Welcome to the Hat Shop, DC: An Interview with Goorin Bros. CEO Ben Goorin
“Welcome to the hat shop!” Ben Goorin is standing at the door to his company’s new Georgetown outpost, offering a hearty greeting to a steady stream of shoppers. It has been a busy eight years for the fourth generation CEO who, since taking over the business, has opened nearly 30 retail stores selling American-made hats directly to men and women.
Modern Fellows met up with Ben for an interview during the grand opening of Goorin Bros. store on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Georgetown and caught a glimpse inside:
The cozy 1,000 square-foot-shop is lined with a range of bowlers, top hats, cloches, fedoras, flat caps, Gatsbys and knits for men and women as well as some cute caps for kids, at prices that range from $35 to about $200.
Inside, a gorgeous tin ceiling and warm mahogany wood give the shop a nostalgic feel that is in keeping with their other locations around North America. In the back, a wall of history, pictured below, details some of the highlights of a brand’s history that dates back to 1895.
To follow is a brief interview with CEO Ben Goorin, lightly edited for clarity, and a look inside the hat shop.
What has your journey been like over the past few years?
My great grandfather started this business [in 1895]. It was wholesale until 2005, when we opened the first retail shop in San Francisco. DC is number 28.
What kinds of challenges have you faced since taking the plunge into retail?
We had to learn retail. It’s not something that was in our family history. We had to learn it over the last six or seven years. Everybody is able to learn about the history of hatmaking and the craft and how to find the right hat for the right person. It’s not just a sterile retail environment, it’s fun.
What kind of a hat would you recommend for someone who isn’t used to wearing them?
A lot of times, the key is to put a hat on someone, look in the mirror and go from there. You can start figuring it out once they start trying things on. There is the physical aspect — a hat frames the face and should balance them. And oftentimes it is personality-driven. How much are you interested in making a statement versus wearing something that is a little more subdued?
How would you describe your typical customer?
What we’ve found is that it is everyday, ordinary people who are curious about hats. If I had to zero in, people in their late-30s seem to be our most frequent customer. Between men and women, sales are about 50/50. It used to be 80 percent men, because we were very focused on men — our shop feels very masculine. But sales for women have been very strong lately, particularly in the cloches.
Where are your hats made?
Some of our hats — like our Heritage line — are made in Pittsburgh. Our cut-and-sew line is made in a factory in New Jersey, it’s the last cut-and-sew factory still left in America.
Are you interested in taking the business international?
We have two stores in Canada now. We get a lot of Europeans and Australians [into our existing stores], so we know there is a big market for our hats overseas.
How is the retail business progressing?
Overall, very well. People still wear hats, and more and more people are learning to wear hats. It’s really nothing new, they simply have to be reintroduced to it. I feel like our timing is really good.