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A Norman company covers the heads of collegiate sports fans across the country. Just don’t expect to find its logo.

Andrew Gilman October 12th, 2011

There are aisles of hats. Thousands of them, maybe more. Uncountable and stacked on shelves, floor to ceiling.

Somewhere among the rows hats adorned with college logos, the next trend in sporting headgear will start here, inside Top of the World Hats’ giant warehouse in Norman.

It’s what would happen if “Fashion Emergency” and ESPN got married.

Top of the World holds licenses to make hats for more than 300 universities. It also shares exclusive rights with Nike to produce hats for the University of Oklahoma. More than 10 million hats come and go through this 100,000-square-feet spot; you may own one and not know it.

“I guess you could say we’re more interested in spending our money on our business product or employees than building something that says, ‘Look at us,’” said Pete Wilson, founder and owner.

Wilson started Top in the mid- 1980s out of the trunk of his car, selling OU hats on game days. Today, it supplies Footlocker, Lids, Academy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and others.

“I tell people I just sell hats,” said Scott Shuler, company president.

But really, Shuler doesn’t sell hats.

He sells the company’s philosophy.

“There’s two brands we worry about: the school and the retailer,” he said. “If you keep that attitude, we help the retailers look better and in the long run, they’ll buy more from us. It doesn’t matter who’s making the hat — people want what the players are wearing, so I don’t have to put Top of the World on it anywhere.”

We feel like the predominant brand is the university.
—Pete Wilson

Instead, Top makes hats in 13 fashion styles, from ladies’ hats to sideline gear. Always evolving, always featuring the college, not the manufacturer.

“We just feel like the predominant brand is the university,” Wilson said. “When people buy an OU cap, they are buying OU first. The brand just isn’t as important.”

Said Steve Hare, vice president, “I was born and raised here in Norman, and when I run into friends and tell them what I do and where I work, they say, ‘Where’s that place? It’s in Norman?’” Yes, Norman. And if you are a distributor in El Paso, Texas, and suddenly, the University of Texas-El Paso Miners are making a run in the NCAA basketball tournament, you’re calling Top of the World.

“It’s a hard concept to understand,” said Shuler of the utter refusal to make their visible. “But that’s just us. And it’s better that way.”

 
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