Lafayette, Indiana. It is commonly associated with its location across the Wabash River from West Lafayette, home of Purdue University. Hat fans should hold a certain reverence for this ordinary midwest city as its Tippecanoe Mall is the birthplace of Hat World, Inc. The July 12, 2010, edition of the Lafayette Journal & Courier newspaper featured LIDS’ ownership group’s humble beginnings. Below is a photo of Store #1 back in the early days and featuring Company Co-founder Glenn Campbell greeting customers at the door.
Built in Lafayette, businesses find a wider world of customers
By MAX SHOWALTER
City limits and county lines couldn’t hold them. Not when there were customers to be served and money to be made.
Hat World, Arni’s and Lafayette Auto Supply are names that have spread across the state — and, in one case, beyond. And they are companies that got their start in Lafayette.
At Tippecanoe Mall, the familiarity of a national brand with local roots wasn’t lost on Hat World customer Ryan Bunting, who was checking out the selection over the weekend. Sporting a spotless, spring training model New York Yankees cap, the Lafayette resident said he knew Hat World’s start.
“I got this one last week down in Indy,” Bunting said, tipping his cap. “Always looking for something different. And I always tell them down there that I know where the first one was — that I get stuff from the first store. They think that’s pretty cool.”
From its first store at Tippecanoe Mall in Lafayette, which opened in time for Christmas shopping in 1995, Hat World has grown to more than 900 shopping mall-based stores throughout North America. The company started by selling officially licensed ball caps that bear the logos of college and professional teams.
“You have to be half crazy to work in retail,” said Glenn Campbell, vice president of strategic initiatives for Hat World Inc. He was co-founder of the company with Scott Molander, who now serves as senior vice president of real estate.
“Scott and I thought we had a neat idea. We had a business plan for five stores. All were supposed to be local — Champaign, Muncie, college towns. It took off … and has almost taken on a life of its own. It’s pretty amazing.”
When it was launched, Hat World had a 60-day lease with Tippecanoe Mall. Campbell sometimes slept in the back of the store after he closed at night, so he’d be there to open in the morning. Sales in the first two months totaled an astonishing $108,000.
“It’s almost like you’re the typical entrepreneur, living hand to mouth anyway. You worked all those hours yourself,” he said. “When I look back on it now, it was really different. If I was 30 again, I’d try it again.”
Growth has been rapid for the specialty retailer. Hat World acquired Lids Corp. in 2001, Hat Zone Inc. in 2002 and Cap Factory Inc. in 2003. In 2004, the company that got its start in Lafayette was bought by Genesco Inc. for $165 million.
Now, a $22 million expansion of its Indianapolis headquarters and distribution operations, coupled with the acquisition of competing companies in the embroidery and screen-printing industry, translates into more progress.
“Retail is a service industry. We were fortunate enough to find a niche that young people clamor for. We’ve been lucky along the way,” said Campbell. “If you just take care of the customer and have the right products in stores, you’ll have those customers for life.
“I truly believe if you have a concept, are willing to work hard and surround yourself with good people, you’ll succeed. I still will shop places where I’m treated good. Trust me, I’ll be back. If you’re going to be in retail don’t be afraid to take a chance.”
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