This Week On Making It In America
We tip our hats off to American manufacturing with Don Rongione, President & CEO of the Bollman Hat Company and Founder of American Made Matters.
Can you please tell us about the Bollman Hat Company?
Founded in 1868 in Adamstown, PA, Bollman Hat Company is America’s oldest hat maker. Bollman has continually made wool felt hats for 146 years. During its first hundred years, Bollman added hat manufacturing capabilities to produce a hat from raw wool to finished product. We added fur felt and straw hats to our manufacturing capability during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Today, Bollman has the best collection of hat brands in the headwear industry, including Bailey, Betmar, Country Gentleman, Helen Kaminski, Kangol and Pantropic. We became the first employee-owned headwear company when we adopted our Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 1985. Our employee-owners are proud to cover the world with unparalleled products that provide protection, comfort and style to millions throughout the world. We have nearly 300 people located on four continents and distribute products in 77 countries. Our products can be found worldwide in specialty stores, department stores, major and regional chain stores, and prominent catalog and e-commerce retailers. Throughout its incredible history, Bollman has been a primary supplier of private label headwear to the world’s leading brands and retailers covering fashion, outdoor apparel, uniform, formal wear and sports markets. Bollman owns hats.com, where consumers can browse and buy our products.
When did you first join the company? How did your role progress?
I started at Bollman as Controller in 1982. I have been blessed to serve in several positions within the company including Vice President of Administration, Sr. Vice President of Manufacturing, Executive Vice President and COO and finally President and CEO in 2002.
Why is making it in America significant at Bollman Hat Company?
Bollman is America’s oldest hat maker and will soon celebrate 150 years of U.S. hat making. I experienced the tragic decline of American manufacturing first hand when loss of major customers to foreign competition forced us to lay off more than 100 U.S. manufacturing employees. It was this experience that led me to found American Made Matters (AMM), an organization dedicated to educating consumers on just how important American manufacturing is to our country. Today AMM has close to 300 members in 43 states. Bollman is the home of American Made Matters.
What challenges has the Bollman Hat Company overcome throughout history in order to continue making it in America?
For our first ninety years, the hat industry flourished as wearing a hat was part of the daily uniform. The company always sought to develop new products and new markets. The loyalty and commitment of our people has been a hallmark of our famous company. We have 13 employee-owners during our history who worked for our company for 50 or more years of services. In 1985, we started our Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) making all of our employees owners of the company. Manufacturing in the USA continues to be a challenge for many companies with high labor-content products. However we are dedicated to keeping the jobs for our employee-owners here in the U.S.A. as well as being good stewards of our heritage.
How have you expressed a passion for American manufacturing outside from your business?
I continuously reach out to businesses to join the American Made Matters movement as well as personally purchase products from our own American Made Matters members. Today I am wearing 100% American made from my hat to my socks and shoes!