A 25-year veteran of the hat industry, Steve Goldberg decided to start his own hat company from his home office in 2002. He now works with factories in China, Italy and Brazil and sells his headwear to “hundreds” of specialty stores across the country.
Hats have overtaken the Goldberg home. Fedoras hang from hooks, caps and berets are piled in loose stacks, and cowboy hats perch on tables and line benches.
“This is the corporate headquarters,” said Steve Goldberg, a Brewster Drive resident and owner of TLS International. “This is where the magic happens.”
A 25-year veteran of the hat industry, Goldberg decided to start his own hat company from his home office in 2002. He now works with factories in China, Italy and Brazil and sells his headwear to “hundreds” of specialty stores across the country.
But Goldberg sells few of his hats around New England. In fact, he said, Boston doesn’t offer a single hat store.
“We love living here,” he said. “But I have to say, this is our worst market.”So Goldberg is looking west. Wild west, in fact.
He recently launched Estouro, a line of western-style hats marketed to a cowboy demographic Goldberg admits he knows little about. He has even sponsored a Brazilian bull rider named Paulo Crimber, who wears the Estouro loge every time he enters the ring.
A born-and-bred New Englander, Goldburg now finds himself hopping from trade show to rodeo as he hawks the new hats. He has spent the last week traveling from California to St. Louis; Memphis, Tenn.; Las Vegas and Minneapolis.
“I never saw so many hats in all my life,” Goldberg recalls of one his recent trips out west. “I was like a kid in a candy store.”
When he’s not traveling, he’s keeping an eye on his prized bullfighter.
“To see these bull riders, it’s amazing they don’t get hurt in any way,” said Lois Goldberg, Goldberg’s wife and CEO. The couple recently watched as Crimber was kicked in the stomach by a flailing bull. The blow, fortunately, glanced off the bull rider’s massive belt buckle.
The Goldbergs bet on a good bull rider. Crimber is currently ranked fourth in Professional Bull Riding’s “Built Ford Tough” Series. The series will take him to North Carolina this weekend, Feb.3 and 4.A hat salesman for life
A former investment banker, Stephen Goldberg left Wall Street to hawk luggage and leather goods as a manufacturer’s representative. In 1978, he was hired by the legendary Stetson hat company and began a long career peddling hats across New England and New York.
But Goldberg eventually became dissatisfied with the way things were going at Stetson and, in 2002, decided to go into business for himself.
Goldberg started out operating under the name TLS International, taken from the initials of his family members’ first names, but his dealers urged him to build a brand under a more fetching name: Stefano.
The brand — sold under the tagline “Headwear with an attitude” — now includes everything from berets to caps and fedoras.“From soup to nuts, we run the gamut,” he said.
Five years later, Goldberg decided the business had grown too much and recruited his wife, a travel agency consultant, to help out. More recently, he hired master hatter Don Rafferty, who said he’d only do the job if Goldberg looked into the cowboy market.“He’s the reason we went into western hats,” he said.
The company now sells under two labels: Estouro for the new western hats, and Stefeno for all its non-western styles, including caps, berets and fedoras. The company also makes private label hats for companies such as Bass Unlimited. The hats sell for between $25 and “a few hundred dollars.”
TLS International’s sales are approaching $1 million annually, but Goldberg said the company has only claimed a small slice of the hat industry.
And since Boston doesn’t have single hat store, Goldberg’s neighbors would have to leave the state to get their hands on his headwear. Goldberg operates a Web site, but doesn’t sell his product through it because he doesn’t want to compete with his retailers.“We’re still a niche market,” he said.
Neal Simpson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.