By Karen Dybis
There’s this smile a woman gets when she tries on her first Stormy Kromer cap. Bob Jacquart, owner of the venerable brand, describes it as a cross between a shy Mona Lisa smirk and an all-out goofy grin.
“Every lady that puts it on gets what I call The Sixth Grade Smile. It’s that perfect, ‘I am completely happy and satisfied with how I look’ look,” says Jacquart, who himself picked out the softest pink wool to create the cap named after the founder’s wife.
The Ida Kromer cap with its smaller brim and decidedly feminine colors was a breakthrough for the century-old brand. It proved that Stormy Kromer had the sauce to expand beyond its masculine beginnings and grow into a full clothing and accessory line, Jacquart says.
More importantly, it gave his company, Jacquart Fabric Products, the merchandising might to snatch up a greater portion of the sales space inside major sporting goods retailers such as Cabela’s and L.L. Bean.
Five years later, the Ironwood, Mich., company now has a complete complement of Kromer fashions for men, women and children. It has worked hard to develop a kind of lore around the Kromer name, establishing a brand that honors tradition, wholesomeness and a passion for the Great Outdoors. And it has built a small but devoted following among the outdoor enthusiasts as well as the Hollywood elite, including Bill Murray and Jeff Daniels.
Now, Jacquart and daughters Kari and Gina feel the brand is ready for its time in the spotlight. They are fiercely marketing the Stormy Kromer image through a new advertising campaign, ramping up a whimsical social-media campaign and spreading its “Kromerisms” everywhere, including hot apps like Pinterest.
It also is seeking additional retailers to sell the Stormy and Ida lines, having already established itself in well-respected stores across the state and nationwide. Then there is Jacquart’s secret passion of snagging a few key endorsements that will take their caps, clothing and accessories from the fishing hole to Fifth Avenue.
In other words, it is time for Stormy Kromer’s closeup. And, yes, they’d love to take a meeting, Reese Witherspoon, whenever you’re available.
The Stormy Kromer story is a magical one to tell, Jacquart will tell you. It is authentic without being smarmy. It is honest and full of genuine American pride; after all, everything the company sells is all cut and sewn in the United States.
Check out our interview with Bob Jacquart at
Corp!’s Entrepreneurs of Distinction Awards:
For Jacquart, owning a Stormy Kromer cap was so much more than protecting your cranium from the cold. It is a symbol that tells the world exactly who you are. It was about his family heritage - his grandfather and father proudly wore their “six pointers,” as the old railway workers called them. And it was about reviving a business that Jacquart could hand down to his family for another 100 years.
A little history
Jacquart joined his dad’s company - Jacquart Manufacturing - at 19. That firm started as a canvas repair and small custom bag business. When he came on board as manager, there was only one other employee. He soon added other sewing projects, including custom boat covers and reupholstered furniture. In 1983, he bought the company and changed the name. Back then, JFP had eight employees. Today, it has 160.
When Jacquart heard about the opportunity to pick up the Stormy Kromer brand in 2001, its popularity was at an all-time low. The previous owners were selling only enough caps to fill a VW Beetle. At one point, when he met with a retailer’s rep, he was told that without the right strategy his Kromer cap would languish on some retailer’s hat shelf as just another way to keep your head warm.
“I was thinking, ‘I really have to save this company,'” Jacquart said. “I figured I’ve got the space in my factory. It is a winter product, so we could make any time. That way, I didn’t have to lay anyone off. Part of my vision was I can’t let this stop being made and wouldn’t my grandfather be proud of me, making the hat he just loved?”
As an aside, annual production of the caps today is 20 times what it was in 2001. (As a privately held company, Jacquart Fabric Products does not reveal its annual sales. But let’s just say Jacquart, a college dropout, is happy that his success makes his family secure and happy.)
One of the first things Jacquart did was pick the brains of any advertising or marketing agency that would let him in the door. His true goal was to hire a company to help him develop the Kromer brand. He also was after all the free advice he could garner as to where to take the brand that meant so much to him.
Everyone was so excited about the brand’s potential, Jacquart remembers. That was one reason he changed the cap’s name from its original Kromer Blizzard Cap to the Stormy Kromer Cap. Upon their advice, he also had Stormy’s signature sewn onto the cap and the founding date to the back, honoring the brand’s century-old history.
“I’ve always been someone who’s believed there’s someone smarter than I am. I ask a lot of questions. If you ask someone humbly, they’ll tell you their whole life’s story,” Jacquart said. “Their excitement got me started thinking in a way that I just couldn’t imagine.”
Bears, boards and begonias
One thing the company has learned over the past decade is who their core customers are. There are the traditional wearers - the fishermen, hunters, skiers and the folks who work and play outside. Then there was the group nicknamed the “urban outdoorsman,” Jacquart said.
Picture a Hipster or Yuppie who works in the city but longs for the country life. He wears the signature six-pointer cap and coordinating vest, shirt and pants to tell the world, “I can trade commodities, but I’d rather be hunting wild bear.”
“You might have this businessman who has to be in meetings, but he puts on his Stormy Kromer out of protest. Or there’s the girl who has to go back to her rich suburb, but she has her Petal Pusher on to remind her of the family cabin in the north woods,” says Jacquart. “We’re playing to that audience, trying to interpret that magic that happens when you put on a Stormy Kromer.”
His daughter, Gina, also helped create the Ida Kromer. Back when she was on the middle-school skiing team, she would wear the traditional Stormy Kromer cap and put her ski-hill pins on the ear flaps.
“It was adorable. But all I remember is the brim was always too wide for her face. It’s a man’s brim, not a woman’s brim,” Jacquart said. Thus, the Ida was born.
In 2011, JFP expanded the Ida Kromer line with the launch of the Petal Pusher cap, which adds a contrasting flower for a pop of color. It also introduced the Stormy Kromer Carryall as the first bag. (One co-designer of The Petal Pusher was Jacquart’s wife, Denise.)
This year, the Ida line brought in a vest, The Ida Outfitter, made of 100 percent merino wool, with princess seams and stand up collar. It also added two pieces of outerwear: The Harbor Jacket, made of 100 percent cotton duck and Ida’s Chore Coat.
These days, Jacquart himself sometimes gives the daily tours of the manufacturing facility, and he’s always amazed when young tweens and teens come in with questions for him. The other day, a 14-year-old girl who happened to be a huge Stormy Kromer fan buzzed around the offices like a 5-year-old kid touring Santa’s workshop, he recalls.
“She was so excited to be here; she knew everything about our history and about me,” Jacquart remembers with a hearty chuckle. “I asked her dad, ‘How is this working?’ and he wasn’t sure, either. But there’s something about the wholesomeness of putting on this cap that does something to a person.”
Jacquart credits his family and staff, including the brand’s Senior Designer Tamara Ehle, for creating such a wide range of products for the Stormy Kromer brand. One challenge was creating products for the warmer months; that project is coming along and the spring and summer collections are starting to gain momentum. And he’s thrilled to the gill with what’s coming for next year’s line, he says.
“I can’t believe we’re pulling this off,” he notes. “We’ve got our nose in the tent. We’re making it happen.”