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The Associated Press - Venerable Western Clothier Bucks Trends

Venerable Western Clothier Bucks Trends

Sunday April 25, 2004 5:24pm 

By CATHERINE TSAI

The Associated Press

 

DENVER (AP) - Though most wholesalers have fled the once run-down but now trendy Lower Downtown district in Denver, Rockmount Ranch Wear is staying just where it has since 1946. And that's not the only way the company is defying trends in an industry that has largely moved overseas.

"Who knows how long it'll go?" founder and president Jack A. Weil says. "I think it'll go forever if you just play it right."

Weil, who turned 103 in March, still goes to work every day to run Rockmount with son Jack B. and grandson Steven. The company threw a public birthday party for "Papa Jack" Sunday in its store in Golden, Colo.

The apparel manufacturer known for innovating Western shirts with snap closures and commercially produced bolo ties today is now known for its fierce loyalty to tradition. It continues to refuse to sell through chain stores or discounters.

"We'll never be the richest people in the cemetery, but we'll have a business we like," Weil said.

Rockmount in the past five years has started selling its own hats, accessories and signature shirts with diamond snaps and sawtooth pockets after decades of being strictly a wholesaler. It finally launched a Web site in 2001 and grudgingly allowed some production of new products, like silk ties, to be done in Asia.

This summer, renovation work at its historic, five-story headquarters building downtown will add a mini-museum and give retail operations more space.

"The only way a company stays in business is reinventing itself over time," Steven Weil said. "My role in recent years has been to retain the foundation my father and grandfather built, which is our integrity and personality, but reinvent our products and the way we sell it."

The company can't afford mass advertising but has attracted customers like Kiss front man Gene Simmons. Blues and rock veteran Al Kooper ordered shirts this week.

"One of the biggest impressions on me is Elvis Presley. He wore Rockmount shirts," Kooper said.
Jack A. Weil first moved to the West in 1928 to sell elastics products in a territory from El Paso, Texas, to the Canadian border. He saw swift demand for Western wear that a friend was selling but decided it would be better to manufacture than to sell.

Thus began Rockmount with a philosophy that every customer is important.

"On the invoice, they're the only ones who say `Hi, how ya doing.' They're your bud," said Nadine Nelson, owner of Nelsons' Tack Shop in Downsville, N.Y.

The company has roughly 100 employees.

The Weils won't release dollar figures, but Steven Weil said sales have been up 15 percent over the last two years after steep declines due to the recession and effects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The elder Weil said his grandson, who expanded sales overseas, should carry the business well.

"As long as I have my health and I'm able to come to work," Weil said, "I'm thankful I can do so."

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