Rockmount Ranch Wear
Employees: about 150
Steve Weil has expanded Denver apparel icon Rockmount globally, testament to family lines and the ‘mythical’ allure of America’s West
The late Jack A. Weil famously invented the Western snap shirt in 1946, the year he founded Rockmount Ranch Wear.
Jack A. showed up most every day until his death at age 107 in 2008, the same year his son and colleague, Jack B. Weil, passed away. Today, three million shirts -- and counting -- since its founding, third-generation owner Steve Weil runs Rockmount.
"My grandfather started regionally, my father pushed it nationally, and I took it international," says Steve of the short version of the company's story. "My father took it to places that are in no way Western. We're sold today in all 50 states."
Regardless, he says the company owes its success to the near-mythical allure of the West. "Historically, the Easterner came to dude ranches and the West and wanted to take something back home with him," says Steve.
That still holds true today: "People come from all over the world to see it and experience it, and they want to take a little piece of it home, like Scottish woolens and French wines."
"It's an alternative and it always has been," Steve adds. "It's not the sleepy culture you see in the malls. Going out West has always been a rejection of the commonplace."
Steve studied law at the University of Bristol in the UK in the late 1970s and early '80s, which led him to pursue exports Rockmount to foreign markets after deciding "the world didn't need another lawyer," he jokes. "I had it in my DNA to work in Europe, and after that, Japan."
The shirts basically sell themselves, he adds. Germans, Swedes, Britons, and others all "identify strongly with the Western ethos and lifestyle," Steve says. "It's easy to export." Today Rockmount sells to accounts in about 25 countries.
Part of Rockmount's brand recognition is due to the shirts' many star turns on stage and screen. Everyone from Elvis Presley to Dennis Hopper to Mumford & Sons have worn Rockmount shirts while performing. The shirts have appeared in more than 100 movies.
"It became so pervasive, we couldn't help but play on it," says Steve. "When Eric Clapton calls you because he wants to wear your shirt, you've got to run with it. It almost has become a ritual when a band tours Denver, they stop at Rockmount."
And Steve has played off this ritual by making Rockmount's LoDo HQ the flagship retail store for the brand in 2005. The company has expanded from shirts into hats, scarves, and ties over the years. "We're always looking for fresh takes on classics," says Steve. Hawaiian, Art Deco, and other retro prints are hot in 2014, he adds.
Rockmount's factories have never been in Colorado, because there isn't the infrastructure or workforce. "There has never been clothing manufacturing of any consequence in Colorado," says Weil.
It follows that most of Rockmount's cut-and-sew operations are in the Southeast, and embroidery is done in India. "You can't do labor-intensive things here anymore," says Steve.
Regardless, Steve says Denver is a perfect spot for the Rockmount headquarters. "From an operations standpoint, Colorado is a great place to be."
Challenges: Taxation and regulations. "Running a small business is harder than it's ever been," says Steve. "Government has imposed all kinds of burdens. I think increasing taxes and healthcare are scary to many people."
Opportunities: While Rockmount's sales are "stable," the company is constantly tweaking its products. "There are always opportunities," says Steve. "You just have to be creative to see it." "We're okay with level," he adds. "We're old-school -- we're not growth junkies."
Needs: A PR campaign that focuses on everything but legal marijuana. "I'm concerned that the only commercial growth in Colorado is pot-related," he explains. "I don't think that is good for the well being of our state. We need to better promote all of the other things that make this a special state. Getting the word out is very critical."