Thinking about taking the plunge

Discussion in 'Hats' started by ngodbehere, Oct 22, 2021.

Should I do it?

  1. Yes

    4 vote(s)
    50.0%
  2. No

    4 vote(s)
    50.0%
  1. ngodbehere

    ngodbehere New in Town

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Lexington, KY
    Hi there all of you well dressed dapper folk! I’m coming to you all humbled and kind of nervous. More than anything I am excited. My garage is full to the brim with fine hats and many tools and I think it’s time I left my garage and let the public in on what I’ve been up to. More than anything, I want a window. That would upgrade my life immensely. I’m thinking about leasing a shop.

    The old cobbler in my town is retiring today and he put me in contact with his landlord. The rent is probably the most affordable I’ve seen in this town. I still have many questions about the property, apparently the landlord hasn’t been in there in decades so she has no clue of the state of the property until he hands over the keys at the end of the month.

    I can honestly say that this hat making venture is hands down the riskiest and most exciting thing I’ve ever done with my life thus far at 28. It still beats pulling 12 hour shifts in the kitchens or 14 hours a day at the horse track like I was doing before a traumatic injury robbed me of the ability to do that kind of intense physical labor. If I’m working 14 hours I find a lot more satisfaction when it’s in my own shop.

    So what are y’all’s thoughts? Can you see a hat shop in the heart of the bluegrass working out or am I mad man for following this dream?
     
  2. Pellie

    Pellie Practically Family

    Messages:
    765
    Location:
    Enschede, Netherlands
    Just follow your dreams and heart is my advice!
     
    LCGDE and ngodbehere like this.

  3. I wish you the best of luck no matter what you decide. Brick and mortar stores are risky. Will foot traffic pay for the added expense? I think that keeping your overhead low is a great business model, but only you know all the pros and cons. I do love a good hat shop and I like the idea of more opening, but I’m not sure how it pencils out as a business decision. Walk-in customers also mean distractions and fragmented work time on making hats.

    Have you developed a website? Do you have an Etsy “store?” I really hope you create a thread dedicated to your hats and post them all here. I seem to recall that your style is a bit bohemian, but that’s cool; we have those who like that too. We might even convince you to make a classic 1940s fedora in a non-distressed style. :)
    I enjoy trying new hatters and seeing their styles and methods. I’ll definitely consider a custom hat from you. As to a brick and mortar store…without knowing all the facts I’d say no. I love Gannon’s setup: makes them at home in a studio, makes some of the greatest hats available, has a 3-4 month backlog of orders, and sells his hats at great prices. If you have all the business you can handle it doesn’t make sense to increase overhead unless it allows you to make more hats or to make them better.

    I’m amazed at the courage it takes to start a business and wish you luck and prosperity.
     
  4. jonesy86

    jonesy86 I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    4,219
    Location:
    Kauai
    Go for it., but do some financial planning. Write a business plan, making some financial projections. These guys could help:

    https://kentuckysbdc.com/lexington/

    They are federally funded by the US Small Business Administration.
     
  5. 1967Cougar390

    1967Cougar390 Practically Family

    Messages:
    727
    Location:
    South Carolina
    Great advice! Well said Brent.
    Steven
     
    Just Daniel likes this.
  6. Bebop

    Bebop Practically Family

    Messages:
    949
    Location:
    Sausalito, California
    Is your town or area lacking a hat shop? Very successful hat shops have had to close because of the lack of customers today. What kind of hat shop are you talking about? Hat shops today are a risky business unless there happens to be a large demand for them in your area. Hats from a hat shop is a niche business. The internet is king today when shopping for anything so some kind of web store is essential.
    I wouldn't do it but I don't know you personally and maybe you are "that guy". The one that can make things work when others can not.
     
    1967Cougar390 and deadlyhandsome like this.
  7. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    7,590
    Location:
    vancouver, canada
    I forget who it was that asked me this in response to a question I asked about taking a risk......He replied..."If you don't take this risk can you live with yourself? Will the thought, will the wondering 'whatif?' haunt you?"

    Having said this as a new hatter with low overhead (home shop) and only about $12000 invested in equipment, supplies I can now say it is a hard way to earn a living. Can you afford to hire a clerk to sell your ready to wear hats? If not, realize the tremendous amount of time attending to "tire kickers" that will take you away from the work of making hats that actually pays the bills. When making a hat (I know the amount of time it will take me to complete) and I now know that it takes an additional 50% of that time dealing with the client: helping them choose felt, sourcing the felt, snapping pics of ribbon choice, sending pics, emails back and forth etc etc etc. I had not realized how much time those tasks eat up of my working day and take me away from making hats. Lastly do you have a business plan and the financing the see you through your first year while you build up a clientele and amass inventory?
     
  8. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    7,590
    Location:
    vancouver, canada
    For clarification: My comments about all the aspects of dealing with clients taking me away from hat making was NOT a complaint. I love that part of it and I think how cool it would be to have a storefront where clients could pop round for a coffee and to talk hats. That would be grand. When ever I would visit Mike @ NW Hats, even though it was to either pick up a hat or order another I would get itchy after about 15 minutes of talk as I realized I was taking up his 'creative' time with my chit chat. My comment was directed at my ignorance in just how much time it takes dealing with clients and helping them nail down the details of their hats. Totally underestimated that aspect........but maybe I extend it as it is an enjoyable aspect of hatting.
     
  9. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    7,590
    Location:
    vancouver, canada
    I didn't vote in the poll because for me the most accurate answer would be...."it depends"
     
  10. ngodbehere

    ngodbehere New in Town

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Lexington, KY
    Many replies and much to think about! Thank you everyone for the words of wisdom. As far as my business plan goes, I’m actually still waiting on a reply from my local SBDC to get that together, been kind of waiting for awhile. I think I might draft another email today.

    As far as being able to handle shipping logistics from my home, well I live with five other people in a house with only one bathroom. Space is just about as limited as it gets. I build my hats in a 12x12 section of the garage I partitioned off, a roommate who’s a circus performer and leather worker has the other part of the garage. I keep needing to spread out as I amass more tools, materials, hats I’ve built (so many hats), as well as anything I can’t manage to fit in the house of my personal belongings. To my knowledge there are no other hatters in my town, the last one went to jail for reasons I won’t get into (I’m still trying to track down his tools, I heard he never got rid of anything).

    I’m sitting on about $50k worth of tools, a few grand worth of materials, and hardly enough ribbons for my liking at this moment. I live in horse country, I was working at the local horse track as a bar back before I got into hatting. I suspect a lot of my local clients are going to be people in that industry and hitting that Derby market once a year.

    I’ll be honest with y’all, it’s hard to see any other option in my current position in life so I keep doubling down on this option hoping it might work out. If it doesn’t at least I’m having a lot of fun pursuing my dreams. After breaking both my feet and ankles it’s been hard to go back to my old jobs (trust me, I tried), and the worst part about it, as well as losing all of my old possessions when I had to move out of my old apartment because I couldn’t get down the stairs to the apartment, I lost my routine. You see, I don’t tell many people this, but I am autistic. High functioning, but still autistic. I excel at what captures my interest, such as learning over 30 instruments in the last five years, obtaining industry standard certifications in the tech industry by the time I was 15, for awhile I headed the A&R department of a small startup record label, all sorts of things. If I can obsess about it I can get really good at whatever I set my mind to. Yet I still struggle with some day to day stuff and it’s all a matter of routine for me and whether or not I have one. Currently I can’t really find work that I can reasonably find interest in (or work that won’t trigger my PTSD, it’s always embarrassing when that happens), and I keep getting denied by disability (not that I even want to be on it to begin with).

    I have shown myself this past year I can at least make hats, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I know some of y’all might consider my styling to be a bit too bohemian, and that’s okay. Honestly I’m looking to learn more about just about any style to be able to please anyone and everyone.

    As far as the extra overhead goes, I feel like I can swing it. The rent is stupid cheap and I seriously doubt I will ever get an opportunity like this again. Low cost rent, great location, the previous tenant ran a shoe repair shop there as just one man since the late 60’s. I don’t expect to get rich, honestly I fully expect myself to go right back to living paycheck to paycheck. I’m okay with this reality, I’ve been broke my whole life and the only reason I had the funds to get into this passion to begin with is because I got a measly settlement from a life changing injury that I combined with my savings and I’m trying to make the most of it because my credit won’t really let me do much else with it. I’ve also always been okay with picking up odd night jobs here and there to scrape by and I really don’t care if my night job might end up paying the rent for my shop some months until I start getting regular business.

    One thing I am also hoping for is that maybe the shop will have a small living space above it or in the back. I could stand to get out of a group living situation after being stuck in one due to circumstances for a couple years (it’s dang cheap living with so many people during a pandemic when it seems like it’s hard to secure a lease and I’ve been without steady work history since the injury two years ago) and the rent for the shop is actually cheaper than rent for any cruddy apartment in this area. I’ll know more hopefully by the end of this month.

    You know, everyone is always joking with me when I tell them I’m a hatter. They almost always reference me being “mad as a hatter” (fits with my eccentric autistic personality), but honestly hatting has kept me from going absolutely bonkers. It gave me something to do and a glimmer of hope for my future even when they were talking about amputating my foot from a massive bone infection because I was still able to make hats even when I was in the wheelchair. It helped me cope with a lot of loneliness as I watched a lot of friends go far into addiction and out of my life. It helped me cope with the loss of friends who found it difficult to be around someone going through clinical depression and traumatic injury. It helped me prove to myself that I can stand for longer periods of time even on a concrete floor. I’m typing this out right now after putting in 15 hours in the shop. It’s given me something to turn to when tragedy strikes. As a musician you see tragedy everywhere. I just had to bury a young musician I used to manage, someone who was like a little brother to me and someone who was so eager to learn this trade from me, and that’s just one friend I’ve had to watch leave this mortal realm in the past month, past year. It took me a little while to get back to it going through grieving but as soon as I was able to get back in the shop again it was cathartic and meditative. I spend a lot of nights not sleeping due to a lot of tragedy as well as a lifetime of insomnia, so I wind up taking all my life’s frustrations out onto the craft and when I emerge from the shop many hours after I enter it I feel like I’m not autistic at times. Like just another normal guy, just like everyone else. When people meet me I talk about my obsessions, I find people don’t seem to mind listening to me rant on about hat styles and history for extended periods of time. That makes me feel normal. I’d love to have a space where people are free to come in and help me feel normal by normalizing my obsession.

    Well that was a rant. I need to get some sleep but unfortunately I’ve cut it too close to my scheduled time to go to the gym. That’s like one of the few things in my routine right now so I can’t throw that out the door or else the whole day might slip away.

    This has been another weirdly honest early morning sleepless rant. Let me know if I should abstain from rants like these. I tend to inundate people with whatever is on my mind when I haven’t had sleep. There’s been a lot on my mind lately. A lot of tragic loss I’m trying to move on from and I’m feeling a little extra autistic these past few days. In other news, I just blocked my second top hat tonight. Pouncing shall commence as soon as it’s dry.
     
  11. Rmccamey

    Rmccamey My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Messages:
    3,788
    Location:
    Central Texas
    I'd be interested to see one of your derby's.
     
  12. ngodbehere

    ngodbehere New in Town

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Lexington, KY
    Seeing as how I am someone who tends to run just about every “what if” scenario in his head until I get crippling anxiety from it, I feel like I would just be asking myself that question for the rest of my life if I don’t jump on the opportunity for a cheaply rented shop in a prime location. Literally everything around it is 2-3x pricier for the same square footage. The place has been in the landlords family since the 20’s and it seems like she is only upping the rent by $50 from the last tenant who’s been paying the same rent for decades. Seems like the lady is willing to give me a golden opportunity. For a town like mine I suspect I’ll be doing a lot of renovation work as opposed to customs. I feel like I might also have to start blocking other cheaper materials than the nutria and Panama I have been blocking. By the way, if anyone is looking for a semi-calado Cuenca weave Panama I’m sitting on some materials from Art, message me for any details and we can work something out, y’all feel free to haggle with me, I’ll get a list of the bodies I have and their weave grading to you. I started to get more obsessed with Panama hats after another well known Panama hat maker here in the states told me to steer clear of the material and just stick with felt. I’m stubborn. I don’t take advice that explicitly tells me not to do something very well. I get where he’s coming from, it’s a whole different animal compared to blocking felt, so I threw myself into the research. I’ve never been afraid to double down on gaining a new skill just because someone told me not to. Once I sell the Panama materials I have I have a supplier in monticristi lined up to throw every penny I’ve made from those hats into to just keep it going. I hope one day to meet that hatter in person and give him a fine Panama hat I’ve made just for him. That would be the gentlemanly thing to do to thank him for lighting a fire under me.
     
    AbbaDatDeHat likes this.
  13. ngodbehere

    ngodbehere New in Town

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Lexington, KY
    Next time I make one I need to remember to get a photo for you. I’ve found myself just kind of making and moving on and not really doing much appreciating of my own work. I see even the slightest mistake that I know the client won’t notice and I can’t help but berate myself and tell myself it’s not good enough for a photo op. Also, fun fact, if you go to the Kentucky Derby you actually won’t see many Derby hats these days. They are still around from time to time but I predominantly see fedoras and panamas being worn around these parts at the tracks. I see more musicians wearing Derby hats than actual Derby attendees. I still love seeing all the old photos of Lexington and Louisville from years ago. Back when Lexington had a cable car Main Street was a sea of hats and horses. Personally I’d love to see that in real life. I’m not the only young cat in my area who wears really fine hats with clothes they found at goodwill.
     
    Rmccamey likes this.
  14. Rmccamey

    Rmccamey My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Messages:
    3,788
    Location:
    Central Texas
    A nice tight and tapered brim curl is a key element I look for.

    20211026_064933.jpg 20211026_064535.jpg

     
  15. glider

    glider One of the Regulars

    Messages:
    258
    Location is extremely important as is internet sales. The number 1 cause of small business failures is that they were under funded. The general rule of thumb is , you need to make it a year without showing any profit, if you can't do that you probably wont make it . I bet we all have our honey holes where we can find really good deals on used hats, that doesn't do a hat shop any good at all. Truth be known how many of us actually go to a hat shop and spend a couple hundred more than once a year ? If you can hang in there long enough to establish a good reputation you'll be fine but that will be the trick ! Best of luck !
     
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  16. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    7,590
    Location:
    vancouver, canada
    Know that you have a lot of guys here in the Lounge rooting for you. My concern is that you set it up so you get to win at it. In terms of your business plan have you worked it back......what will be the price point on your hats, based on your costs to keep the doors open and put some food on the table how many hats will you have to make/sell per week to hit that target? Is it doable, knowing you will have upwards of 1/3 to 1/2 of your day spent doing things other than making hats? Are your style offerings suitable for your market? In conservative horse country will your 'look' be a fit for the local market? Have you spoken to Art Fawcett? I am certain he can give you a few heads up on the running of a hat shop and I have found him most generous with his expertise.
     
    Rmccamey likes this.
  17. The things I look for in a custom hatter:
    1. Great hats. Hats made how I want them and not how the hatter necessarily thinks they should be.
    2. Reasonable price. Good value for the quality provided.
    3. Great customer service. Quick responses to emails, accurate delivery time quotes, communication and shared photos through the build, etc. I know answering emails takes up a hatters time, but when I’m ordering my fifth custom hat from a hatter and have a simple question I get a little upset at having to wait four weeks for an answer. Great CUSTOMER SERVICE is so important. Art Fawcett might answer my long email with three words, but he was fast and his three words answered my questions. Your time is valuable, but get a bad reputation and you’re sunk.

    All of this can be done without the hatter having a storefront. However, your circumstances and your need for more space for hatting coupled with the inexpensive rent sounds like a good deal to me.

    One of the biggest problems I see is pricing. I’ve seen several hatters just starting out charging crazy high prices. A young hatter who admitted that she didn’t have a block in my size but said she could rig something to work wanted almost twice the price Gannon charges. VS, Northwest, Gannon, Black Sheep, etc. are the favorites around here not just for their exceptional hats, but their fair pricing. In my time here I’ve heard of one person ordering a hat from Watson’s Hat Shop and what turns us off is their pricing. Why a new hatter without an earned reputation thinks they can charge more than masters who have been making hats for decades and whose hats have been worn by movie stars, royalty, and Lounge members is beyond me…particularly when the new hatter’s hat are not the same quality. then again, if you can have all the business you can handle and charge high prices, why not? I think it more common that new hatters aren’t getting the number of orders they want and raise their prices to make more per order and in turn get even fewer orders.

    Do you have access to felt? This is a problem with new hatters. Access to good felt at good prices is not always easy. If you’re going through a middleman and paying twice as much for felt that expense has to be passed on to the customer and your hats either become overpriced or your profit margin might become too small to pay your bills. Good beaver felt is a must.

    Good ribbon is another problem. I understand if I can’t get a particular color or width as that’s just how the vintage market works. However, I expect the hatter to have several options close to what I want. It’s easy to invest a small fortune in vintage grosgrain ribbon and the constant hunt is part of the job.

    I’d also consider a decent website as essential. So many of us are used to shopping online that if you don’t have a website you’ll be overlooked. Good photos of your hats, pricing, etc. are essentials. I’m guessing that the majority of your custom hat business will not be local and a properly designed website is money well-spent. I would think that your website and your hanging out your shingle would start at the same time. Don’t overlook social media with lots of high quality photos and links to your website.

    If you haven’t already, I’d also suggest that you have a decent collection of vintage hats and a few custom hats from other hatters. One of the reasons I keep going to Gannon is his ability to do things with felt that other hatters can’t. If I were to order a new 100% beaver fedora from you and ask for it to be thin and malleable like a vintage Borsalino or like a current Gannon and I were to receive a thicker and stiffer hat than I wanted I wouldn’t be likely to order another hat from you. We need to be able to talk the same language and have shared points of reference.

    There’s a hatter that I like a lot but my fedora from him arrived much stiffer than I wanted and I went a few years before ordering another hat from him. My later hats were limited my to westerns knowing that they would be thicker and stiffer but accepting that for the type of hat. I’m not considering another fedora from him because his idea of what a fedora should be is not the same as mine and he can’t or won’t make me a fedora they way I want it. Know what kind of hat your customer wants by having experience with a lot of hats: vintage and some custom. Make the hat the customer wants or tell them that you can’t make what they are after. Guard your reputation and limit the number of disappointed customers you’ll have. The custom hat world is populated more by people who are buying their 50th hat and less by the person buying their first…repeat customers are key.

    When you’re ready, start a thread here for your hats. Title the thread whatever you are calling your business and post photos and maybe a price list. For photos, take your time, maybe even drive somewhere picturesque. The newer higher end phones have good enough cameras, but make sure your photos are high quality and show off your work.

    I hope to place an order with you this coming year. Best of luck!

    Brent
     
    ngodbehere and Rmccamey like this.

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