Hats come in all shapes and sizes, and grouping them together can help customers more easily find their perfect match.

Dec. 20, 2023

Hats have a history as storied as the locations that they hail from. Whether a part of a uniform, for practicality or simply a fashion statement, hats pair well with T-shirts and other souvenirs. Their versatility makes them one of the most popular items for souvenir stores. However, as Sally January, owner of Alpine Kind in Minturn and Beaver Creek, Colorado, points out, “not all heads are created equal.” So, what is the perfect variety? It turns out the popularity of a hat has a lot to do with location.

When Alpine Kind opened about seven years ago, it was a women’s store, but over the years it has evolved into a “mini department store” for visitors seeking mountain-
inspired apparel, home goods, candles, figurines, shoes, stickers, books, games, puzzles, pins, mugs, plush, jewelry, keychains and more.

January recently found success dedicating an entire wall to seasonal hats, particularly to convince men to stop and take a second look.

“Customers don’t want to look through the whole store to find a hat, particularly men, so we try to bridge that gap by having all of our men’s items at the front. Formerly we would have men come in and say, ‘oh, this is a women’s store,’ and turn around and walk out,” she notes.

Now, men are encouraged to pull hats from the wall, try them on and see which one suits them best. While women will take more time to browse the whole store and look at other things, her male customers want to get in and out quickly.

“Men on vacation love to shop, so we just have to get them comfortable,” January says. “They can browse the whole thing, pull a hat down, try it on, put it back, try it on, and then check out within five minutes and be done.”

January centralizes products and intentionally groups them. This makes for an impressive display that encourages visitors to take their time poring through the options in styles as well as brands, she says.

And when it comes to the vendors, January relies on Cotopaxi and Kavu as well as Ski Town All-Stars, Locale Outdoors, Sunshine Tienda and Lack of Color to supply more than 50 varieties of wide-brim hats, palm hats, baseball caps and beanies, depending on the season. Headware ranges from $29 to $149. A double-sided fixture in the center of the section dedicated to children houses 36 styles.

At Boston Stone Gift Shop, anything related to the Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics sells well.

When it comes to the most popular style, January says, it’s a mixed bag.

“There’s a certain type of person who wants a beanie that has a ball on the top that’s made of faux fur or a real fur,” she says. “Then there’s the type of person who just wants the Carhartt-type beanie, but they love it in 10 colors.”

While all hats will eventually sell, according to January, those with a name drop of the store as well as the locale will sell three times faster.

She says it’s a no-brainer to give customers what they want and suggests other destination retailers to do the same. “If you’re in a tourist area where people are coming to find something specific, really lean into that because it gets them in your store, and then they might get something else while they’re in there that they didn’t know they needed. Because that’s your job — to surprise them as a store owner.”

For the love of Texas

In Bandera, Texas, the cowboy capital of the world, it probably comes as no surprise that some of the most popular styles of hats are cowboy and western-style hats.

From Stetsons to Cattleman Creases made with anything from straw to felt, cowboy hats speak loudly to tourists who visit the area known as the “last staging area for the last cattle drives of the 1800s,” according to the Tour Texas website at www.tourtexas.com.

Glen McComb, owner of the Bandera General Store, says people come from all over the world to visit any of 12 nearby dude ranches to experience the “ranches, the longhorns and horseback riding.”

And when they’ve had their fill, McComb is waiting to serve up toys, hats, candles, antiques, jewelry, apparel, candy, jellies, jams, salsas and even beverages from one of the last running soda fountains in Texas.

Alpine Kind sells more than 50 varieties of hats, depending on the season.

Bandera General Store is housed in a 115-year-old building that has dutifully served as an embroidery shop, appliance store, feed-and-seed shop, a movie theater and a saddle shop in its lifetime. The historic building still has some original elements, such as the tin roof and wood flooring. Meanwhile, the open-faced shelving fixtures hail from a pharmacy. The former owners wrapped all the walls with them more than 10 years ago before McComb and his wife, Marcia, took over the location.

It’s these shelves that house the baseball caps, coonskin hats and cowboy hats as well as jewelry, geodes, arrowheads, BB guns, games, Daisy rifles, keychains, Christmas ornaments, magnets and more than 500 pairs of vintage cowboy boots.

Just like name drops are big at Alpine Kind, McComb notes that any hats that have “Bandera, Texas,” on them are probably the most popular. However, baseball caps with slogans are equally attractive to visitors, and Bandera General Store carries enough of them to fill a 10-gallon hat.

Phrases like “Love it or leave it,” “Don’t tread on me,” “Texas 1845,” and any number of those with political iterations are most coveted by visitors seeking shelter from the Texas heat with a head cover.

Hats pledging allegiance to the popular show, “Yellowstone” are also quickly becoming favorites as well as the phrase “Try that in a small town,” which was recently made popular by the Jason Aldean song of the same name.

“We have a hard time keeping those on the shelves,” McComb says of those hats. “We post them on Facebook and the next day people will come in and they’ll buy three of them or five of them to give away to friends.”

Best-selling baseball caps

In Boston at the Boston Stone Gift Shop, Store Owner Cheryl Mena says baseball caps are far and away the most popular with Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics professional teams taking the lead in popularity.

“Anything Irish-related also does very well in our store,” Mena notes. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be Celtics; it could be a green and white with a shamrock.”

And for St. Patrick’s Day this year, Mena prominently featured Kelly green top hats and other novelties for the holiday — something that proved to be a slam dunk.

Boston Stone Gift Shop groups its college apparel together, including hats.

“I brought in St. Patty’s Day stuff and set up a beautiful display at the front of the store that could be seen from the outside,” she explains. “We have a lot of bars on the street, a lot of pubs, a lot of college students that celebrate St. Patty’s Day, so they could come into the shop and celebrate with all the little knick-knacky things to party with. It was a great success for us.”

Also of great success for the 21-year-old gift shop is glassware, mugs, wine glasses, whiskey glasses, shot glasses, patriotic items, historic items, glass-bottle ships, historic paper coins and currency, pirate ships, plush, Swedish dish cloths, kitchenware, aprons and anything “nautical-related or with lobsters,” Mena notes.

The 600-square-foot shop, which is located along Boston’s Freedom Trail, is no slouch when it comes to winter hats and beanies, either. Mena says she dedicates a 10-foot-wide by 6-foot-tall wall display “and as soon as they come through the front door, they come face to face with all those beanies.”

And therein lies Mena’s secret to success when it comes to displaying hats from some of her top vendors, such as Priceless Wholesale, Chowdaheadz, and Alan Freedman Enterprises Inc.

“Set them all up in one area as well as you can. I keep colleges together, I keep the Boston [apparel] together with the T-shirts and sweatshirts,” she explains.

Due to the risk of shoplifting, licensed sports hats aren’t kept on the floor but behind the register at Boston Stone Gift Shop where customers are still able to see them, Mena adds.

Priceless hats, which sell for $15 — the same as most other hats in the shop — are made in the same factory as the licensed team apparel, but are half the price of the average licensed gear, which rings in around $30 for a hat these days.

At Alpine Kind, January agrees grouping hats is a great tactic in showing customers what’s available.

“If you’re going to go in heavy and you want it to be a big percentage of your revenue, the centralization of them — like on a wall or some other sort of display where people don’t have to look hard — really helps people make a decision,” she says.

Another key component, she stresses, is having a mirror nearby. “And that’s just so basic. I was guilty of it because I thought my store was so small. I had several other mirrors, but I didn’t realize they were more than 10 steps away [from the hats],” January points out, adding that having a mirror, even if it’s small, makes it easy for customers to make a decision.

“People really do try [the hats on] and [say], ‘I don’t like this bill. Next one. I don’t like this fit.’ So there’s something to be said with offering variety,” she says.

And thankfully, all heads are not created equal — which gives retailers more to display, more to sell and more to hang their hat on.