ADAMSTOWN — As the oldest hat maker in America, Bollman Hat Company has fashionably fitted the heads of Americans and customers around the globe with the best collection of headwear in the world for over 140 years.
But company President & CEO Don Rongione knows the Lancaster County-based operation needs more than its heritage to survive in the fiercely competitive world of hat manufacturing.
“I believe it is the culture that has been created here, and that is our culture of employee ownership,” Rongione said about what it takes to be in business for more than a century. “Our employee/owners feel a greater sense of responsibility, accountability, ownership and commitment to what we do, which I believe goes back to before we launched the Employee Stock Ownership program in 1985. I think our customers sense that greater pride and ownership when they talk to our people and it creates a certain determination and resiliency that we are going to get through whatever comes our way.”
Its core mission of making quality headwear the one constant that has remained the same since Bollman was founded in 1868, the company’s management team has the fluidity to adapt to the rapidly evolving changes in the marketplace, Rongione said.
“We have made changes when change has been necessary according to the economy, our industry and what is happening around the world,” Rongione said. “We have to be good stewards and we have to develop strategies that not only help us survive, but to thrive again. We are a much different company today than what we were even when I arrived 29 years ago.”
One company strategy is to create and acquire brands which capture customer loyalty, according to Rongione. Many of the company’s brands have been purchased over the last two decades, he added.
“With a continuation of innovate design, great styling and performance products, we will build upon that loyalty,” Rongione said. “As the demand for our brands grow, we have and will continue to move into other accessory categories.”
A tribute to the company’s longevity can be traced to the cross-generational appeal of Bollman to its employees. Bollman currently employs 300 people, of which 200 are based in Pennsylvania at its half-million-square-foot manufacturing plant and another 100 on four continents.
“I’d like to think that this is a good place to work, even if the jobs aren’t always that easy,” Rongione said. “The company has tried to offer continual employment, we treat our employees well and fairly and we have provided solid employment opportunities for families.”
Another competitive strategy is royalty arrangements with celebrities and sports figures. Bollman’s latest royalty arrangement is with R & B singer Ne-Yo, who just signed an agreement with the company in the last few weeks.
Other celebrities whose heads have adorned Bollman-made hats over the years include Roy Rogers, who visited the plant in the 1960s, seven-time rodeo champion Trevor Brazile, rap artists Run DMC, golfer Juan “Chi-Chi” Rodriguez, rock musician Carlos Santana and eight different U.S. Olympic teams.
Editor’s Note: Team PA, at the request of the Department of Community and Economic Development and Sen. Mike Brubaker, R-Lancaster, honored 10 companies of the more than 3,000 around the commonwealth who have been in business for at least a century. This is the first in a series of periodic articles of the companies recognized at that event.
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