Denver Business Journal - Steve Weil Puts His Own Stamp on Rockmount
Steve Weil puts his own stamp on Rockmount
by Bruce Goldberg
Steven Weil, president of Rockmount Ranch Wear, with his dog, Wazee.
Steve Weil recalls the day that Rockmount Ranch Wear finally decided to open a retail store, after holding out as wholesale only since its founding in 1946.
“We were having lunch at McCormick’s — my father, grandfather and me — sitting at the window,” Weil said. “And we saw people walking away from the Rockmount window because we had signs that said, ‘wholesale.’ I told my father and grandfather we must be stupid; we are sending people several miles away to buy our product, and they may not go that far to get it. They want it here and they want it now. ... We’ve got people walking in the door and we’re sending them away. I said we should add a small retail area, and we did.”
Until then, Rockmount (short for Rocky Mountains) was content to manufacture its signature Western shirts and ship them to retail outlets worldwide — with one order even coming from Antarctica. Movie stars and rock musicians wear them; count Clark Gable (in “The Misfits”), Elvis Presley, Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead and the late Heath Ledger (in “Brokeback Mountain”) among them.
Today, Weil runs the entire operation, following a difficult 2008 in which both his father and grandfather — the famed “Papa Jack” — died.
First, his father, Jack B. Weil, died Jan. 22 at age 79. Then company founder Jack A. Weil — renowned for coming to work every day well after his 100th birthday, and considered the oldest CEO in the nation — died Aug. 13 at age 107.
He’s known worldwide for creating the Western snap-button shirts.
“Emotionally, the changes are monumental, because my father and grandfather were my board of directors, my mentors, my advisers, and the people I went to on the hard questions,” Weil said. “My father died in January, and I still had my grandfather coming to work every day, and that was very comforting. But on August 14, when I drove down 18th Street, I realized that for the first time since 1954, there was going to be only one generation of Weils at the store.”
Weil, 51, began preparing for this time long ago, starting to run the business about 10 years ago. He added retail and a website, and guided a store renovation in 2005. But perhaps his most difficult decision was to outsource some manufacturing outside the United States. He blames NAFTA for that, claiming it “put out of business 90 percent of the U.S. textile industry. ... We remained committed to our domestic production to the fullest extent possible. However, there are certain categories or products that are simply impossible to produce in the United States today.”
A visitor to the Rockmount store at 1626 Wazee St. — which includes a small museum upstairs that displays saddles, quilts and other items — will get a strong Western feel, ranging from children’s “Cowboy” lunchboxes to a wide variety of Western shirts, cowboy hats, blankets and even Western-themed ties. And two “Jack A. Weil Boulevard” signs hang, remnants of the city’s annual acknowledgement of the founder’s birthday.
“I will tell you that notoriety was something we found amusing, because it wasn’t what we came here to do, but it was a byproduct,” Weil said. “We were always amused by it, because it was unexpected.
“We’re a family business done good. The vast majority of businesses never make it to their second generation, let alone a third; only about 7 percent reach their third generation.”
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