The World of Hospitality Through the Perspective of Boca Terry’s President, Bruce Cohen
Like many of the most prominent industries in the world today, the hospitality realm is constantly changing—something the Cohen brothers know very well. As an introduction to the first Robe Report of 2016, Boca Terry’s President, Bruce Cohen, offers his insight on all things related to what’s landed our brand on the stage of success and how it’s advancing.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into the hospitality industry with your brother, Edward Cohen? Did you always see yourself being part of this particular field?
As my brother discussed in his interview last month, we were third-generation manufacturers of women’s clothing. Edward was working for our father between Miami and New York, and I was (and still am) living and working in California. An opportunity arose to purchase a bathrobe company in San Francisco, but it did not pan out. Both of us had been sourcing, manufacturing, and selling products for many years and we realized we could start the business without the large debt service that was required to buy the existing company. Doing due diligence in the purchase process, we discovered there is life after the garment business.
In the segment that we manufactured, we had to continually reinvent ourselves due to the change in seasons and the need to satisfy the major retailers with whom we were dealing. Getting involved in hospitality industry was an eye-opening experience. While working in the garment industry, when we would receive a call, it was always bad news. When we get a call in the hospitality industry, it’s usually one of gratitude for delivering our products in a timely manner or for their outstanding quality.
Who has been your greatest inspiration, and what motivates you at work?
I could say my greatest inspiration is an extraordinary businessman, but actually it’s not a person. You might find this hard to believe, but I’m most inspired by the horses I have owned. Every day is a learning experience. They teach me humility, patience, self-control, sensitivity, and discipline.
Knowing we have a great product motivates me at work. I love this business. What we sell is a reflection of Edward and me—we are the product. Basically, we are in a service business; the customers respect the both of us and our product—that is what motivates me.
If you can choose one chief attribute every business owner should possess, which quality would that be, and why?
I agree with what my brother previously mentioned—every business owner should be empathetic. We would not be in business without our employees, and of course, without customers. That’s why it’s important to know what our employees go through on a daily basis and what our customers need. We have outstanding employees that treat our customers with respect and care.
What is it like to work with your family?
Family businesses have a strange dynamic. However, I could not ask for a better partner than my brother. There is an implicit trust between us.
What do you like most about your job? Which aspects do you find to be the most difficult?
I enjoy the interaction with our employees and the personnel at the properties we work with. I enjoy developing new markets. It goes without saying, the U.S. makes for a large percentage of our business, but I believe that the largest growth in the future will be correlated to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. I am currently focused on continuously growing our present worldwide business, by working with our overseas partners and motivating them to understand our product.
I find that the most difficult part of the job is having to deal with issues that are generally out of our control. This includes handling late deliveries from the mill as well as dealing with the lack of responsiveness when it comes to calls and emails, and an order that wasn’t received.
Running a successful company certainly requires a lot of time and energy. How do you manage to balance your work life with your personal life?
Owning a business is synonymous to having an intertwined lifestyle. Technology serves as a boon and a bane in having a balanced work/personal life. I am fortunate to live in southern California and work in a home office. I start my day at Eastern Time, and by the end of the workday, I have some time to attend to matters of my personal life. However, having a home office means there’s always work to do. Living on the West Coast gives me the opportunity to deal with our overseas mills, which function at a time difference of 15 hours. If a problem arises overseas when those on the East Coast are asleep, I can deal with it immediately via email or on the phone as opposed to having to wait until the next morning. One of the best things about living in California is the great weather, which allows me to take time to enjoy my life 12 months a year. It’s a 24/7 work-life cycle.
Boca Terry’s products can be found in top-tier properties around the globe, including 5-star hotels such as the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons. Which key elements do you attribute to your brand’s continuous growth?
Great quality, very competitive pricing, and outstanding customer service. As I mentioned previously, the “Cohen brothers” is the product we are selling. This is ingrained in our domestic sales force and in our overseas partner. My brother and I are totally immersed in the sale of the product.
Since establishing Boca Terry in 1996, what are some changes you’ve noticed in the hospitality industry?
Firstly, I’ve noticed that the desires of the hotel industry are starting to replicate those of the garment industry. When Edward and I first started the business, our product was terry cloth—either loop terry or velour in white or ecru. Now, we need to continually come up with new fabrics. When we first started, our entire product line was virtually cotton. Today, cotton terry has become a smaller segment of our product line. We are selling products made of modal and polyester, but it is not the polyester of the 20th century. Secondly, bathrobes have become an added value to the hotel experience; guests see it as a comfort item.
And last but not least, the rise of technology has brought about an immense change in the industry. With the availability of email, Skype, and several other messaging platforms, one can communicate with customers in real time. With current technology trends, we can customize our communication to personalize the experience with clients and partners.
What are the top advantages of having warehouses in numerous locations?
Since we deliver products on a worldwide scale, having warehouses in numerous locations facilitates the delivery process by expediting delivery times to accommodate our customers’ needs.
Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to someone who also manages several factories across the globe?
Know your product, know the capabilities of the mills, and make the mill your partner. What I mean by making the mill your partner is that one should know that the mills are an integral part of the success of the business. If the performance of the mills meets the desired standards, the business will be successful. More often than not, the posture between a mill and an importer can be adversarial. The mill needs to know that everyone is working with the same goal in mind.
What are some of your favorite things to do in your free time?
Riding horses is my passion. I compete at a low level, in jumpers, dressage, and three-day events. Living in southern California offers the ability to ride outdoors during all 12 months of the year. During the wintertime, my wife and I are avid skiers. We also love to cook. We have a fantastic kitchen and of course, an outdoor grill. We usually cook around 6 days a week. I always joke that we have the best Italian restaurant in California.
With the commencement of 2016 comes the time for New Year resolutions. Do you usually establish any yourself?
Resolutions are made to be broken, so I do not make any. I just live my life as best as I can. I try to be a good person, be good to my family and friends and take care of the environment. Can I do better? We all can—I guess we can always try a little harder.