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Kay's of Kingsport going strong under new owners

October 31st, 2011 9:20 am by Staff Report

Kay's of Kingsport going strong under new owners

One of Kingsport’s oldest stores, Kay Uniform recently changed hands and is under new ownership and management. Mark Wells, a former Sullivan County Deputy, purchased the 40-year-old business in April of this year.

In March, Wells walked into the former Kay Uniform to purchase a "Rocker" patch that he had earned by becoming a member of the county’s Fugitive Apprehension Team. "When I walked into the store, just the owner was here, and we started talking about the business. Due to health problems, she could no longer operate the store and had a couple of police officers interested in buying Kay’s."

As he left and on a whim, Wells gave the owner his name and telephone number and told her to call if the deal fell through. About five days later, she called and was ready to talk. Wells, and his wife, Natalie, pushed the numbers to determine if the deal was feasible. Within a few weeks, Wells was the owner of the largest store between Roanoke and Knoxville that sells official uniforms to civil servants.

Kay’s clientele primarily consists of local and state police, sheriff’s offices, city and volunteer fire departments, security firms, charitable organizations, EMS, rescue squad and life saving crews.

He maintained the name of Kay’s of Kingsport and never closed the store a day while he set about rehabbing, re-organizing and re-stocking. According to Wells, Kay’s stocks the premium brand of civil servant uniforms, Fechheimer Flying Cross, which is the brand required by many agencies.

"Fechheimer is quality wear that is unbeatable," he said. Kay’s has many styles in stock to choose from and will do special orders. "It’s hard to stock one of every item needed to outfit a uniformed professional because you are outfitting them from head to toe. Each department is unique in many ways."

Peninnah Wolfe is the main seamstress who handles all the custom alterations and stitching of badges and epaulets.

"All uniforms require precision when applying the badges and decorations," Wells explained. "The decorations must be properly aligned and in the right spot, and Peninnah is an expert seamstress that I am fortunate to have working here." Holly Carrico, who is a former local business owner herself, works as the store's sales associate.

Wells is an on-site, hands-on owner-manager.

"I am very pleased to have added three full-time positions to our local economy when we need it the most. I plan to add a fourth position very soon," he said.

Along with the Fechheimer Flying Cross brand, Kay’s of Kingsport carries Propper, 5.11, Blackinton, Safariland, Boston, Dutyman, Gould & Goodrich, ASP, Rocky Boots, Bates, Ridge, Hatch, Smith & Wesson, Peerless and Blackhawk just to mention a few. The store is not just open to civil servants. Wells welcomes the general public and will do special orders for those customers as well.

Without a retail background, Wells knew he was taking a risk buying and operating a retail store. The short term has been great, and he is quickly rebuilding relationships, both new and old. For the long term, Wells said the key to the store’s success will be "exceptional customer service," a mantra he takes seriously.

"I want 100 percent customer satisfaction. It’s important that we get the order right and provide quick turnaround on orders and alterations." Kay’s currently serves the states of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. Wells added, "Supporting locally-owned businesses is a key factor that benefits the Tri-Cities area and beyond."

Kay’s of Kingsport is located at 3216 E. Stone Dr. and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 423-288-5682 or visit them on Facebook.

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