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Nov. 11, 2021

Episode 084 - American Made Matters w/ Don Rongione of Bollman Hat Company

Episode 084 - American Made Matters w/ Don Rongione of Bollman Hat Company

“A shorter journey; a healthier planet; more jobs in the USA. Buy an American product today.” 

In this episode of OOH Insider, Don Rongione, President and CEO of Bollman Hat Company, educates us on the importance of buying American-made products to strengthen the American dream.

Bollman Hat Company was founded in 1868 by George Bollman. Located in Adamstown, PA, they are America’s oldest hat makers. They are customer-driven, team players, think and act like owners, value respect, and strive for excellence.

Support the American Made Matters movement on November 19th by purchasing at least one product made in the USA.


  • Due to the jobs that are required to support manufacturing, American-made manufacturers create 3.5 residual jobs per manufacturing job. This supports local communities and strengthens the American dream.
  • Products made in the USA promote stronger communities. It boosts the economy, is sustainable, and creates jobs.
  • When connecting with consumers, be innovative in regards to products and how you market.
  • People want to connect with brands on a personal level. Brands that tell stories that resonate with their target audience are more relatable and sustainable long term.


Special thanks to OneScreen.so for making this show possible. Check out OneScreen.ai and learn How to Beat Facebook with Billboards at www.onescreen.ai

Looking for your next job in OOH? Start here: www.oohired.com


Welcome to out of home insider the loudest voice. And out-of-home today's episode is 100% guaranteed to be made in the USA. We're joined by Don Ron Jones, CEO of Bowman hats. America's oldest Hatmaker and founder of American made matters. And the organization that promotes the economic, environmental and social impact of buying products made in the U S.

We'll talk about the legacy of being one of America's oldest brands, how the landscape has changed over the years and what the opportunities are ahead for brands that truly define their mission. We talk about American made matters and the impact that the organization is having across the country by promoting the value of made in the U S.

Ultimately this episode is about democratization and that's exactly what we're doing@onescreen.ai. Visit one screen.ai and check out our learning center for case studies, eBooks, and a ton of great insight. How brands are unlocking new growth from old channels and check out American made matters.com to get involved.

There's a button just for media owners, about three quarters of the way down the page. So make sure to check that out too, without further. Let's go welcome everybody to the out-of-home insider show, a podcast like no other hosted by the one and only Tim Rowe.

You ready to have some knowledge dropped on. You went to be entertained because nothing's more valuable than food for your brain. So sit back, relax. We're about to dive in as the best industry podcast is the bathroom. Don. Thanks so much for being here. Thank you, Tim for having me. Absolutely. And as a, as a fan of good hats, it's an honor to have you here because Bowman hat company is it's an iconic American company that goes back 150, 170 years.

Is that. Uh, we're coming on our 154, so founded in 1868, um, and an old whiskey distillery that was across the street on main street. Uh, George Bowman, who was 29 years old, started his hat factory at 29 and, uh, and grew, uh, and, uh, here we are today, 153 plus years later, and a global. And so fun to think about because 150 years, you know, there's not too much that changes about a hat.

I'm sure that, uh, you know, it's unlike technology or 150 years, the way that we, we talk and communicate has changed so much, but there's something sort of beautiful and beautiful about the simplicity of, of a hat. How was it that Bowman came to be all that time? Yeah. So, uh, George had apprenticed at a local hat company and, um, you know, you weren't dressed if you didn't wear a hat.

It was part of the Dale uniform back in, well, really from the, uh, from 1868, when the company was founded until probably around 1960, that was. Really the case. And, um, uh, George had a love of making. It was a great, uh, way of, of providing for his family and the local community. There were a lot of local hat companies that were started in this part of the country, Berks and Lancaster county and outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the German settlers had brought the hat, making craft to this area and set up.

It was good access to water. Water was used to power the factory in those early days. And, uh, we had an old barn here on the property that George had bought after a few years of success where I'm currently located at, which is our headquarters and factories still exist here. And that barn was used to stall the horse that was used to transport the hats to the, by a horse and cart to the railroad station in those early days.

So, um, not much has changed in terms of the process of making a hat. Now there's been some automation, but not a lot. It's still very labor intensive creates a lot of jobs, which is a good thing. Um, but, um, uh, everything else has changed, right. Our marketplace, our brands, um, the way we go to market and, uh, you know, we're just a very different company, but we still have the same foundation of.

It's amazing. And you mentioned that the number of jobs it creates, and I think that Javier who connected us for this conversation here today, I think he shared a statistic with me about the number of jobs that an American manufacturing company or product creates. Do, do you have some insight around that?

I think was it three jobs forever? Yeah, there's been a different versions of that, but three and a half, um, at least, uh, of, of residual jobs are created for every one manufacturing job. It's more powerful than any other segment of the economy, you know, healthcare, government, uh, education because of the, uh, outlook.

Um, jobs that are required for disappoint, manufacturing, research, and development, uh, machinery, transportation, you know, all the supporting cast of, of, uh, of legal and accounting and professional. Um, and it also gives back more powerfully to the local communities because that strong manufacturing job base, uh, not only creates jobs, but, uh, it, it creates, uh, uh, recycling in the economy of, of the wages that are paid to.

The, to the employees who then reinvest in, you know, into, you know, buying stuff and shopping and eating at local restaurants, et cetera. So it, our country, I believe was, was built, um, and grew based on the strength of our, our manufacturing prowess. Uh, we've certainly lost some of that over the years. And, uh, part of what American made matters is really about is, um, is to educate consumers on the importance of buying us, made product to strengthen the American.

Yeah. So let's say let's maybe unpack and talk a little bit more about that. Uh, you know, Bowman, uh, obviously an iconic fixture in, in American business and American it really an American history. Um, and then you have this other, um, initiative called American made matters where we're promoting other businesses like Bowman.

That are made here in America. And I know that there's some particulars about that. I hope that they don't, they don't shut me down and kick me off the internet if I've, if I've mis-characterized. But talk to me a little bit more about American made matters and how you're getting more businesses like Bowman together to, to tell that story.

So, uh, on July 4th, 2009, uh, we launched American made matters with a mission to educate consumers on the importance of buying us, made product to strengthen the American. Right. So there are a lot of dynamics that we've spoken about, uh, around, uh, manufacturing that, uh, strengthens the economy and the independence of our country.

Um, stronger communities, better economy, uh, and as well as environment and, uh, safety, uh, of, of products, uh, Bowman had just gone through a very painful downsizing where we had to discontinue our whole cut and sewn department, where we made baseball caps and other. Uh, cutting some fabric, leather and cotton type hats.

Um, because China had gained most favored nation status and goods were coming in from China at lower than our cost to produce it here, not our selling price, but our costs. And we just found it impossible to compete with the lower end of the market, which was where they were really making the most impact.

We were able to continue making felt hats, which is something that we've made right back to 1868 when we were founded and straw hats, as we still do today and have subsequently made a knit hats here. Um, but we w we had to lay off over a hundred of our employee owners. In one day, we are an employee owned company.

So all of our US-based employees become owners through what's known as an employee stock ownership plan, and that was incredibly painful. It was gut wrenching. I cried, it was very emotional, um, to, to communicate that we had to do this as, as part of the survival of our domestic manufacturing and ultimately our company.

And it got me thinking, uh, as I try to do in life and business, when a bad experience, um, occurs. Is what I could do to prevent that from happening again, you know, learn from your mistakes in life and business. So that directly led to the founding of America may matters. Uh, and, and, uh, with, with the mission that I've stated.

And, uh, we, we, we garnered a lot of interest from other manufacturers that were either direct to consumer kind of products or business to business products, whether it was a steel fabricator that worked to, to help build. Um, manufacturing buildings or other types of structures to toy makers to sign makers.

Um, the, the interest was, was exciting and, uh, we had at some point. Um, 46 of the 50 United States represented with, with over 400 members. And, and really we were spreading the message, helping people connect with, uh, with manufacturers as well as consumer goods. At some point, the FTC said, you know, timeout, you've really got to vet these companies.

If you're going to. Um, uh, using the logo in connection with these companies and send consumers to them. So we've discontinued doing that element of it, but we're continuing with social media to, to, uh, educate consumers, which is the original mission. And, uh, to try to really instill, uh, the importance of buying and wearing and driving and, and owning us made product.

Uh, one of the things that we do and calf continued to do is on November 19th each year, uh, we sponsor American made matters day it's it's a day that we ask every consumer to buy at least one US-made made product and hope that that, um, instills in them. Um, the, um, the mindset of buying us made product for the ensuing holiday season and hopefully well beyond.

Um, uh, in the past we had our members, um, providing coupon codes and really, uh, promoting American made matters day. Some of whom, including our company would have tours for the public where we invited people in to see the manufacturing process and experience. The conversion of raw materials into a finished product, which is very exciting, especially if it's something you can wear and, you know, and, and make personal.

And, um, and with COVID, we haven't had the tours like we used to have, but we are doing America may matters. Um, and have continued to do so on, on November 19th, that day is meaningful to me because that was my father's birthday. Uh, when, when my father returned from world war two, um, without a high school education, he went to work as a cutter and an overnight.

Factory in Philadelphia, where he worked for his entire career, uh, cutting fabric and making codes. And he instilled in me and my siblings at an early age, the importance of, of being proud of what you make and, and buying and supporting America. Um, factories and American manufacturing processes. And so in his honor, uh, I selected November 19th, his birthday as America made matters day, so happens that it's well timed in terms of the holiday shopping season outside.

Yeah. So, uh, we're hoping that, uh, that your message, uh, with the audience here, we'll get that out there and everybody will buy at least. Made us may product on, uh, November 19th. Well, this will definitely be out before then. So if you're listening to it and it's before November 19th, 2021, make sure that you put that in your calendar November 19th, uh, for this year and for every year going forward, Don it's American made matters.com.

Correct. Yup. It is that. And, um, yeah, there's a, there's a place where you can connect with our organization and support it. You can follow us on social media. Um, you can make contributions, um, to the cause in terms of the messaging, what we can't do unfortunately, is promote specific brands and products at this point.

Um, but, uh, the message is clear. Um, that it's important to, um, to, to many elements of, uh, our economy, uh, security as a nation and, uh, to create jobs for strengthening, uh, local communities. And so I think it's a message that everybody can tap into. And it's not a, not a political, we're not relying on the government as the solution.

The the, um, my firm belief is that as consumers, we hold the power, right? If as consumers we ask, uh, where's your us made product, uh, the retailers, uh, will in turn, get the message, look for American made products and put them on their shelves, which then will create a groundswell of jobs and opportunities and stronger local committees.

And we're seeing it now, obviously with some of the supply chain shortage is going around, uh, you know, is there's. I think 60 cargo ships parked off the coast of California in New York. Right now. It's, it's more important than ever to your point about national security being able to manufacture and, and own that supply.

It's something that I think really special about out of home. And, and, and that's maybe the call to action to, to anybody listening to this. It's wondering how to, how can we get involved? It's it's just that it's using our medium, it's using our voice as an industry to promote causes like American made matters.

So, you know, I, I think about a local billboard plant and the number of people that, that employees locally from sales. Real estate to, you know, all the people that make all those things to get, to come together. The guys and gals out there hanging billboards in 20 degrees below zero with hail hitting them in the side of the head, right?

Like these are real, you know, these are, these are local communities to your point, our manufacturing and assembling things here in the United States. Out of home is such a great analog for the importance of being able to be self-sustainable. Yeah. And, uh, you know, these jobs are not always easy, you know, they, they take a, uh, a mind and a strength and a physical nature in some cases, but.

Um, you know, I think it's a great source of pride, as I said, you know, when you make something with your hands and, um, it really creates a stronger, uh, middle-class you know, a working class in this country, which I believe again, and really built, uh, our country and, and opportunities to own homes and to send your, your children to, to educate, you know, to be educated and have better lives.

The, uh, the tagline that we've developed for this year as a shorter journey. A healthier planet, more jobs in the USA by an American made product today. So I'm  yeah, that's right. The shorter journey is relevant to your point in that, you know that with, with all the supply chain issues globally and all the port congestion and containers, uh, being delayed, um, you know, there's going to be, uh, Empty shelves.

Uh, we're hearing, uh, for the holiday shopping season. Well, for producing it in this country, it doesn't have to travel, uh, over a body of water on a container. It does require trucking. Um, but, um, you know, we, we, we're not waiting for containers to get into this country and we're providing for our own people.

Absolutely. Don, how did you come to be, um, at the, at the top of the food chain of. Uh, I joined Bowman heck company on January 2nd, 1982. So I'm about to celebrate my 40th anniversary actually, as that sounds. Yeah. Um, I was just, uh, a young guy out of college. A couple of years. I was in public accounting, got my CPA and Bowman was a client of mine and looking for.

Uh, controller at the time. And as I mentioned, you know, I had this great affinity to, uh, manufacturing and, and really, um, you know, what Bowman did here spoke to me on so many levels, you know, being great manufacturing, uh, uh, company of great history, um, you know, being a company that. You know, tens of thousands of jobs over its long history, uh, having a, a great, uh, ownership, culture, and caring for the people.

There were letters that were written to employees who were serving in world war two, keeping them informed about what was going on back here at the company. The company was doing some government contracting. Uh, those letters, uh, ended with, um, uh, a wage dividend being paid, which is like a profit sharing, even though the.

Uh, these people servicing our country, uh, in the war effort, weren't working for the company. Um, so that's just one of many examples of the company really having this caring culture, uh, over so many decades and it spoke to me on many different levels and I had the good fortune to get promoted early in my career.

Uh, I was corporate secretary and within two years and a member of a leadership team, um, at the tender age of 26. And, uh, you know, pretty much there was no turning back. It was in my blood. I had opportunities at an early age. I went into manufacturing for about a decade of my career and then became chief operating officer and then president and CEO in 2002.

So about half of my tenure here, half of my 40 years has been as president and CEO. So I've got to ask the million dollar question and particularly, cause when I, when I think this brand, I, for me, I have very, very specific memories. What Kango is one of the brands in the Bowman portfolio. And I think of a Kango hat and I think of late nineties hip hop, like.

It was such an iconic, I think, of LL cool. J I'm sure. Over the years that Bowman's done some amazing out of home campaigns, how, if you can give the, the candid hot take on w you know, out of home started ironically about the same time, at least here, domestically in the United States, 1850 a company out of Boston called John.

Um, Emily and sons started doing the billboards for PT, Barnum, um, and, and there's, you know, iconic signs that they worked on the Citgo sign and Boston, uh, was it John Donnelley and sons creation. So it's fun to see the Americana and the heritage kind of fused together in this episode, but you have such iconic brands and you've been there for such a great period of time.

I'm sure out of home has been a, been a fixture at some points in that, in that time. What's, what's your take out out of. Yeah, well, uh, our Bailey brand is actually our American brand. Uh, Bailey has a Western component and, and a, uh, fashion component. And, uh, you know, would have used all kinds of vibrant advertising media over the years, um, including billboard and print and, and others.

And so, uh, very iconic in terms of. That connection with, uh, you know, with getting the message out to, to consumers. The Kangol brand actually was founded in, in, uh, in the UK. No, that makes sense. Yeah. And, uh, and when we, uh, acquired the rights, uh, the global rights to Kango headwear, and here's a Kango cap that's made here, uh, at America's oldest had factory, um, The, uh, the brand had pivoted, um, and, and was, was trying to, uh, exit, it was owned by, um, an investment banking firm and had moved most of its production from England to China.

Um, we, uh, we acquired that China factory and decided to sell it. And ultimately we moved. From that factory to Adamstown Pennsylvania, but it's housed here and created jobs and are producing the, uh, some of the icon iconic Kangle product here at America's all this hat factory with us labor. So it was never here in the beginning, it didn't move and return.

It was brought, it was moved from England to China. And then to the United States, we did a Kickstarter campaign and, um, uh, had a lot of fun with that. Samuel Jackson appeared in it and I was going to say, would you help? Samuel. We had some pump fiction memes going around this. Yeah. Yeah. We, we coined the phrase, uh, mother funder.

I have to pronounce that. I did see, I saw that on the Instagram, I think. Yeah. Yeah. So we had great deal of fun with it. Raised awareness, raised some money to help move this equipment here, get it set up. And, uh, today, today we're producing, uh, over 1200. Um, Kango caps per week, us labor, uh, in America's oldest hat factory.

So that's pretty cool. Um, our, uh, our other, uh, top tier brand is Helen Kaminski, which is an Australian women's brand, um, hand crocheted raffia and braided goods. We're making some of those felt hats here as well. So we've become a global company with, with, uh, the industry's leading brands. Uh, we also sell on hats.com and a, and, and which we own as well as other e-commerce websites for those brands that I've mentioned, and, uh, really reinvented our company many times over the years from a domestic anonymous manufacturer that made product private label for other brands to a company that still does that.

But, uh, is, uh, is, is, uh, as a leader in our industry with a global marketplace and the leading brands in the industry selling direct to consumer as well as through a wholesale channel. Don. Let me ask you that question. Cause that's, that's a really interesting topic. I've got two books. One's called Goliath revenge and one's called eating the big fish eating.

The big fish is about challenger brands, disruptors. These new born online brands that come in, completely shake up a category and kill a blue chip brand. In five years. Goliath revenge is about how to use challenge. Thinking as an incumbent to, to ward off any, any new challenges for a company, as old as bomb.

And you've gone through so many iterations. What are some of those guiding principles that you've used to lead the company through the, like a really transitional period 40 years? Like you've seen technology change so much in the way we buy and consumer behavior. What are some of the guiding principles?

Direct that well, stewardship, I'd say, you know, that, that, and that's, you know, the, the mindset of looking over, uh, the, the assets and the heritage and history of the organization with a mind to the future and, and always trying to grow it are our core values are five. Um, we are customer driven. We, we think and act like owners, which goes back to this ownership.

Yeah, I've spoken about, uh, we are respectful and all that we do. Um, we strive for excellence in all that we do, and we are team players. So those are our five guiding core values, uh, that really drive our thinking. We want our people all to embrace those and exhibit those in their daily behavior. Um, our core purpose is to be the best in the world at designing.

Producing and delivering, uh, fashion headwear. And, uh, and we do so, you know, as I've mentioned through these top brands, um, and, uh, and so that has allowed us to really, uh, protect the past, but really think about the future. And, uh, when, when things are changing, like department stores are closing down or malls are closing down.

We've got to think differently. And how do we continue to, uh, grow our business and connect with consumers? Sometimes it's, it's tightening the belt when times are tough, but always thinking about what's next and being innovative with regard to product, as well as, um, how we market and connect with, with ultimately the consumers and support our retailers in the process.

And I think that that ownership culture. That we created when we formalize the Aesop in 1985, but really existed back to early days of George taking care of local local employees in the community, um, is what has allowed us to survive, you know, all these hundred and 53 years and, and really create what we believe is a forever company.

Right? We don't talk in terms of the next 153 years. We talk in terms of. You've certainly withstood the test of time and wishing you many, many more centuries of infinite time to come. I'd like to get your input on this, the Kango store. So interesting to me that UK went to China and you made a serious investment to bring it under the Bowman brand, but then, you know, specifically bring.

Here to the United States. Are there more opportunities like that? Maybe not just in your category, but just at large. Is there an opportunity now for companies to find growth levers by acquiring brands that have maybe been mismanaged or not properly valued? Um, as, as overseas brands and bring them back to you.

See. Absolutely. Yeah. Especially now more than ever with the, you know, the global supply chain issues that everyone's facing, um, closer proximity to the market, um, really helps to accelerate the ability to respond quickly. Uh, to, you know, changing consumer needs at once and making sure that you're responsive without holding huge amounts of inventory that can really kill you if, uh, if, if you've guessed wrong.

So shortening the supply chain and closer proximity to market, um, still us is as a huge global consumer and a lover of brands. So, um, making that connection. Between the maker and the consumer is important. And, uh, and that connection helps to build brands as well as a stronger business models, really?

When, when you eliminate all that supply chain costs and time, and, and really have the right product at the right place, uh, I think now more than ever, um, there's an opportunity for brands and companies to reshore, um, their manufacturing and tell those stories to, to an audience that will connect. I, yeah, I couldn't agree more.

It's definitely an exciting time in the, uh, you know, uh, some of the degradation because of privacy and data laws and online advertising is certainly changing a lot. And I think that now more than ever brands need to focus on before. Brands instead of just getting customers to come to their website and buy stuff, the value of a brand over the next 10 years is going to grow exponentially.

And that, that opportunity that you just talked about is really significant. Yeah. People want to connect with brands on, on a personal level. Right. Well, you know, why does that brand exists? Provide meaning to me as a person, you know, it's part of my, you know, my persona and who I am. And so the brand's got to speak to the audience that it, it really is, is trying to, um, to, to connect with and tell the stories that resonate with that audience, whether it's about sustainability and, and, and, uh, uh, you know, a better planet and environment, um, or whether it's about, you know, creating jobs, um, or.

You know, an attitude and a lifestyle that really connects with that audience. Uh, all those things ultimately resonate and help brands, uh, to become global and, and build upon themselves and sustainable. Definitely. Don't take us out loud. It's student longitude. Where can folks find you? Where did they find Bowman?

Give us that American made matters. Plug once again, got to take an action. November 19th, American made matters. They give everybody a court. Okay. So American may matters.com as a way to connect with this community. Um, November 19th, every year as American may matters day by at least one thing made in the United States and tell, um, your loved ones and friends to do the same.

Um, we, we created this pyramid, um, with the, the very bottom of the, of the food chain is the people who don't know. Don't look don't care about where it's made to the very top of those that will only buy it. If it's us made we'll commend the retail. If they, if they offer us made and tell them if they don't, uh, you know, I'll buy when you, when you do offer that Bowman hat company is America's oldest Hatmaker employee owned Bowman hats.com is where you can find us.

We mark it on hats.com as well as our top brands. Bailey hats.com kangle.com and Helen kaminski.com. Um, we are America's oldest hat maker here in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, uh, since 1868 and, uh, and have created what we believe is a forever. It's such an incredible story down. Thank you so much for sharing all of the history, your personal journey.

All of the great work that you're doing with American made matters really, really appreciate having you here today. Thank you for, uh, this has been fun and, and, uh, you're, you're certainly getting messages out that are very important and I hope your audience appreciates what you do. Thank you. And we definitely appreciate the audience cause without them, it would just be me in a basement recording conversations.

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