David Malek likes to say that he is just a simple guy. He says it repeatedly over coffee at Bake and Bagels in Teaneck, as he explains his relatively simple plan to do something that has until now been fairly complicated opening up the broader American market to Israeli exports.
Sure, Israeli-made fare lines Judaica shops and a handful of Israeli wares such as Teva shoes and Ahava beauty products have crossed the Atlantic and into the American consumer mainstream, but Israel is no China.
It never will be, but Malek’s Made In Israel initiative is an attempt to at least give the small to medium Israeli businessman the opportunity to penetrate the American market on small to mid-sized budget, which has always been a problem, according to Israel’s economic minister to North America, Zohar Peri.
"The American market is very big, and the country is really vast. So finding the right man to be able to do that job is not easy for our companies," Peri told The Jewish Standard.
But Made in Israel should be able to act as that capable middleman by virtue of the partners behind the initiative, Beryl Wolk and Joel Griffing, said Malek.
As humble as Malek comes off, Wolk is boastful. He’s the self proclaimed "World’s Greatest Marketing Genius," and in a half-hour phone conversation with the Standard from his suburban Philadelphia office, he repeats the claim probably a dozen times. But there’s something to the 76-year-old’s claim. He’s the guy who invented the newspaper insert. He invented the infomercial. He created QVC and along the way started 4′ magazines, and his financial resources run almost as deep as the pool of connections that he and his employees have made throughout the retail world.
For the past several years, Wolk, who is Jewish, has run a handful of "Made-in" initiatives with countries such as Italy, Belgium, Turkey, and Greece. Essentially, Wolk asks a company to put $40,000 per year in escrow for his people to use, and in return he provides $1.5 million in marketing resources. He can also provide the company with infrastructural help such as staffing or cheaper insurance and travel plans. In return, the "Made-in" group takes a percentage of whatever profits the company makes out of its direct dealings with "Made-in."
If Wolk is the marketing king, Griffing is the networking king. A business consultant, his clients included past White House administrations, the British House of Lords, and the United States Golf Association. (When asked in a cell phone interview about the depth of his Rolodex, Griffing joked, "I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you." According to Malek, once you know Griffing, you’re a phone call away from the president.)
Griffing and Malek are partners in Prime Source Initiatives, a global material and supply management and consulting firm whose clients include, among others, Seattle. Malek, who has worked on several successful Israeli start-up companies, started talking with his partner about importing Israeli hi-tech and bio-tech products to the United States. Griffing and Wolk were connected, and Griffing knew that Wolk had some interest in pursuing a Made in Israel project, so he connected Wolk with Malek.
"Joel told me, look, I have a Jewish guy who would love to expand to Made in Israel," said Malek, who is 41 and three years ago moved from Rishon L’Tzion to Tenafly with his family.
Made in Israel will work much the same as Made in Italy, Made in Greece, other Made in programs. Companies will be able to apply for the program, and a Made in Israel advisory board will evaluate whether it thinks the company can become profitable given proper resources.
Malek said that it can be wildly successful. One Italian company that manufactures olive paste, for instance, sold out its entire inventory three weeks after linking with Made-In-Italy.
The initiative’s potential lies in the economy of scale, said Malek. Because of the number of contacts and the number of other businesses with which he, Griffing, and Wolk, especially, work, Made In Israel can offer its company services normally reserved for big conglomerates. For instance, Wolk has ’00 sales reps who work with Wal-Mart alone and access to seemingly limitless marketing resources, from small market newspapers to television commercials on shopping channels and in hotel rooms. So a company does not have to spend money for a sales rep or pay market value for ad space.
The group started working on the project in earnest at the end of November and officially announced the project Jan. ‘3 at an event in Israel. It is already working with four or five companies and another ‘0 or so have expressed interest. "We’re running fast," said Malek.
The economic minister, Peri, said that Israel would direct appropriate companies to Made in Israel. "As many contacts and as much experience that they have, it has a good chance to succeed," he said of the company. "The most important product for Israel is consumer goods. So let’s see how it develops."