Goorin Brothers' Brimming Hat Business


When Cassel Goorin founded the family hat business, Goorin Bros., in 1895, covering one’s head was a matter of routine, a practice dictated by fashion sense and good manners. But times have changed since then, and wearing hats isn't so commonplace anymore. Yet, four generations later, Goorin Bros. is thriving.

Cassel’s great-grandson, Ben Goorin, 42, officially took over the business about six years ago when his father retired. Up until then, Goorin Bros. made hats and distributed them to retailers, including Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and boutiques. It was, admittedly, a slow-growing business, and Ben's dad had urged him to pursue a different profession.

Instead, Ben decided to take a risk: In 2006, he opened the company’s first two branded retail stores, one in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood and another on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. He believed that the company-owned stores would help attract new customers. "It was hard for us to convince other retailers to do a good job educating people (about hats) and telling the story and history of the brand, and so it made sense for us to do it ourselves," he says.

His ambitious move paid off. Goorin Bros. now operates more than 20 hat shops nationwide — and the chain is growing. Each store has an old-world feel, with decor that includes antique furniture and memorabilia culled from the family's archives. Rows and rows of hats, including fedoras, knit caps, Panama hats, and children's baseball caps, line the shelves. Prices range from $30 to $50. A small team of artists, including Ben, design the hats at the company’s California headquarters. The hats are made on the east coast, sometimes using the same equipment from the hat maker's earliest days.

Shop employees encourage Goorin Bros. customers to try on as many hats as they'd like — and help each individual find a good fit. They also suggest various ways to wear its hats. "Once somebody figures out how good they look in a hat, they come back for more," Ben says. This includes celebrities such as Hugh Jackman, John Legend, and Lindsay Lohan.

Though the weak economy worried him, Ben says that he has taken advantage of the downturn to negotiate prime retail space. And, although shoppers may not be able to afford an entire new wardrobe, they can give themselves a new look simply by buying a hat, he adds.

Goorin declined to disclose the company's revenues or year over year growth, but he said that retail sales account for a significant share of the company's revenues and that the business has been growing much faster now than during its wholesale days.

"I always knew there was something in this that was a real entrepreneurial opportunity," Ben says. "There's definitely nothing but upside."