For many, the phrase “family business” connotes a smaller manufacturer with a focus on locality. While many mom-and-pop firms fit the description, it doesn’t display the incredibly commanding role that family-controlled enterprises play in the economy. For instance, many family businesses are run by owners who have long-term and generational perspectives. Family businesses can also operate more informally than others and lastly, trust-based relationships are an important part of how and with whom they do business. Family businesses form long-term relationships with clients and dealers. Plus, they provide a level of stability and commitment unseen and unfelt by large, massive corporations.
Second and third generation manufacturing plants have a greater sense of commitment and accountability at their heart as it is not just the needs of the business that are at stake, but the needs of the family, too. This desire for both the family and business to stay strong fosters a greater understanding of the industry, the organization, and the job.
Essentially, there is a unique power behind the notion of family-owned businesses and few understand this power as well as Steven G. Stratton, President of Stratton Hats, Inc.
For Steven, maintaining a family-oriented culture at work is and will always be of the utmost importance. And while COVID-19 brought with it a slew of challenges, Steven worked hard to ensure that his business evolved with changing consumer demands while also ensuring that the look of authority starts at the top!
Recently, I received the opportunity to sit down with Steven and discuss further why the values at Stratton Hats mean so much to him and why the notion of family keeps driving the forward-moving trajectory of his company. Take a look!
KENNETH: First off, how would you describe your business?
STEVEN: Well, for starters, for almost 90years and four generations, the Stratton family has crafted high-quality headwear. From early beginnings as a civilian hat manufacturer in Chicago, Illinois to today, we’re now the country’s largest supplier of uniform hats. Our headwear is worn by the majority of U.S. law enforcement personnel.
Stratton Hats supplies several federal organizations including the National Park Service, Border Patrol, and the U.S. Army. Many state and local organizations also wear Stratton hats as part of their uniforms including state police, county police, city police, correctional centers, and private security companies.
KENNETH: What would you say are your company values?
STEVEN: Respect and family. Like I said, we’re a fourth-generation family business. I am the President, my cousin is the Vice President, my son is a Vice President, and my daughter works at our plant in Tennessee. So, when I say it’s truly a family business, we mean it. We also believe in respect. Respect for our clients and we have a respect and a passion for how we craft and build our hats. That’s why we believe in offering American-made products. We use only locally-sourced materials and each hat is produced from the finest-quality braids and genuine furs available. These start at Stratton’s wholly-owned subsidiary, the Winchester Hat Corporation in Tennessee. Our plant produces the high-grade fur felt and straw bodies, which are then sent to Stratton Hat’s headquarters for forming and finishing.
KENNETH: Talk to me a little bit about the history of Stratton Hats.
STEVEN: In the beginning, we started out making just dress hats. Around the late 1950’s or so, states were having trouble obtaining hats and finding companies to make their uniform hats. So, we basically became a uniform hat manufacturer after the majority of people stopped wearing dress hats on a daily basis.
In 1972, we bought our own raw material plant in Winchester, TN where we could form our felt bodies and sew our straw body hats. The bodies are then sent to Stratton Hats and other custom hatters where we press them, trim them, and form them into their unique shapes and sizes.
As a matter of fact, we’ve been the sole supplier of Drill Instructor hats for the US Army since 1973. We also do the great majority of state officer police hats, in general.
KENNETH: What would you consider are the strengths of your business?
STEVEN: That’s an easy one. The durability and quality of our products is what sets us apart from the competition. Our manufacturing process is so thorough that we employ a couple of extra steps in order to stiffen our hats and make sure they retain their shape and appearance. Police officers are out there helping the community every day, so we need to make sure that our hats are crafted from the best materials possible and designed to be as weather-proof as possible. We take special care, time, and patience building our hats. We also take great pride in being American-made.
In order for our hats to remain sturdy and retain their flat brim,we offer not only 12 sizes, but four shapes in each size. Hats are like shoes in terms of length and width. People can wear regular oval, long oval, wide oval, or extra-long oval. That’s one of the many unique aspects of our products. Nobody offers different shapes, but us.
So, all in all, if you want comfort, durability, and the ability to choose from a wider selection of sizes, Stratton Hats is where you need to go. That’s why so many state police departments choose us. They know just as well as we do that hats command respect. The public knows who’s in charge when they see it.
KENNETH: How have you overcome the challenges presented to you during this global pandemic? What strategies have you employed to grow your uniform business yourself?
STEVEN: Like all businesses since COVID-19 started, we were hit hard by the worldwide crisis. Since state governments have had to downsize, their budgets have shrunk and that means less hats are being purchased. But despite the hardships that COVID brought, we’ve made sure that the quality of our hats and products have remained the same and that the communal sense of togetherness and family at our company has not changed. People love purchasing from Stratton Hats because they know they’re buying from a family business. They trust us. They respect us. And we trust and respect them. That’s what a family is. It’s trust and respect and we’ll continue to provide the same family feel whenever a customer purchases from us.
We’ve also had to ramp up our online efforts. We’re doing a little bit more marketing and advertising and we have a great ordering system on our online store. Even though our customers prefer to purchase from us mainly in-person at a dealer or over the phone, we still endeavor to offer a way for other customers out there who can’t reach us or one of our dealers in-person. Yes, we evolve with times, but we’ll always be a family-business that’s old-school. Besides my own family, we have a lot of second and third generation employees. We do not have a lot of turnover, and I’m proud of that!