with a space for a showroom of their apparel, things have become easier for both the company and its customers. Just recently they also started doing in-house decorating, meaning they do their own embroidery, hot stamping and screenprinting, which saves a considerable amount of time versus outsourcing, says Weber.
The recent transition has meant some adjustments, however.
“Paul handled a lot of the running around and whatnot, and then I was like ‘oh, I have to somehow find a way to take that on.’ And just realizing too when Paul said that he wanted to make a clean cut — that he might actually mean that he wants to make a clean cut,” said Weber.
Their relation stems back to when Kalbfleisch was still working at Elmira District Secondary School and Weber was a student. They met briefly at that point, and then again when Weber took part in DECA – a high school program for emerging leaders and entrepreneurs – and Kalbfleisch was asked to be a judge.
Quickly after his retirement, Kalbfleisch came up with the idea of starting a sports-apparel business.
“Playing sports myself and going to school, I was always quite excited about getting some nice spirit wear. I enjoyed it when I did it at EDSS and then selling it, and I think making people feel happy about getting something that associates them with the school, or business that they belong to,” said Kalbfleisch of the impetus behind starting PK Sportswear in 2003.
What started as a one-man operation quickly grew into a company with two people who shared the same values – to make people happy through a business. Shortly after graduating from EDSS, Weber found himself a job at PK Sportswear, where he was able to work part-time while also working at Wallenstein Feed & Supply.
“I didn’t think long-term [about] that being something I wanted to be doing. So, at the time I just saw it as an opportunity and I didn’t really know where it was going to go,” said Weber of his decision to join forces with Kalbfleisch at a young age.
After 32 years of teaching and 22 years of managing a business, Kalbfleisch decided it was time to finally retire. With the company in good hands, there’s nothing but a bright future ahead for PK Sportswear, a local company built on good service and a life-long friendship, he said.
“You’ve built a relationship over the years so part of that is hard because I knew I was going to miss him,” said Weber as he bids farewell to a business partner but not a friend.