Industry Spotlight: Broner Hats
Tell us about the history of your company.
Our business started in 1933 when Harry Broner and his son Barney operated a retail stand outside of the first Ford plant in Highland Park, Michigan. Assembly line workers would come out on their breaks and buy primarily work gloves, tobacco, candy, and other snacks. This was before there were unions or anything like OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) protecting workers rights. As those associations evolved, the assembly line customers did not need to buy their own gloves to go to work. Their employers were mandated to provide them. So, to capitalize on the Broners’ relationships with work glove manufacturers, they started a wholesale company selling to businesses who bought work gloves –and that started the Broner Glove Company. Initially, hardware stores were our first entry to the retail industry. Over the years as we developed our reputation for being a reliable supplier; work gloves led to work caps, which led to sport gloves and sport caps. Finally when David Broner entered the picture in the late 1960s, he started sourcing all kinds of hats and gloves. In the late 1970s Broner changed the company name from Broner Glove Company to Broner Hat and Glove Company.
What sort of products do you offer?
We offer retailers a full line of hats and gloves for men, women, and children. Our offering for the fall and winter months has an emphasis on cold weather fashion and function. We feature lots of troopers (or trappers or bombers – call them what you will), work caps with ear flaps, cuff caps, beanies, face masks, sport gloves, mittens, flip tops, scarves and other accessories. That is in addition to our line of hats – fedoras, outbacks, safaris, pub caps and other Ivy League shapes. Our summer line is driven by fun-in-the sun lifestyles. These fabrics are sun protective (certified UPF 50+) with many big brim shapes for boating, camping, hiking, and leisure are featured. We also stock straw hats, bucket hats, ivy caps, novelty and basics. Additionally, year-round novelty items like yacht caps, railroad caps and bandannas continue to sell every month.
What makes your company unique?
What makes our company unique is our brand. Our retail partners describe our brand as moderate, meaning our price points do not compete with the low end or high end brands. But our brand is much more than our products. Our brand is the experience retailers have from the time they place their orders, through the way it is confirmed, received in the stores, merchandised, and checked at the registers, up to when the invoice is paid. Honest answers and hassle free service is our mantra. Of course our products do represent our brand, especially to the consumers who purchase them. Our designer, Brooke, shops our retailers’ stores, attends fashion and color trend seminars, and visits our manufacturers’ facilities twice a year designing new and improved products. Our brand is designed with current styling, merchandised with appropriate tags and labels, and priced affordably. All of the above is what makes our brand unique.
What can you tell us about the people who purchase your products?
The people who purchase our products are all retailers. Broner hats and gloves are only sold at retail stores. We do not sell direct to consumers (one of the only brands that can make that claim). Our goal is to help retailers make a profit. We mostly supply independent retailers and regional retail chains. We concentrate mostly on the Army Navy, farm/fleet, and outdoor sporting goods markets.
Is your business a family owned business? If so, what advice might you give to this type of business?
Broner Hat and Glove is still family owned, now in its fourth generation. Currently, Bob Broner and his sister Stephanie Broner Miller are partners in the business. “Being partners with your sister is great because I know I have a partner I can count on”, says Bob Broner. “But I also know it comes with challenges, especially when things are not working out as planned.” Our advice is to spend your time doing things you enjoy. Bob is more extroverted and social and Stephanie is more detail oriented and analytical. So it makes sense that the business tasks are divided as such. You’ll see Bob at the trade shows, working with sales reps, and visiting with customers and suppliers; whereas you will find Stephanie behind the scenes managing inventory levels, doing the purchasing, and watching the numbers.“Our partnership works because we have the same goals for the company and we keep our egos outside our office doors.” We also try to treat our employees like family and keep them informed of company happenings, both good and bad.
Do you use any sort of online resources, such as social media and eCommerce? If so, what would you recommend surplus and outdoor stores do to take advantage of this medium?
We use social media and eCommerce at Broner. Two years ago we went live with www.bronerhats.com. On the website, if you are one of our retailers, you can conduct business. That means you can order, look at inventory availability, see history, open invoices and monthly specials. We also help the consumers who like to wear Broner find retailers who like to sell Broner. On Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we share company news, product information and event information. We follow retailers and get likes from consumers. It is a fun way to showcase the brand, the retailers of the brand, and those who like to wear it! Our advice to surplus and outdoor stores is to get social. Facebook is a great way to promote your store. If you are not already in the game of social media, then you are out of it. Selling online is like opening another store, but without all the expense.
What are your favorite features in Surplus Today?
There isn’t one feature or two features that motivate us to read Surplus Today. We read every issue of Surplus Today to stay current. We like to know what is being talked about, what products are being featured, what retailers are making noise, and what’s happening in the industry. For all those reasons, we like to read Surplus Today.
[Editor’s note: Thank you Bob Broner for providing this in-depth interview!]
For more information contact:
Broner Hat and Glove Company
1750 Harmon Road
Auburn Hills, MI 48325