Western & English Today

SOURCE 2015

W&E Today provides retailers and manufacturers with education and ideas that provoke innovation in the Western and English markets.

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54 Western & English Today years, American has made a name for itself by developing a special water resistant fnish for straw hats in the 1950s and developing the "open crown" concept. Rodeo standouts from Jim Shoulders to Lane Frost have worn American hats, and last year, Tuf Cooper, the three- time world champion tie down roper, and American announced an "Exclusively Designed" collection of felt and straw hats. Yet reaching that century milestone hasn't been easy. In 1915, Sam Silver began making and selling hats in Houston. Tree generations continued the legacy before Bill and Billie George took over American in 1984. Ten Keith Maddox, owner of Te Best Hat Store in the Fort Worth stockyards with his wife, Susan, decided he wanted to own a hat company. "I grew up on a ranch in Idaho so I have always worn a hat," says Maddox, 69. "I appreciate a great quality hat. And nobody was making one so I thought there was a need or a void in the business that I could fll." In 1995, Maddox tried to buy American for $10 million, but that deal fell through when the Georges decided to keep the business in the family. Finally, in 2003, Maddox got his wish and took over American. He moved the factory to a 40,000-square- foot facility — formerly a Haggar Slacks factory — in Bowie, about an hour's drive northwest of Fort Worth. "We had some momentum building," Maddox says, "and sales were growing." In November 2005, however, a grass fre swept through Bowie. "It was pretty devastating," Maddox says. American lost more than $13 million in hat bodies and fnished goods from smoke damage. It would have been easy to call it quits, but that's not the American way. "We were just determined to make it work and rebuild that inventory," Maddox says. "It was pretty rough. I had to borrow against my house that was paid for and my retirement savings. We went all in." It paid of. "Teir products have been popular and have really grown over at least the last fve years," says Jason Brooks, hat buyer for National Ropers Supply/David's Western Store in Decatur, Texas. "Tey've made a name with their open crown hats and their straws, and they're always coming up with unique styles." American has also been coming up with key personnel. In 2012, Maddox hired Keith Mundee, former president of Rocky Mountain Clothing Company, as American's president. Tis February, Stan Redding, former president of Hatco (parent company of Stetson and Resistol, etc.), will join American as national sales manager. "I am sure Stan will bring a lot of experience to our sales force," Maddox says. And Mundee? "Keith Mundee has the ability to take the company forward and then to the next level," Maddox says. "I never thought I could aford a guy like Keith. When we met, I told him I couldn't aford him, and I won't forget what he said: 'Te wrong people cost you money. Te right people don't.'" Since Mundee's hiring, American has grown better than 30 percent each year. "He has the same vision that I have in that we are determined to make quality hats at all levels, at a fair price and deliver them on time," Maddox says. "Neither one of us wants to build the biggest hat company. Keith always says, 'Bigger isn't better, better is better.'" Better … as in quality. Tat's why the quality control department is just outside of the two Keiths' ofces. "We have to walk through QC to go to the front ofce or through the factory," says Mundee, 57. "We always check a rack of hats on our way to wherever we are headed." Te company is also committed to delivering hats when retailers want them. "Retailers that buy hats based on price will eventually be competing with the guy at the carnival right between the tilt-a-whirl and the cotton candy," Mundee says. "Tey can't win that battle with a brick- and-mortar store. We have done our branding from the top down with our 1000X Belly Beaver and Mink hat that makes a statement. It's a lifetime hat … a family heirloom." What all goes into producing an American hat? "A lot more than I ever imagined," Mundee says. "It's not really high tech. It's more Old World crafsmanship. Our factory is a working museum. We are blessed to have Andre and his knowledge and passion for hats here. Nobody can fnish a hat like Andre." Staying on top is the priority. "We keep challenging our suppliers to come up with new color combinations and weaves in our straw hats," Mundee says. "Te felt hats are a bit timeless so we just keep making great quality hats in new colors. We just don't cut any corners with our fur blends, the buckle sets and lambskin sweats." American hats are worn by "somebody who knows and appreciates hats," Maddox says, "not the weekend honkytonk cowboy hat." Which makes Cooper a perfect American collaborator. "Tis man stands for all of the right things," Mundee says. "He has a great fan base and he is great to work with. … His work ethic is unbelievable." Unbelievable might be a good way to describe American's next 100 years, too. "We have a great future," Maddox says, "with the right people in place." Which, if you ask Mundee, starts with Maddox. "[Bootmaker] Rod Patrick called me one day and asked me if I knew what to do if Keith Maddox and I were on the balcony of a 20-story building and Keith accidently fell over the rail," Mundee says. "Afer some thought and a long pause, I said I didn't know what to do. He said, 'Follow him. He knows right where the net is!'" Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Johnny D. Boggs is a six-time Spur Award winner from Western Writers of America for his fction. His latest novel is Te Cane Creek Regulators. "WE HAVE A GREAT FUTURE," MADDOX SAYS, "WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN PLACE."

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