A little off the top
BAD HAIRCUT, MAYBE. Or it could have been a downpour of rain, sleet, snow or a combination of the three. Possibly the snooze button was pressed one (or two, or three) too many times and there was no opportunity to get ready for work. Whatever the reason, most people have, at some point, been thankful for that often-neglected hat. Everyone has one: The hat sitting in the closet above the sad-puppy sweater mom gave on the last birthday (still with a price tag on it) and the acid-wash jeans that have been hiding since ‘88 (they might come back in style). Sooner or later, everyone finds a use for it.
And, yes, probably because of a bad haircut.
Still, keeping the head covered shouldn’t just be a quick fix. Headwear has gone high-fashion. From Milan to Manhattan, people can be seen wearing hats from the common baseball cap to high-quality berets and bowlers. If the trucker cap was capable of becoming popular, again, against all logic, then the market must surely have some substance. It’s high time distributors stop relying on conventional promotions and, bad puns aside, get ahead of the game.
“Today’s headwear is far more advanced than most customers are aware,” said David Fishman, director of sales for Fersten Worldwide, Champlain, N.Y. “From specialized moisture-wicking fabrics to the use of multiple fabrics on the same cap, the styling and availability of such a wide variety is sometimes overlooked when considering something different for customers who have bought headwear as a promotional piece before.”
Modern fabric technologies combined with improved manufacturing procedures allow for durable, performance-ready items. Today’s fashion headwear is made to withstand the elements, and the common baseball cap is built to the same specifications as those used in the major leagues, without all the herbal enhancement fuss.
David Goldman, vice president of Pennsauken, New Jersey-based Philadelphia Rapid Transit Headwear, agreed. “Our customers are now looking to us for hats with functionality, such as sun protection or moisture-wicking properties,” he explained. “New for this year are our knit beanies made of recycled fibers. This was a very popular item at the recent trade show in Las Vegas.”
The traditional cap may be where the promotional headwear niche has its foothold, but it is hardly the only product available. “While we started with several variations of baseball caps in 1972, we now offer more than 750 items, and baseball caps are one of the smaller collections,” said Goldman. He attributes part of this change to Philadelphia Rapid Transit Headwear’s strong relationship with the fashion industry. “We are usually a year ahead of the mass market because of our fashion clients. Because of this experience, we can offer these same styles, designs and logo applications to the premiums and promotions market.”
With hip-hop artists frequently sporting hip headwear, and celebrities hiding behind those chic chapeaus, the exposure of particular styles creates different promotional options. “An interesting trend we are seeing is for end-users to offer some of our high-quality hats without logos,” explained Goldman. “They are buying from us a nice item that might sell at retail for a significant price point. Consumers are receiving so much merchandise with logos that they are being much more selective about what to incorporate into their lifestyle. Sometimes the perception is if an item has a logo splashed on it, then it [is] another novelty item.”
He continued, “During a recent meeting, a customer said, ‘I am taking these guests on a trip for two days. They all work for the same company, they all see the logo on the invitation, they will be hearing speeches and seeing the logo on print collateral. I am spending a lot of money on this hat. I want them to keep the hat and wear the hat after the event’.”
“Today, you see more and more people, from men to women to children, wearing headwear that is not just the old baseball cap with the team’s logo, but a highly evolved fashion piece that can speak volumes in terms of promoting a company’s image,” added Fishman. “The market has become more sophisticated, demanding better quality and more innovative decoration, and therefore has increased the demand for headwear that goes beyond a giveaway item to one that is desired.”
Which isn’t to say that the market for the much-loved baseball cap has dried up. Today’s caps are more often stylish accessories than afterthoughts, and the demand and appeal has increased tremendously. Consider one of Fersten’s recent promotions: “We produced an order for a local charity event that was used to help raise funds for a childhood illness, and the headwear was a giveaway item to people who made donations of a certain level. The local TV broadcast team was also wearing the cap, and it garnered so much attention that an auction was held to continue to raise funds. Two people bid up to $2,500 each to receive one of the caps,” said Fishman.
One thing both Fishman and Goldman agree on is the incredible exposure offered by headwear. Because headgear is positioned at eye-level, it keeps logos front and center. Another benefit, particularly for the more fashionable styles, is the high perceived value. “A distributor should consider headwear to be an item that is not only a low-priced giveaway but, when chosen for its technical qualities such as fabric, features and style, and decorated with the most innovative types of embellishments, is also an impressive piece to present to [a client],” noted Fishman.
In the end, everyone just wants to look good. When an end-user receives something stylish, they will wear it. And if the number of mullets popping up these days is any indication, many people need all the style help they can get. Lend the fashionably unfortunate a hand and give them a reason to hold their heads up high.