Western & English Today

Summer 2016

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

Issue link: https://wetoday.epubxp.com/i/690105

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Page 24 of 35

SUMMER 2016 Western & English Today 23 time visiting an account. Gassman coined the name Panhandle Slim in tribute to the rangy cowboys with whom he did business there. As the company grew, so did the Twin Cities — and along with it, Westmoor's cost of doing business there. In 1954, Ernest bought out the investors, with brother Martin remaining a silent partner, and moved the entire operation to Nebraska City, Nebraska, where he purchased a former Tunderbird Shirt factory. He relocated his family to the more developed city of Omaha, even though that would mean he would need to commute 50 miles a day to the factory, which he did for almost eight years. In 1962, Ernest sold the Nebraska City factory to Pendleton Woolen Mills and moved Westmoor's manufacturing to Omaha, Nebraska, to relieve himself of the long commute. But the factory couldn't keep pace with consumer demand for its shirts, so he jobbed out most of the production to factories in the Southeast. Westmoor grew explosively in the '60s, with brother Mar- tin stepping in to become an active partner: opening new sales territories, getting the lay of the land and exploring potential market potential, and hiring salespeople. Ernest's older son, Jef, also began working at Westmoor in the '60s during his teens: His father had him start as a janitor and as a "bundle boy" carrying bundles from one production area to the next. Jef recalls it being a humbling experience — one that most surely spurred his inter- est in obtaining a college degree. Both Jef and his younger brother Lenny would study business in college and work for other companies before returning to Westmoor: Jef, for a department-store chain in Kansas and Nebraska, and Lenny, for a New York shirtmaker. With Ernest's two sons now onboard, as well as his brother Martin continually opening up new territories and hiring salespeople, Westmoor's Omaha location — which couldn't handle all of the manufacturing from the get-go — was splitting at the seams. Plus, its customer base was to the south and west. From a strategic viewpoint, as well as a cost standpoint, it needed to be head- quartered where the largest number of its stores were located. When Jef moved to Fort Worth, Texas, in 1974 to open a branch ofce, he liked what he saw. "We'd decided to relocate to either Dallas or Fort Worth," he says. "Fort Worth ofered us some very attractive incentives, and that made the decision much easier." Fort Worth, with its rich cattle history and Cowtown moniker, proved to be the last move for the company. In 1975, the Hochsters purchased a facility on the outskirts of Fort Worth, where head- quarters remain to this day. Upon relocating, the company thrived, improving both its manufacturing quality and design, and Panhan- dle Slim enjoyed robust growth in the latter half of the seventies. A movie came out that year. One starring John Travolta and Debra Winger as Bud and Sissy, who each rode a Houston dance hall's mechanical bull in a rather suggestive way. Te movie's name? Urban Cowboy. Te Urban Cowboy craze precipitated a torrent of Westernwear customers the likes of which manufacturers had never seen. "A lot of imitation Western shirts fooded the department store market," Jef says. "We pretty much stuck with our core customers. Tose Western stores did really well, and so did we, but we had already identifed the Urban Cowboy efect as a fad, so we didn't ramp up production as so many other manufacturers did." Many of the Westernwear manufacturers that increased pro- duction to feed the Urban Cowboy frenzy didn't survive: When the frenetic buying trend shuddered and stopped, they were bucked of the thrill ride and bankrupted. Westmoor survived — and thrived — during that time frame. By the end of the decade, Jef became president of Westmoor. His brother Lenny, who began working at Westmoor in the '80s, would become vice president when their father retired. With Westmoor still in its frst decade in Fort Worth, the family and the company were dealt a terrible blow: Martin underwent cor- onary bypass surgery, and in 1996, he died in a trafc accident when his car veered of the road, rolling several times. Doctors believed Martin sufered a heart attack and lost control of the vehicle. Te year prior, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram had shared the story of this remarkable man with its readers, noting that Martin applied for U.S. citizenship in 1942 and was drafed in 1943. In that interview, Martin said, "By the time I went into the service, I was Americanized enough to know I wanted to do my duty for the country." He had served as an interpreter for American troops and was present when some of the German concentration camps were liberated, which made a lasting impression upon him. He also served as a reserve deputy in Fort Worth, logging as many as 80 hours a month, and he made sure that an American fag stood on every veteran's grave in Fort Worth's four Jewish cemeteries. One stands on his today, a reminder of a thankful patriot who fully embraced his adopted nation. As Westmoor entered the '90s, a renaissance of sorts took place in country music: Genre-bending new artists began branching out into more rock-and-roll and pop sounds in eforts to "cross over" and gain market share by reaching out to new audiences without alien- ating the core. Stars emerged, such as Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Big & Rich, and Brooks & Dunn. Seeing an opportunity to do the same with Western shirts, Pan- handle Slim signed its frst celebrity endorsees and created the Brooks & Dunn Collection around them. When the duo scored a Grammy in 1997 for their chart-topping hit "My Maria," talk about setting the collection en fuego: Guys simply could not get enough of the sexy Brooks & Dunn "Flame" shirt. In another powerful alliance, Panhan- dle signed three-time PRCA bull riding champion Tuf Hedeman on the performance side, as the face of the Rough Stock Collection. Te company rose to the vanguard of elite Western brands in both life- style and technical apparel. While Ernest helmed the company, with sons Jef and Lenny ably assisting him, another Hochster prepared to enter the family busi- ness: Jef 's son Jamison had fnished college and was working at some

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