A Visit From A Legend

This past Friday, the employees at Stormy Kromer were proud to welcome a legend into their factory.  A Living Legend, actually.

Jim Dehlin and family, with Bob Jacquart

Our inaugural Living Legend winner, Jim Dehlin (along with six family members, including his wife, son and daughter) spent a good part of Friday afternoon with us.  What a treat.

The group started with a factory tour, given by our CEO, Bob Jacquart, of course.  Bob gave them the royal treatment, sharing story after story about the factory and Stormy Kromer, and introducing the crew to many of our employees.  The littlest member of the Dehlin clan even got to put eyelets into some caps!

After the tour, the group hit the retail store, putting a good dent into Jim’s $500 gift certificate.  Unsurprisingly, in legendary fashion, Jim spent most of his prize money buying caps and gear for his friends and family instead of for himself.

The visit capped off our inagural Living Legend program.  We received dozens of nominations and honored ten worthy nominees as finalists.  During the voting period, over 8500 votes were cast, with Jim emerging as our winner.  Earlier this month, we sent off our donation to Homes for Our Troops, in Jim’s honor.

Jim’s son Jesse, who nominated him, let us in on a little secret.  “I know we were supposed to have the nominee’s permission before nominating, but I didn’t know what he would say.  So I just did it.”  We sure are glad he did.

On his way out, later on Friday afternoon, Jim pulled a staff member aside.  “We’ve got to talk about some trademark issues,” he said.  “Any objections to my next tattoo using the Stormy Kromer logo, with the words ‘It’s good to be first.’?”

No problem at all, Jim.  And we couldn’t be prouder that you were first.

 

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.

The Making of the Petal Pusher

Of all of the new products we introduced in 2011, the Petal Pusher Cap has been the biggest hit.  In fact, we’ve sold over 5 times our initial sales projections for this product.  We’ve received rave reviews from the women who are wearing them and we’re hard at work on new color choices for 2012.

Because of the popularity of this product, we thought we’d share the quick story of how this cap came to be.  Through some previous blog posts, you’ve met Bob Jacquart, the CEO of Jacquart Fabric Products and Stormy Kromer.  And today, you’re going to learn about his wife, Denise.

For years, Denise worked in the business as well.  However, a few years ago, she became a unique kind of “CFO” – the Chief Family Officer.  Working in a family business that involves not just parents and daughters, but also cousins and uncles and spouses, well, it can sometimes be complicated.  So Denise now focuses on the family relationships, and making sure that part of the business is healthy.

She also has a keen sense for fashion and design.  A few years ago she got the idea that Stormy Kromer needed a feminine touch, and she played around with a few different ideas (see below) before stumbling on the idea of a flower.

The prototypes found their way into the back of a closet, and were forgotten about, until Bob and Denise’s daughter, Gina, joined the business and found them.  Gina and SK’s designer, Tamara, refined the design into the current product.

Why has this cap been so popular?  We think it’s because the design remains Kromer through and through (complete with functional earbands) while giving the ladies another option.  Honestly, we think Ida would be pretty proud.

Which brings us to a bigger question – what are your ideas for Stormy Kromer product variations?  Like Denise, you just might hit on the next big thing!

What We’re Thankful For, by Stormy Kromer

From the slightly silly to the serious, and in no particular order, this is what we are thankful for here at Stormy Kromer this week.

Living Legend Finalists – After reading their stories, we think you’ll be thankful for people like these outstanding citizens too.  Don’t forget to vote for your favorite.

Ida Kromer – Like most men, when Stormy needed some help, he turned to his wife.  Without her, his idea may never have turned into reality.  Now she’s finally getting her due with our expanding line of women’s products.

Sheep – Heck, without them, what would we make our legendary caps out of?

Our Employees – Without the dedicated men and women who cut, sew, package and ship our gear, Stormy Kromer Mercantile would not exist.  For that, they deserve a tip of the hat.

Our Customers & Fans – We think we’ve got the best customers in the business.  You appreciate the value of Made in the USA products, you faithfully spread the word about our gear and you share the best photos, videos and stories with us.

Snow – As much as we hate to admit it, we actually love that fluffy white stuff.  The accumulation started last week, and now we’re counting down the days until there is enough for the cross country trails, ski hills, and snowmobile trails to open.  Remember, you can now keep track of the snowfall at SK headquarters on our homepage.

From our family to yours, we’d like to wish you a safe, peaceful and most importantly, warm, Thanksgiving holiday.

What are you thankful for this week?

Welcome to the Kromer Kap Kulture Klub. Well, sort of.

Although they’re a welcoming bunch of guys and there’s no secret handshake or anything, this isn’t a club—excuse me, klub—you can join. You see, you’ve got to be part of the Opatik family (or a very close friend) and you’ve got to be a Stormy Kromer fanatic.

Frank Opatik is both. His first Kromer Original Wool Cap was handed down to him by his father in 1960. (“I was the oldest, so I was first in line,” he said.) It’s the black one, he still wears it, and it’s still in its original shape. His son, Steve, wears his maternal grandfather’s cap, also black, and also over 50 years old. Visitors to the cabin wear red.

The caps are well preserved and worn with pride every year at the family’s hunting compound, a no-power, no-plumbing log cabin north of Gleason, Wisconsin, that Frank built in 1978 after being inspired—literally—by the label on Log Cabin syrup.

The cabin is where the idea for the Kulture Klub was first formed.

“Well, we were all up there at deer camp one year sitting under the gas lamps and playing cards. We were wearing our Kromers, and we realized we were part of a pretty special club,” said Frank, a retired engineer and marketing executive. “We decided to call it the Kromer Kap Kulture Klub because there’s a quite a bit of culture up there,” he added with a  laugh.

Original members of the Klub include Frank and his son, Steve; Frank’s brother-in-law, Gary Martin; Gary’s son, Bryan; and Frank’s brother, John, who’s since passed away.

Membership has now swelled to seven, and each inductee holds a official Certificate of Membership, plus honorary, non-voting stock in—yes—Kromer Kap Kulture Klub, LLC. Or is that LLK?

“My wife, Joyce, and I created the LLC as part of our estate plan, leaving the land and cabin to our kids,” added Frank. “And the ‘K’ thing? Well, that just sort of came naturally.”

Naturally. Like “bakon” on the camp menu, which also states “This menu was prepared on a Kromer Komputer, and we use a Kromer Spellchecker.”

Frank is fiercely proud of his caps (he has three, including a specially designed 25th Anniversary cap for the Klub) and of the authentic, down-to-earth culture that’s developed at the cabin.

“Our motto is: ‘Where the work ends and the fun begins.’”

And when you see them bringing in their trophy bucks or watching a Packers game (it’s the only thing they use the generator for because they don’t want to “get too civilized”), you’ll know that’s the kind of kulture you want to be part of.

Do you have any Stormy Kromer traditions that you’d like to share?

Meet the Stormy Kromer Customer Service Gals

The only thing our Customer Service folks can’t do over the phone is serve you pie and coffee.

If you’ve got concerns, questions, or simply want to order a catalog, they’re the kind of folks you want to help you out. Extra-mile kind of people. People who love to sit and share a good story.

So, who are these lovely ladies?

(From the left…)

Kirsten Dowd has been in Customer Service for just about 2 years now.  She’s the leader of this bunch and has a way with people that is practically unmatched.  You’ll also notice her modeling SK gear on our website and in our catalog.  (And her husband graces the cover of our current catalog.)

Katie Guglielmotto has a great connection to Stormy Kromer.  You see, her mom, Mona, is one of the fine ladies who hand-sews our famous hats.  Katie not only does a great job assisting customers, but she is also one of our finest factory tour-givers.  Talk about a natural storyteller…

Angela Brannigan is a new addition to the crew, giving us a hand during the busy fall/winter/holiday season. She’s jumped in so well it feels like she’s been here forever!

Lori DeRosso does double duty for us, working both in Customer Service and accounting. (She also provides administrative support to our CEO, so let’s just say she’s a busy lady!)  In addition, Lori’s daughter just started sewing on the Kromer production line.

Starr Higgins juggles multiple roles here at Stormy Kromer and does so beautifully.  Not only will you hear her voice over the phone, you will also meet her in person if you happen to stop by our factory store.  She’s the boss of our recently refurbished store and will help you find a hat in your perfect size.

Now that you’ve gotten to know our amazing customer service crew, as well as our designer, which other members of the Stormy Kromer team would you like to meet?

Stormy Kromer Fan Feature

Tim Santefort’s story isn’t a hundred years old, but it will be.

“It’s not a shrine!”

That’s what he tries to tell you about the framed Stormy Kromer poster surrounded by the dozen or so caps he and his family wear on a daily basis. “It’s a hat rack, that’s all.”

Maybe so, but it’s a hat rack worthy of homage in the Santefort household.

Tim, who works as an insurance and financial services representative in the east-central Illinois community of Watseka, isn’t who you’d picture as the traditional Stormy Kromer customer, and he didn’t get his first cap from his great-great grandfather, either. He’s a relative newcomer to the Kromer legend, and he did his homework before he ever went shopping.

“Let me start by saying I’m bald, and bald guys need serious protection from the elements. I needed something that would last—something that was more like a tool I could use than just a piece of clothing,” said Santefort. “So I researched every brand and all of Kromer’s competition. I loved the Stormy story and that it was hand-made in America . It also felt like I was dealing with friends from my very first order.”

There have been quite a few orders in the year or so since Tim first pulled down the famous ear-flaps, and they’ve been raising a few eyebrows around town.

“People come up to us in the grocery store and say ‘Well, would you look at that.’ They just love our caps.”

“It’s such a conversation-starter that my four-year old no longer waits to be asked: ‘It’s a Stormy Kromer,’ she’ll say to anyone who smiles at her.”

They’re the talk of the town, and Tim tweets frequently about his favorite headgear, but the stories that will be remembered are the adventures the Kromer-capped Santeforts share outdoors.

“We go hunting and fishing and camping together, and the first time my daughter caught a

fish, she was wearing her cap,” added Santefort. “She’ll never forget that.”

She probably won’t forget the time her dad wore his original wool cap to take a Polar Bear Plunge into a frozen Lake Michigan, either. Well, at least it kept his ears warm.

“I imagine after they’re grown up and I’m long-gone, my kids will see a Stormy Kromer cap and think of all the things they did with their dad.”

So maybe it is a shrine after all—honoring not just the family’s caps, but the memories that fill them. Or, as Tim puts it, “These little caps bind our experiences together and tie the memories tighter.”

And in a hundred years, the great-great grandkids will have much to remember.

What is your Stormy Kromer story? Share it in the comments.