Bob visits the Kromer Kap Kulture Klub

Some of our loyal blog readers may remember a post from a few years ago when we introduced you to the Kromer Kap Kulture Klub.  Well, we’re happy to say that this year, our CEO, Bob Jacquart, joined them for a meal.

A brief refresher: The Klub is a group of men who gather each year at a no-power, no-plumbing log cabin north of Gleason, Wisconsin for deer season.  All Klub members, of course, wear a Kromer.  Members receive an official Certificate of Membership, plus honorary, non-voting stock in Kromer Kap Kulture Klub, LLC.

Bob had promised the Klub that one day he would bring pasties to the cabin for dinner. This November on a -6 degree night, he did just that, and took some great pictures that we would like to share. The first photo shows Bob (center) with two members of the Klub.

This next photo shows the full Kromer Kap Kulture Klub.  Notice the one young man on the left, the only one with a red cap?  That indicates he’s a Klub rookie – next year, he’ll be allowed to wear a black cap and the red one will be saved for the next rookie.

Bob brought pasties as promised, and brownies for dessert.  Since there is no oven in the cabin, Bob had to bring them preheated.

Also revealed that night was new plaque that would be set into the sidewalk come
springtime, commemorating the 30 year anniversary of the Kromer Kap Kulture Klub.  The plaque was a surprise to everyone except the man who made it that night.

We love to hear stories of fans who truly embrace the Kromer legend, and who even make it a part of their family and community traditions.

Do you have any Stormy Kromer traditions to share?

Bob and Stormy Kromer’s Baseball Bat

Stormy Kromer Bat
A few months ago, Bob got an odd voicemail message.  The caller stated that he had a ‘ceremonial’ baseball bat that had belonged to George Kromer and was wondering if anyone here at the company had an interest in it.

Indeed we did.

As it turns out, the bat was a part of George’s estate that had wound up with his estate attorney’s family.  After some negotiations involving Stormy Kromer apparel, the bat has found its way here to SK Headquarters.

The bat, a Louisville Slugger, has an inscription that reads:
TESTIMONIAL DINNER, GEO. STORMY KROMER, NOVEMBER 5, 1954.

Stormy Kromer Bat
You can see the bat on display here at Stormy Kromer when you come for one of our free factory tours – offered Monday through Friday at 1:30 pm.

Team Stormy

If you’ve read any of the previous “From the CEO” blog posts, you may recall that I am a pretty active cyclist.  I had a big birthday over Labor Day weekend and I really wanted to “fight” turning 60 by riding in a challenging event.

I learned about the Flambeau 40 – a 35-mile race held in Park Falls, Wisconsin – and I thought I would invite all of my biking friends to join me in riding and supporting a small-town event.

In a previous post, I shared a photo of a few of us sporting Stormy Kromer bike jerseys.  I haven’t kept an exact count, but I believe there are about 40 of these limited-edition jerseys out in the world. Sixteen of them showed up to join me on September 1st.  We made quite an impression in the racing crowd!

It was a gorgeous day.  During the ride, I realized that I was riding in a group with Dave (11 months older then me) and Rick (nine months older than me), two friends who grew up within a block of me.  Who could have imagined that three 14-year-old kids playing football near Ironwood High School would reunite at 60 to ride a 35-mile bike race!

This weekend reminded me what a wonderful life this is.  I’d love to hear any of your stories about how you’ve celebrated a milestone birthday!

Saturdays with Bob: One Customer at a Time

By Bob Jacquart, CEO

As I look back on my life’s journey, little did I know that the skills that I learned in my first part-time job would come full circle.  Back in the 7th grade, I put together bicycles, strollers and wagons at my Uncle King’s five-and-dime store.  My uncle encouraged me to meet and interact with the customers, even at that young age.  I quickly learned that I loved meeting new people – learning from them, hearing their stories, and helping them with whatever they needed.

As an adult, in the early days of my work at Jacquart Fabric Products, I made custom boat covers and learned to upholster furniture – two more areas in which I worked directly with the end customer.  I even began to pass my love of customer interaction on to my two daughters – they often came to work with me on Saturday mornings, where they learned to introduce themselves by looking people straight in the eye and shaking their hand.

Eventually, as JFP grew, I found myself working with the end customer less and less.  I had other things to work on – building budgets and strategic plans, developing employees and creating an infrastructure that would support the company we were building.

As these things have been set in place and our management team has expanded, however, I find myself with a little more time on my hands.  Time that I have turned back to the customer – but a new type of customer, the Stormy Kromer fan who wants to see for themselves where the caps are made and visit our Factory Store.

The factory operates Monday through Friday, and therefore our tours are offered during the week.  Our Factory Store has also followed that schedule.  Last fall I decided to open our Factory Store on Saturdays, mainly to accommodate tourists who are visiting our area on the weekend.  It proved to be a huge success.

For the most part, I am the only one working on Saturdays, and we’re open from about 9-12. The folks who come in on Saturdays tend to be very passionate about our brand and usually have great stories to share.  I honestly can’t imagine a better way to spend a Saturday morning than talking about Stormy Kromer with people as excited about the brand as I am!

As soon as the weather warms up, however, Saturdays will be cycling days for me and we’ll have someone else staffing the store.  Don’t worry though, the cycling season is pretty short and come fall, I plan to be back.

Come to think of it…this may be a glimpse of my retirement job.  Maybe a new store with a coffee shop, Stormy Kromer products and free stories to all who want to hear them.  Sounds pretty good to me.

Made in the USA: The Journey of an American Sewing Manufacturer

By Bob Jacquart, CEO

In 1974, when I started working for my dad in his canvas repair shop with one other employee, I never once thought that “made in America” would ever mean something significant to me – and to our country.

As our small sewing business evolved – around the time I was 30 – I learned that I could employ more people by taking on higher volume production work. The thought of being a fair and just employer in my small town was just too irresistible for importing to ever cross my mind.  At that time, Jacquart Fabric Products (JFP) started making gun cases, polar fleece hats and pet beds.

Employees hold an American Flag sewn at JFP

Manufacturing pet beds soon became the largest part of our company.  Around the early 90s, China started making headway into this industry with some of our commercial customers.  At this time I started to become aware of the very serious threats that China (and other countries) might pose to us – especially as regards to labor costs.

As more and more US cut and sew operations began to close their doors, we tried to keep focus on viable models for US production.  We realized that one advantage we had over overseas production was our ability to produce shorter, more customized and individualized products.

Around 2000, even this advantage began to go away.  At that time, pet products became commodity items:  you could buy a pet bed at every big box store for $10-$20.  These are retail prices you cannot compete with when you are paying honest wages and benefits for employees supporting families.

We finally realized that importing would have to become a part of our pet bed business.  We now do a combination of importing raw goods and components and complete the final assembly here.  We are still employing US workers in the pet bed business, but just in a different way.

In 2001, JFP was  blessed – yes, blessed – by having the opportunity to buy Stormy Kromer.  This was finally another viable American-made model:  a brand with an authentic history and heritage that as we found out from our customers, had to be made in the USA.

The challenge remains that US manufacturing is hard.  And expensive.  Every new product we work on involves pretty intense debates about the cost of adding extra features versus what the consumer is willing to pay for.  And while we try to source raw goods domestically, it can sometimes be nearly impossible.

But despite all that, here we are…and growing.

Do you think we will survive?  I think that’s a no-brainer.  With amazing fans and customers like you, who value quality in their apparel and outerwear – and with two wonderful daughters in this third-generation sewing business, we plan to take Stormy Kromer and his legend to places we all never dreamed of!

Living in Stormy Kromer Country

By Bob Jacquart, CEO

Bill and Jack Wagener with Bob Jacquart (on right)

A lot of people have trouble understanding how someone can live in a remote and cold place like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The truth is, I don’t know any other way to live.  As I have gotten older, I have found that more and more friends and colleagues tell me how lucky I am.

I remember a time when I was watching the Packer Game with some friends at the best dining spot in the area, The Bear Bar.  My 3 friends were all from Madison.  At a commercial break in the 4th quarter, one of them said to me, “And you get to stay here!” as he started thinking about his long drive back to Madison and away from the Northwoods.

Or the time when I met a new business contact – someone who seemed to have accomplished a lot more than I had.  I told him how proud he should be of what he achieved, and his response to me was, “No, Bob, you should be proud because you have figured out a way to live and work in this beautiful place.”

So I do live here with my wonderful family.  I have been married to Denise for 37 years and if you don’t already know, both of my daughters, Gina and KJ, work in the business.

After trying hard to be an Olympic marathoner and blowing out a knee, I found road biking.  Gina wasn’t too sure of the connection between my love for Stormy and road biking when I asked if I could design a Stormy Kromer bike jersey.  Created by our graphic designer Matt Schnell and built by Mt Borah, I had a few jerseys made for myself and some friends.  We now have about 16 folks biking the Northwoods in their jerseys.  (I even traded the former owner of Schwinn – a new friend – a Stormy Kromer jersey for some Schwinn gear.)

Road biking is amazing here as the roads near our cabin are flat and quiet.  I take a 20 mile ride after work and I see on average 4 cars.

Michael Wagener in Taos, New Mexico

In the winter my bike goes inside on a trainer and I am very content with riding that and also with cross-country skiing.  All of this quiet time gives me a chance to think about how I can grow as a leader and continue to make Stormy Kromer a major contribution to my family, the people who work for us, our dealers, our customers and my community.

Are there other fans out there that have combined their love of SK with another hobby?  We’d love to hear about it.

Caretakers of the Stormy Kromer Legend

By Bob Jacquart, CEO

9 years and 9 months ago, I sat in a local coffee shop and overheard that the Kromer Cap Company was about to discontinue production of its distinctive wool cap.  As a lifelong resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and a third generation Kromer-wearer (not to mention the owner of a sewing factory) I knew there was something about this quirky cap that had to be saved.  And about a month later, my company Jacquart Fabric Products, owned the rights to the cap and the name.

I was an expert in sewing and manufacturing, and not in sales and marketing.  And now, I had a brand to sell!  I decided to seek out some experts in the marketing field, and I made a visit to an advertising agency in Milwaukee – one with experience in the outdoor industry.  I brought with me some old photos of family and friends wearing the cap (you can see a few here), and the critical bit of knowledge that George’s nickname was “Stormy” – a fact that the Kromer Cap folks had not really capitalized on.  They looked at me and said, “You really have no idea what you have here.”

I left that meeting full of excitement for the potential of Stormy Kromer.  We made some

immediate changes to the cap – including the now unmistakable signature and date to the back of the cap.  We took a year off from actively selling the cap and perfected production.  We added new colors.  And soon, we slowly began adding new products under the SK name.

A decade later, the brand now includes over a dozen cap styles in a multitude of colors that are worn by men and women, young and old, hunters and businessmen.  In a few weeks, a host of new caps, apparel items and accessories will be launched on our site and in our dealers around the country.

108 years ago, George and Ida unknowingly created a legend by stitching that iconic earband to a wool baseball cap.  We now carry the significant responsibility of being caretakers of that legend – making sure everything we do would make George and Ida proud.  And in fact, you are a caretaker of the legend too, from the moment you put that Stormy or Ida Kromer cap on your head.

We’ve launched this blog as yet another way to connect with you, our loyal customers.  We hope you enjoy hearing a little more about the company, the products, and the stories from all over the globe, that together make Stormy Kromer the legend it is today.