By Eric Peterson | Nov 19, 2019
Employees: about 150
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Western shirts, hats, and accessories
Rockmount Ranch Wear is a brand that's synonymous with Denver and the West. The inventor of the Western snap shirt, Jack Arnold Weil founded the four-generation company and served as CEO until his passing in 2008. The company's been headquartered in LoDo for much longer than Lower Downtown's been known by that four-letter nickname.
Longevity aside, Rockmount has not been immune to the ongoing global retail shakeout as several top retailers have shuttered in recent years. Finding replacement stores can take years.
"The problem is we're in a disrupted retail environment and the lifeblood of our business, which is selling to stores across developed countries, is compromised through store attrition," says third-generation CEO Steve Weil. "On the flip side, we've partnered with really strong players that have diversified and we've worked over the years to pick up new ones, and now that's starting to gel."
Weil says wholesale, retail (at the flagship LoDo store), and online sales are all up in 2019. "Business has been improving for nearly two years," he says. "This year for the first time in our history, all three were up. . . . Wholesale has been in decline for many years. That's because the pie is shrinking."
The market is international, and Rockmount has been clawing back sales in the traditionally key market of Japan. "My perspective is not Denver," says Steve. "It's the overall market worldwide."
The company owns a pair of factories -- one in the U.S. and one in Asia -- that are managed from Denver, the company's headquarters and distribution hub.
"We produce our shirts in Texas," says Steve. "Owning your production is the only way you can ensure smooth production without competitors interfering with your deliveries."
Rockmount moved its domestic cut-and-sew operation to the Lone Star State after a 1996 tornado after 50 years manufacturing in Arkansas. "It took two stories of our factory," he remembers.
In the twister's wake, the strategy was to acquire an established facility and retool it rather than build an entirely new one. "Nobody was rebuilding shirt factories after NAFTA," says Steve. "That's why we sought out an existing factory and took it over."
Because of a legacy industry, there is still a local talent pool. For Rockmount, that means there's still a workforce with the requisite skills to fill 30 cut-and-sew jobs in Texas.
While the labor remains, the supply chain has shifted offshore. "Fabric comes from all over the world," says Steve. "There's little or none from the U.S. anymore."
Rockmount also makes fabrics and adds special treatments like embroidery at a company-owned factory in India. "They have a history of doing fine special treatments for thousands of years that has been lost here," says Steve.
"We make other things in other places," he adds. "Certain categories cannot be made in the United States." Rockmount makes hats in Mexico and the U.S., and silk scarves are made in China since "[t]here's no silk business to speak of outside of China."
But it's a location of last resort. "We deliberately do as little in China as possible, because we'd rather not support an authoritarian regime," says Steve. "That goes completely against the ethos of Western lifestyle."
He adds, "What's our strategy with where we make what we make? It's very simple. Primarily, we prefer to make it in the United States, because that's part of our ethos. However, that's become impossible for a company with the diversity of products that we make. Certain categories cannot be made in the United States anymore, so we look for certain places that had a history of making these products."
While Rockmount launches new products on a weekly basis, the pipeline is notably packed heading into 2020. "I'm thrilled, because some years it's harder to find great new fabrics than other years, and this year, we've got more fresh products in the works than [we've had] in a long time," says Steve. "Why is that? I have no idea. Maybe we're just better at sourcing raw materials."
As everyone from Elvis Presley to Heath Ledger has sported a Rockmount shirt at one time or another, it might also be related to exposure. "We are seeing more Rockmount in the mass media than ever," says Steve, pointing to recent appearances in HBO's Watchmen series, USA's Queen of the South, and Paramount's Yellowstone. "It's kind of validating we're on the right track when creative people like what we do."