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2 brothers catch wave with sports accessories

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When someone parlays a $20 used sewing machine into $10 million in annual revenue, the only word to describe the feat is "outstanding."

That's exactly what happened to Beirne and Gregg Chisolm, whose Chisco sports accessories firm has increased its revenue each year and sells watchbands, wallets, organizer purses, packs and related items in 20 countries and all over the United States.Not bad for a couple of Rye, N.Y., boys who shunned the chance to attend Ivy League schools, came to the University of Utah to be close to skiing and also spent considerable time on the beaches of Hawaii.

It was while they were wind-surfing in Hawaii that the Chisolms got the idea for a watchband that wouldn't get lost in the wild waves. They were tired of losing watches.

Neither brother had been west of New York until they attended the U. and went to Hawaii. After Beirne graduated in 1984 with a degree in marketing and management, the Chisolm brothers moved to Hawaii and played around with some ideas for watch-bands.

Gregg returned to school in the fall and Beirne made several trips back and forth between Salt Lake City and Hawaii and bought their $20 sewing machine from a thrift store. They experimented with several types of material and when they had enough watchbands sewed they shipped them to Hawaii in footlockers.

They finally settled on a combination of Velcro hook and loop fastener and polypropylene webbing that is used in windsurf sails. They believed the polypropylene webbing was more durable, water resistant and didn't scratch.

With materials shipped in from the mainland, the brothers sold their watchbands in the morning, went to their jobs and sewed more products in the evening. They returned to Salt Lake City in the fall of 1986 and Gregg graduated from the U. in 1987 with a degree in monetary economics.

December 1987 was their first "real" month in business and working out of a house with a leaky roof in Salt Lake City the brothers had their manufacturing and office activities in one area. They lined up sales representatives, found someone to help them sew and attended trade shows to show off their product The Band, which is a trademark name.

The company spent five years in leased space in the Decker Lake Industrial Park and in 1994 the brothers purchased a 30,000 square-foot building at 2424 S. 2570 West. They have 23 employees, most of whom are in purchasing, customer service and a few in production.

Most of the items are sewed on a contract basis by people in their homes who can earn as much money as they want.

From the original watchbands, which now come in dozens of different patterns and colors, the Chisolms have a full-color catalog that displays their colorful products. New for this year are a dog collar and leash, keychains and a classic bifold wallet and a slim-line bifold model.

The Chisolms said one of their most popular items with women is a checkbook/wallet organizer with space for credit cards, a checkbook, pictures, cash, lipstick and a pen. An adjustable shoulder strap makes it convenient for shopping.

In an effort to keep their company ahead of the competition, the Chisolms are continually looking for new patterns for their watchbands and often get ideas from shower curtains, wallpaper or sofas.

With all of the success at Chisco, the Chisolms are proud that the cost of their products hasn't increased much over the years. They also are aware that as the market changes, they must change to meet the current demand, such as when they stopped making ski accessories when that market declined.