"From the time I started Zak Designs in 1976, we have been focused on making mealtime fun and colorful, and just a little more special for people around the world" - Irv Zakheim, Chariman & CEO Zak Designs
Whether it's puka shell necklaces from Hawaii, or embroidered goods from the Philippines, or plastic dinnerware from Asia, Irv Zakheim has learned the intricacies of the importing world and how to use them to build a business. Zakheim has been importing goods from other countries and distributing them to consumers around the world since the mid 1970’s, but as a child growing up in Los Angeles, his dreams were focused on more traditional ambitions.
"I wanted to play professional baseball, then become a teacher and a coach", Zakheim recalls."That was my goal, and that's where I was going."
With that strong focus, Zakheim worked toward accomplishing his goal. He played baseball at California State University at Northridge, then realized his dream of playing professionally when he joined the Chicago White Sox. The focus he had carried for so long, however, also made him realize that this determination could help him accomplish another dream, one that took shape in 1976 when he found a supplier of puka shells in the Philippines and began selling the trendy necklaces in Hawaii. That was Zakheim's introduction into importing goods, a business he hasn't strayed from since.
The partnership he developed in the Philippines helped him diversify from the fad that was quickly drying up and enter into the embroidered goods market. But when quotas started being placed on imported textiles, Zakheim knew that he would have to diversify again if he wanted to see the budding company reach the potential he knew existed.
"For whatever reason, I saw some children's dinnerware that was made out of plastic, and I thought that it was really interesting," Zakheim said.
With an uncommon eye for opportunities, Zakheim realized the potential in the untapped market and, in 1985, began looking for suppliers and distributors for the products. He also looked for something else that no one else had thought to look for - licensors who would lend their characters to the products.
"We hit on something that really worked," Zakheim said. "We served up a market at a time when no one really knew there was a market."
In the years since, Zakheim has continued to find innovative ways to serve that market. With Zakheim leading the charge, Zak has grown into today's global leader in children's dinnerware. The company has diversified to provide trend-setting tableware and kitchen prep products for adults and on the go mealtime products that fit today's active lifestyles. It has also expanded beyond the borders of the United States and now includes offices in Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, China, Canada, France and Switzerland.
Zakheim continues to be the primary driving force behind both the daily operations of Zak and its vision for the future.
"I want us to continue to grow and take advantage of opportunities like we always have," Zakheim said. "There is a great deal of potential that we have yet to achieve."
That determination was rewarded in 2006 when the U.S. Small Business Association named Zakheim the Washington State Small Business Person of the Year.
Zakheim's achievements, however, expand well beyond the business he created. Arguably the most noticeable example is the Zak!Charity Open. Zakheim started this golf tournament and auction as a way to raise money for local children's charities. It has become one of the premier charity tournaments in the Inland Northwest and has raised millions of dollars for local children’s charities including the Rypien Foundation and Boys and Girls Club of Spokane County.