The Best Hat Store owner Susan Maddox says to keep your head held high (and covered by a quality cowboy hat) to make the most of every opportunity.
Editor's Note: As statewide rules and regulations continue to change, please contact retailers for their latest store hours and delivery capabilities.
Amidst all of the unknowns this year has brought, a positive mindset is key. We talked with The Best Hat Store owner Susan Maddox about keeping your head held high (and covered by a quality cowboy hat) in order to not miss making the most of every opportunity.
Was your storefront shut down?
Yes, we did shut down. We were mandated to shut down, because we were deemed nonessential. We were shut down for [almost six weeks], and at that time I had six fulltime employees, and I dropped it down to two people each day manning the phones just for phone orders or online orders, but I kept everybody on [staff], because I was fortunate enough to receive a PPE loan through my bank. I was able to pay all of my employees fulltime, full pay without any hiccups. I also provide my employees health insurance, so I continued my health insurance, and I was able to keep everybody in place, because I knew that there was going to be a time that we were going to reopen, and then I would need everybody again in full force.
What does your current business environment look like? Is it different than normal for you?
We didn’t open The Best Hat Store until the first part of May, but once we reopened I was so surprised at how quickly business started coming back. I felt truly blessed, because it deemed that our hats were necessary even though we aren’t “essential,” but it’s necessary for a farmer or a rancher to have a cowboy hat for a part of his work to keep the sun off his face, neck, and ears, so we were really excited and surprised as quickly as business bounced back.
What has been the biggest challenge in adapting to this “new normal” the retail world has taken on?
[With] hat shaping you can’t stay six feet apart. You have to mark the center of the hat. You’ve got to hand shape it. You’ve got to tweak it. You’ve got to constantly be up close and personal making sure the hat is shaped to [the customer’s] specifications, and it’s what they want. So that’s the challenge maintaining social distancing and making sure we still get the job done for the customer and they go out the door with a hat on their head that they’re proud to wear.
How has your business adapted to producing digital content and sales?
We have seen a definite increase in our online orders. It’s also a challenge, because buying a hat is such a hands-on personal choice, but our educated customers that are prior customers from coming into the store and buying a hat, it’s easy for them to click and shop. [With] previous customers we know what [they] like or they’ll send us a picture [and] we shape them up. The uneducated hat customer we kind of have to walk through, but my guys are so well-educated in hats. I’ve got the finest hat-shapers in the world, and they’re really good and patient with the first-time online customer walking them through and making sure they understand.
Our social media presence has grown. Our numbers continue to increase, so it’s a great avenue. It’s free. It’s crazy not to take advantage of that.
What has been your focus while speaking to your customers online?
We do have a Facebook, but our customer at Best Hat Store tends to be more of an Instagram customer. It’s a younger demographic. Our social media presence has grown. Our numbers continue to increase, so it’s a great avenue. It’s free. It’s crazy not to take advantage of that. The Best Hat Store isn’t just a brand, it’s a lifestyle and showcasing [online] that these hats fit into your lifestyle on a daily basis, so whether it’s super editorial images or nicely curated product images.
Has any content stood out as particularly successful in terms of resonating with your audience? Why has that content done so well, in your opinion?
We did do a Live post when the NFR got announced, I did a short video on our Instagram. Also once a week the hat-shapers would do a Live, and they would showcase shaping up a handful of hats from online or phone orders since people weren’t allowed to come into the store. Then they would also take questions for those that were interested in purchasing. So once a week they would hop on Live and just kind of interact with our customers and take phone calls and answer questions, and I think that was very beneficial, because for those that maybe don’t know the specs of what they want in terms of brim size or shapes, they could go on and ask or even ask about the quality of the hats or where they were made or how to treat the hats, just various questions like that.
I think people look for nostalgia, and I think Western-wear has that nostalgia attached to it.
What exciting things are on the horizon?
The most exciting thing we’ve added this year was the 100X, our new top notch but middle-of-the-line so-to-speak price-wise [hat]. It can be worn as a high-quality work hat that will hold up, or you can wear it as a nice middle-of-the-road dress hat and it comes in all the colors available: pecan, natural, silver belly, midnight blue, black cherry. It’s a good price point, and yet it really goes across from a younger guy’s hat to an older gentleman’s hat, and it is just a really fine quality hat.
What are shoppers looking for right now from Western businesses? Have you noticed any buying trends?
I think [Western is] something that people are kind of searching for in this time of craziness, because it holds up to the past when things weren’t so crazy and that fear of the unknown.
I think people look for nostalgia, and I think Western-wear has that nostalgia attached to it. Whether it’s in apparel or accessories such as hats, I find that when people come in, and they say, ‘my grandfather had this certain hat, and this is what I’m looking for’, then that’s where our hat store comes into play. We take a plain open-crown flat-brim, and we can create whatever the person is wanting. I think that Western makes people feel good. It gives them a sense of happiness, and that things are going to be okay, that this will all work out and this will all be positive. Our trends are whatever the imagination is. We don’t see a trend. We see a customer that comes in, and we make their vision come true. That’s what our main goal is, is for a hat customer to come in empty-handed and leave happy as a camper.
We were a little fearful of going online, but don’t be fearful of it, because progress, moving forward, positive thinking, moving ahead is always good for a business.
Do you have any tips for other Western businesses looking to take their business online right now?
We were a little fearful of going online, but don’t be fearful of it, because progress, moving forward, positive thinking, moving ahead is always good for a business. Thinking outside of the box, that’s what we did. We kind of did take a little leap of faith with the online business, and it turned out to be really good. It is working well for our business. It has not taken away from the customer coming into the store. It has only enhanced our sales and maybe reached more customers, because of the availability of the website. I don’t think you want to be hesitant. You want to just go at it with a very positive attitude, and our motto at Best Hat Store is ‘positive times.’ That was my husband’s brand, and we’re continuing with the +x meaning positive times and moving forward. This pandemic is going to go away, and everyone just needs to continue to be positive and just keep reaching for their dreams and their goals and creating a business that they’re proud of. We just can’t preach positivity enough at this time. That’s just kind-of our philosophy in life and business.
Do you plan on attending in-person markets or tradeshows in the next six months?
We’re just excited about the NFR coming. This is the first time in 24 years that I have not packed up to go to the NFR in Las Vegas, and we’re excited to be having it in our backyard. We’re going to host all of our customers at The Best Hat Store on North Main Street with Texas hospitality and the finest hats ever made and hand-shaped by the finest shapers. We’re looking forward to being in our own beds, and everything is just going to be pretty compact and well-organized. I think it’s really going to be great. We’re staying very positive about it.
This interview is part of an ongoing series that W&E is conducting with retailers. Click here to peruse more stories and interviews from the retail industry.