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Putting America Back In Hats

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Moving your business across the country is easy when you’ve already built a successful online retail component.

By:  Charles M. Cooper

By all accounts, Duane A. Dewsbury is a success. A 20-year veteran with the U.S. Navy, he specialized in public affairs, built the Navy.com website, and retired from military service in 2001. As a disabled American veteran, he is very active with the veteran community, and a past post commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. After leaving the Navy, he got into the auto business, where he quickly rose into management, but that isn’t why he’ll be remembered. No, Dewsbury will be remembered for the online retail business he built selling hats.
Dewsbury began his hat business in 2004. Now, he is one of the top e-tailers of hats in the United States, with four sites, all devoted to hats. We caught up with Dewsbury recently and asked him a few questions about his business and the secret of his success.

How did it all begin?

I was living in Lindenhurst, Ill., at the time and I was looking around at all of the men’s stores for a nice hat. Everywhere I went, I was told they didn’t carry them, but that many people were asking for them. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that there was a niche market here, so I decided to test the waters. I got a box of hats from a wholesaler in San Diego and put them up on eBay. They were all the same kind of grey fedoras with soft, floppy c-crowns. There was nothing special about them, but they all sold very quickly.

Sounds like a success.
It was. I figured that the low mark-up I put on the hats had something to do with it, but it taught me something else as well—that there weren’t many other people out there selling hats. I realized that if I had problems finding a nice dress hat in Chicagoland, then there were plenty of other hat enthusiasts out there without local retailers in their area.

After that first success on eBay, where did you go from there?

I did that a few more times and then decided to expand. I knew that there were a number of other online retailers that I would be in competition with, but the lessons I learned from selling cars, and hats on eBay, I knew I would have a good shot.

What lessons were those?

The key is to keep the customers happy and keep them coming back. For me, that is all about customer service. I do have some hats here, but my business model is really that
of a drop-shipper. I take and process the orders, send them to the manufacturer and
the manufacturer sends the hat directly to
the customer.

How about marketing? What are your secrets there?

[Laughs] My marketing secrets will stay secret, thank you. However, I will share this with you: When it comes to marketing, don’t spend more than you can handle, especially with Internet marketing things like pay-per-click ads.

What is your philosophy on customer service?

Provide a quality, durable product at a very competitive price. Quality, value and the best customer service, that’s it! The quality product part is easy; I work with the best hat makers in America. As for customer service, that is the single most important part of my business. I handle everything personally and I take responsibility for everything.


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