I was born into the hat business. I was rewarded handsomely at 15 years old for selling the product. I was a natural salesman and connected with our customers. We’ve always produced the top quality hat in the marketplace, so it was a joy to sell and joy to connect with our customers with this product. What happened for me was I went off to school. Played golf on the San Diego State golf team and ended up getting lost in the process, drinking heavily became a bartender and found myself questioning life. Then was given an opportunity to come back and partner with my father and really have taken the headwear business by storm ever since. We’ve just expanded, had a great opportunity to build an incredible team and connect with many local individuals to produce the best hat in the world.
MATT WARD: What makes the headwear business so compelling?
GARTH WATROUS: Business in general is fascinating. How complex it is with producing something from scratch and getting the whole team on the same page to perform at the highest level.
MW: How much of an impact has education played for consumers in realizing the health benefits — beyond the stylish component — in selecting appropriate headwear?
GW: Education is becoming more important or playing a bigger role. I think for the most part, the majority of us still feel that it has to look good first and sun protection second. Most of us don’t wear headwear based on sun protection but it’s at least in the conversation. Unlike maybe 10 years ago where we wouldn’t even discuss it.
GW: I think women shop for headwear for themselves and for their man. So I think the difference is men have women pick it out and women have themselves pick it out
MW: What’s the biggest mistake men and women do respectively when selecting headwear?
GW: The biggest mistake is size. I think size matters and it’s easy to find a hat to small and then ultimately not wear it in the future, but you’re able to try it on and purchase it.
MW: All companies stress the value of customer service — how do you solicit comments from those purchasing your products?
GW: Social media is the easiest and the most productive. we have over 40 social media pages so comments are easily received and written by our customers.
MW: Has there been a time when customer feedback influenced a decision on how to proceed ahead with a certain product?
GW: Customer feedback always influences us. We are in the people business we just happen to sell hats. If we are not pleasing and connecting with people then we are not gonna sell any hats long term, so the influence is happening daily.
MW: You get a business “mulligan” — what would you do differently versus what you actually did?
GW: I was born into the business and so mulligans are an interesting topic we do discuss them at Christmas dinner. I think the biggest single mulligan would be not creating a business in California. Going to a pro business state would be much more lucrative and the chances of success are greater. The good thing is that dad started this business in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, so even if the taxes are higher we get to live in paradise.
GW: Treat people with kindness.
MW: You can change one thing in golf –what would it be?
GW: Pace of play, speed it up. It’s not attracting the youth of America because it’s too damn slow — speed it up.
MW: You attended this past January’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. How would you assess the overall mood of those attending and what do you see happening with the ’16 golf season set to start?
GW: The show for the most part was upbeat. There was definitely some more energy this year than in the past. I think that the golf market is challenged, how many different ways can you make a polo shirt or a golf ball? Introducing and launching something new is very difficult. So golf as a whole is upbeat, but I think golf is also going to have to do something drastic if it wants to be around in 50 or 75 years.