Nestled in Dallas’ Decorative Center, TKO Associates is not a new kid on the block. In business for four decades, it’s become the go-to company for top residential and commercial hardware, plumbing fixtures and more. But, of course, every business has its origin story, and for founder Betsy Hoag, it began with a dictionary.
It was the early ’80s, and she and her business partner, Karen Vamberi, were venturing out on their own to open a store that focused on European-inspired details. Stumped on a company name, Hoag flipped through the dictionary and came across “TKO.” Her brother told her that in medical terms the abbreviation can mean “to keep open.” In boxing it means “technical knockout.” The two liked the idea of figuratively keeping their doors open and knocking out the competition. TKO Associates was born.
“If you’re going to spend money on your home and your product, you want it to be quality, and you want it to last,” Hoag says. “I feel that there really is nothing that TKO chooses to sell that is not of a high-caliber quality. It needs to be engineered well. Besides great design, it has to function.”
While studying at Southern Methodist University in the late ’70s, Hoag spent a semester in Madrid and was enamored with not just the old buildings and historical sites but also the modern design aesthetic. Being detail-oriented, she examined the door levers, knobs and hardware on gates, which she calls “little pieces of art.” After graduation, Hoag got a job at a showroom that sold hardware, plumbing, doors, office furniture and beveled glass; it was there she met her future business partner, Vamberi. Still on a high from the architecture she admired in Madrid, along with untold hours spent poring over European design magazines and networking with area designers and architects, she recognized that the Dallas market was missing something.
The two opened TKO Associates in 1981 in a loft office in Cedar Springs; the first floor was their showroom and the second their offices. Two years later, they moved into a 1,300-square-foot office in the Decorative Center, where they could host clients and present their products more professionally. The duo lived on the phone, going through phone books to introduce themselves to builders, plumbers, designers and architects, running brochures and samples over to businesses to get the word out about TKO Associates.
Forty years later, Hoag now works alongside nine team members, each with at least a decade of experience under their belts. The company carries more than 70 brands in its showroom, including Fantini, the first Italian brand that joined TKO Associates’ portfolio decades ago, and Germany’s Dornbracht.
“Sometimes over the years, companies go out of business or their design aesthetics change or whatever,” Hoag says. “We’ve kept them because we like what they’re doing, and they’ve kept us because they like what we’re doing.”
These relationships have blossomed into charitable projects, too. Fantini launched Fantini for Africa in 2012, which partners with TKO and their international showrooms to raise funds to build wells and create better access to clean water in Burundi. For every 10 sets of Fantini’s Balocchi faucets sold, a well is built.
Many companies hold memories for Hoag. She remembers coming across Australia’s Designer Doorware in a magazine and reaching out to the owners to collaborate; they weren’t in the United States yet. When the company was ready to expand here, TKO Associates was one of the first distributors for its American debut. The same thing happened with Halliday Baillie of New Zealand. Hoag has been thrilled to make many trips to far-flung places to meet business owners face-to-face.
“It’s really exciting to see how products are being introduced into our industry that are unique and beautiful, and we’re happy to do that,” Hoag says. “I really am grateful for the design community that I work with and the architects and their clients, because it’s fun. I enjoy it; I still enjoy it. I don’t have any plans to retire!”