The Hartford Chamber of Commerce recently spoke with Rob O’Connor, President of Thomas W. Raftery, Inc., to learn more about the local business community in the City of Hartford. Find out what we learned…

When and why did you start your business?

ROB O’CONNOR: Our business was started in 1963 by Thomas W. Raftery. While selling fabric in New England, he came upon the opportunity to supply draperies and seized upon it. Over the years, the business has concentrated on manufacturing a good product and supplying commercial contract industries including the U.S. military, colleges, schools, hospitals, and corporations.

How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?

ROB: Our business is all about the people who work here. Our employees bring different skills and backgrounds to work here—from working with fabrics and sewing to sales, marketing, and customer relations.

Why Hartford?

ROB: Our business was founded selling to Hartford companies like Travelers Insurance, manufacturing window treatments for large office buildings, schools, and hospitals. We have occupied a few locations, all in Hartford.

We’ve been in our historic Frog Hollow building since the late 1970s. There are many advantages to the neighborhood including logistics, proximity to the highways, employees living nearby, and even potential customers.

What is the best thing about having a business in Hartford?

ROB: I’m not sure there is one best thing about working in Hartford. I like to think that, unlike the old New England saying, “you can’t get there from here,” in Hartford, you can get there from here. A business has challenges here but can flourish with hard work. Hartford has great cultural resources and a lot of history.

How are you marketing and building a successful customer base?

ROB: We supply our products all over the world, to many different commercial customers. We are a GSA Contract holder, supplying all the branches of the U.S. Military, Coast Guard, and Veteran’s Affairs Hospitals. We also sell to colleges and hospitals, as well as commercial facilities like corporate office buildings.

We’re hoping to impress upon the large corporations in Hartford that there is a local manufacturer that can supply shades, draperies, blinds, etc. right in their backyard.

What key elements are necessary to start and run a successful business in Hartford?

ROB: I think you have to believe in your products and services to start and run a successful business. Take challenges and turn setbacks into lesson to do better. You must be determined to succeed, and you have to make personal connections.

Where do you see Hartford in the three to five years?

ROB: I’m hoping in three to five years Hartford continues to get more and more people to come live in the city. That means better walking and cycling opportunities and a more livable city, amongst other things.

I think Harford needs to take a look at cities our size and adopt some of their successful ideas, without taking years to implement. Hopefully, Hartford will be closer to better financial health and with a lower tax burden for small businesses.

And where do you see your role in the city’s progress?

ROB: Our business sees a role in doing this, making our neighborhood better by employing people, and contributing to the community by providing free space for the Police Activities League’s boxing program, for example. We’re also active in Frog Hollow SAFE (Safety Alliance For Everyone), which is developing a safety plan for Frog Hollow and it’s residents and businesses.

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