Co-founder of multimillion-dollar hat company got started in Cape

Sunday, June 11, 2006

One of his stores opened three weeks ago in Cape Girardeau.

Glenn Campbell wears multiple hats: He's the co-founder and chief operating officer of a multimillion-dollar head-wear company that has 650 locations in malls, airports and factory outlet stores throughout the country.

Here's another hat he wears: a Redhawks one.

Campbell is a Cape Girardeau native and Southeast Missouri State University graduate, which makes him especially pleased that one of his hat stores opened three weeks ago at Westfield West Park, where he got his start in retail in the late 1980s.

"I have only good memories of Cape," Campbell said. "I really enjoyed my time there. I have good friends that I still talk to and I have two children who live with my ex-wife in Benton."

Now Campbell lives in Indianapolis, Ind., where he helps run Hat World, the company he co-founded in 1995. Since then, Hat World purchased its main competitor, Lids, which is the store that opened at Westfield.

The company sells officially licensed and branded sports caps. The stores offer an assortment of college and professional sports caps, such as baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Most stores have more than 1,000 different hats. Lids stores can also be found in Korea, China and Hong Kong.

Campbell traces the roots of his success to his time in Cape Girardeau. He was born in Kirksville, Mo., but his father's job transfer brought him to Cape Girardeau when Campbell was in the fifth grade.

Campbell attended St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School, where he became friends with Mike Kohlfeld's younger brother. Mike Kohlfeld, president of Kohlfeld Distributing in Jackson, still stays in touch with Campbell.

Campbell's success comes from hard work, Kohlfeld said.

"He's just a hard-working guy who came upon a concept and knocked it out of the park," Kohlfeld said. "He's parlayed that wonderful personality into a successful business. It's sales, and sales isn't rocket science. It's one-to-one people skills. He's just loaded with charisma."

Later, Campbell went to Notre Dame Regional High School. Jerry Grim, a teacher there, remembers Campbell.

"He was a character," said Grim, who also coaches girls basketball. "He was the school's unofficial spirit bug. He'd be out there getting the crowd going at games. I guess he always showed some kind of determination. That's probably part of the reason he went so far."

Campbell graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1987 with a degree in marketing and a minor in management. After graduation, he was on the cusp of getting a job at Procter & Gamble when he instead opted for a job at Footlocker, the shoe store that was at the Cape Girardeau mall, then called West Park Mall.

"For some crazy reason I just liked what they were selling, I liked the entrepreneurial side, me controlling the business," he said. "But it was a job making $11,000 a year plus commission. I came home and told my dad that I'd taken a job at Footlocker instead of P&G and I thought he was going to kill me."

Campbell started as a full-time sales associate selling the sports shoes. After a month, management moved Campbell to a St. Louis Footlocker. After four months there, he was sent to Kentucky for a year. In 1990, he became a manager, opening a Footlocker in Bloomington, Ind. In 1992, he was promoted to a bigger store in Indianapolis.

That's where he met and became friends with Scott Molander, another Footlocker store manager. Both were working 80 hours a week and "working our tails off." They were talking one day about the local sports hats Footlockers carried. But people were always wanting their favorite national sports team hat.

That's where their idea came from: If they could open a small store in malls with nothing but hats, carrying logos of every single team, then they could build a successful business.

They wrote a business plan and raised some money with the help of an old college professor of Molander's. They raised $150,000 from investors who liked the idea.

Then they faced their biggest obstacle: the malls.

"They called us idiots," Campbell said. "They said it was a stupid concept. It'll never work, they said."

Finally, a mall manager in Lafayette, Ind., gave them a chance. They made the most of it. Over the 1995 Christmas holidays, more than 6,000 hats were sold in just eight weeks.

Soon, they had opened five stores in their first year. After five years, the company grew to 157 stores. In 2001, the company bought the assets of competitor, Lids Corp., another athletic hat-only retailer. In an ironic note, the Cape Girardeau mall had a Lids store about that time but Hat World closed it because it wasn't profitable.

"I hated to see that happen," Campbell said.

But now Lids is back. Campbell said he's noticed some changes, including that it's under new management. The mall was bought recently and the name will revert to West Park Mall.

"I think it's a mall that can make some money," he said. "It's a nice rent deal in a nice spot."

The mall is glad to have the Lids store there, too, said Westfield marketing director Lindsey Church, calling it quality merchandise in a nicely renovated space.

"It's always great to have a local connection," she said. "In meeting Glenn Campbell on the phone, it was fun to share our Cape Girardeau backgrounds. He speaks highly of the area and has great expectations for the local Lids."

Two years ago, the publicly traded Genesco Inc. bought Hat World for $165 million. Molander retired, but Campbell stayed on as chief operating officer. He still visits the Cape Girardeau area often.

At 51, he doesn't plan to retire soon.

"I'm good at what I do, and nobody knows more about it than I do," he said. "And getting a store there in Cape, it's all almost come full circle."

335-6611, extension 137

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