Would you like it tomorrow? Okay then, how about today? Cheryl Bjork, Production Manager
I started working at Stormy Kromer 11 years ago because it’s a flexible, family-friendly place to work, and anyone who shows interest and ability has an opportunity here. They have a place to grow and build their skills.
I started as an entry-level inspector—a very important job and one I was proud to do—and have since moved up to the position of production manager. That means I’m the one who makes sure we have enough of the right items in inventory to fill our orders.
And that means it’s up to me when you get your gear; my goal is to ship it the day you order it.
We get a lot of great emails, facebook posts and blog comments from our customers. Every once in awhile, we get one so well-written and witty that it is too good not to share. This email came from a lovely gentleman named Rich and we asked him if it would be okay if we shared it with all of you. He was happy to oblige.
Dear Stormy Kromer,
I recently had an experience with your customer service that left me speechless.
I had a small issue with a Kromer I had recently purchased via the internet. I brewed a fresh cup of Folgers and sat down for what I was sure to come. Settled in, I called the customer service number, expecting to jump through the usual hoops…the voice prompts, the “please press 4 for customer service”…you know…the usual.
But something very odd happened, a person answered. A person with a pulse and vocal inflection and even a name! (Angela!) She asked me about my issue and then said, “Let me see about this with our shipping department.”
“Here we go,” I thought, “This is where I get handed off to Muzak-Land, never again to hear a live person…my problem forever unsolved.”
And then I heard something truly startling. I heard footsteps. Footsteps that led me to believe that someone, probably sweet Angela, was walking somewhere. WITH THE PHONE IN HER HAND! Why, she was walking to the shipping department! To solve my problem!!!! Angela, an actual person just walked over to where the shipping takes place and just, BOOM!, fixed my problem.
I was gobsmacked. I was not put on hold. I was not forwarded to another building or state or nation. I was not passed up the ladder. I was not talked to by a robot. I was treated like a, (you need to sit for this), like a real person! By a real person!
And then it was over. Angela and I exchanged a few kind pleasantries and it was done. I didn’t know how to behave. I hadn’t even touched my coffee and the problem was fixed to my great satisfaction.
Yet, I was ill at ease. My entire world view seemed canted at an odd angle. What could this mean? Customer Service that actually Services Customers? Why, it’s preposterous. What business would be precocious enough to still do things that way? What else will I have to rethink about my world?
And what of Angela? I felt there was so much unsaid between us. No verbal sparring, no sarcastic, “Well Sir…I’m sorry you feel that way.” It was over before it began…we walked to the shipping department together, she fixed everything and we went our separate ways.
So here I am, a bubble off plumb perhaps, but truly happy with my customer service.
Thanks again, Rich for taking the time to write us!
At this special time of year, we’d like to focus on what you, our loyal fans give us. Your support of our small-but-growing brand means more to us than you can know.
Warmest Wishes from the Folks at Stormy Kromer!
You don’t have to be an outdoorsy person to shop at Alice’s Wonderland, but you do have to travel through a good deal of rural Pennsylvania countryside to get there. And when you’ve gone far enough to think you’ve gone too far, keep driving. You’re almost there.
You see, when you look at it the way the Karpiak family does (these are the fine folks who’ve run Alice’s for four generations now), you have to ask yourself: Where else would you put an outdoor store? In town?
The Karpiaks have a keen sense for what (and where) their store should be. Take Grandpa Paul, for example. When he bought the place in 1940 and named it after his wife, Alice, it was a restaurant. But because farm families didn’t tend to dine out all that often—and they did ask Paul to pick up a shirt or two when he went into the city for supplies—he decided to shift the focus of the family business to clothes and other outdoor gear.
“If it didn’t have a purpose, it went away,” said PJ Karpiak, Paul’s grandson and co-owner of the store. “That’s how Grandpa took care of things, and that’s pretty much how we still run the show today. We sell products that solve people’s problems, and if we don’t believe in the clothes or coats or boots or caps, we won’t put them on our shelves.”
Sometimes that means they don’t stock the latest fads, but that’s just what makes Alice’s Wonderland so popular.
“Our customers are the kind of people who spend their lives outside,” added Karpiak, “and they’re not going to come back if you sell them something that doesn’t stand up to their lifestyle.”
This philosophy stems from a belief in serving the customer the way shopkeepers used to. Because, as the Karpiaks say, “You can buy anything you want on the internet (at Alice’s website, in fact) but you visit the shop for a reason. To be helped.”
This philosophy is also the reason Alice’s now sells Stormy Kromer wool caps and clothes.
“Kromer fits us perfectly. It’s a great product with a great history, and when people say ‘You can’t find anything good that’s made in the USA,’ this is what I show them.”
And when you find our way out to Alice’s Wonderland, you’ll know the trip was worth it.
Stop by and see what hasn’t changed in the last 129 years.
There’s an 80-year-old man in the village of Valle Crucis, North Carolina, who can’t remember a day he didn’t head down to Mast General Store for lunch—a plug of baloney and a cold glass of Yoo-Hoo.
He’s not alone. Most folks in this tiny, Blue-Ridge-Mountain town (and thousands more from the surrounding region) depend on the Mast Store for virtually everything a person needs for life. Shoes, socks, shirts and outdoor gear—plus things like jams, jellies, hand-made furniture and the sort of service you’d expect at the turn of the century.
Just not the last turn of the century.
Mast General Store opened in 1883 to take care of the friends and neighbors who farmed the surrounding lands. And even though generations of those farmers have turned into generations of city-dwellers, they continue to seek the authenticity the Store was founded on.
“We still ask our patrons what they need us to stock, and that’s what we put on our shelves,” said Sheri Moretz, Community Relations Manager for all nine Mast Stores. “It works like retail is supposed to: recognizing and caring about customers, welcoming them with conversation, keeping them as friends.”
Walk in the store and see it for yourself. The first thing you’ll notice is people playing checkers at the potbellied stove with bottle caps off a few old-fashioned Coca-Colas. The next thing you’ll notice is the Post Office, where Valle Crucis still gets its mail. After that, grab yourself a cup of coffee—it’s a nickel, and that’s on the honor system—then mosey up and down the aisles. (Literally up and down, too, because the floor isn’t so level after all these years.)
You can also take a seat on the liar’s bench out front, which is where many good tales are told.
“We love stories here at Mast Store,” added Moretz before diving into one about the time the Charles Kuralt came in for a visit. “He wrote an article about us and said ‘Where should I send you to know the Soul of the South? I think I’ll send you to Mast General Store.’ That was the 1980s, and people are still seeking that same experience.”
It’s these types of genuine, down-to-earth anecdotes that led the buyers at Mast Store to put Kromers on the shelves.
“Stormy Kromer’s got a great story,” said Moretz. “It’s authentic, and it shows we share the same values. This is a made-in-the-USA product that fits a modern need in a traditional manner. That’s what we are, too.”
If you can’t find it at Yoder’s, there’s a pretty good chance you don’t need it.
The U.S. Census Bureau lists the population of Shipshewana, Indiana, at 658, which is roughly the same number of people who’ll be in line in front of you, waiting to get into the Yoder Department Store parking lot. Yep. People who need stuff, get stuff here.
“It’s not uncommon in the summer for folks to wait ten, maybe fifteen minutes to park their car,” said Andre Yoder, the third-generation general manager of this little town’s massive mercantile. “The flee market and auction across the street can draw up to 10,000 people in a two-day stretch, and a lot of them stop by because they know what we have to offer.”
What Yoder’s has to offer isn’t so much a step back in time—you’ll find all the latest clothing styles mixed in with tons of traditional favorites—it’s just that the style of service customers enjoyed decades ago is still thriving here.
Take, for example, the fact that second-generation owner Janet Yoder started working at the store when she was 13 and just recently retired at the age of 77. Many of the current employees, too, have been working here for more than 10, 20 or even 30 years. These are people who know how to treat a customer.
And if, for some reason, you want eight pairs of jeans with a 66-inch waist and they only have five (they really do have this size, by the way, and they have that many in stock), they’ll get them for you. Pronto.
That’s service you don’t see all that often.
“People come here to be taken care of and because they’ll find quality products at fair prices,” added Yoder. “Those are the same reasons we carry Stormy Kromer: great apparel, good prices, made in America. Those things matter here.”
As if to prove the point, Yoder’s menswear/work apparel manager, Tim Hethcote, recalled the story of a fellow who stopped in to get his son-in-law a gift. “He bought a couple Stormy Kromer flannel shirts, took them home, gave into temptation, tried them on, and kept them,” said Hethcote. “He eventually bought his son-in-law something else.”
As I look back on my life’s journey, little did I know that the skills that I learned in my first part-time job would come full circle. Back in the 7th grade, I put together bicycles, strollers and wagons at my Uncle King’s five-and-dime store. My uncle encouraged me to meet and interact with the customers, even at that young age. I quickly learned that I loved meeting new people – learning from them, hearing their stories, and helping them with whatever they needed.
As an adult, in the early days of my work at Jacquart Fabric Products, I made custom boat covers and learned to upholster furniture – two more areas in which I worked directly with the end customer. I even began to pass my love of customer interaction on to my two daughters – they often came to work with me on Saturday mornings, where they learned to introduce themselves by looking people straight in the eye and shaking their hand.
Eventually, as JFP grew, I found myself working with the end customer less and less. I had other things to work on – building budgets and strategic plans, developing employees and creating an infrastructure that would support the company we were building.
As these things have been set in place and our management team has expanded, however, I find myself with a little more time on my hands. Time that I have turned back to the customer – but a new type of customer, the Stormy Kromer fan who wants to see for themselves where the caps are made and visit our Factory Store.
The factory operates Monday through Friday, and therefore our tours are offered during the week. Our Factory Store has also followed that schedule. Last fall I decided to open our Factory Store on Saturdays, mainly to accommodate tourists who are visiting our area on the weekend. It proved to be a huge success.
For the most part, I am the only one working on Saturdays, and we’re open from about 9-12. The folks who come in on Saturdays tend to be very passionate about our brand and usually have great stories to share. I honestly can’t imagine a better way to spend a Saturday morning than talking about Stormy Kromer with people as excited about the brand as I am!
As soon as the weather warms up, however, Saturdays will be cycling days for me and we’ll have someone else staffing the store. Don’t worry though, the cycling season is pretty short and come fall, I plan to be back.
Come to think of it…this may be a glimpse of my retirement job. Maybe a new store with a coffee shop, Stormy Kromer products and free stories to all who want to hear them. Sounds pretty good to me.
The only thing our Customer Service folks can’t do over the phone is serve you pie and coffee.
If you’ve got concerns, questions, or simply want to order a catalog, they’re the kind of folks you want to help you out. Extra-mile kind of people. People who love to sit and share a good story.
So, who are these lovely ladies?
(From the left…)
Kirsten Dowd has been in Customer Service for just about 2 years now. She’s the leader of this bunch and has a way with people that is practically unmatched. You’ll also notice her modeling SK gear on our website and in our catalog. (And her husband graces the cover of our current catalog.)
Katie Guglielmotto has a great connection to Stormy Kromer. You see, her mom, Mona, is one of the fine ladies who hand-sews our famous hats. Katie not only does a great job assisting customers, but she is also one of our finest factory tour-givers. Talk about a natural storyteller…
Angela Brannigan is a new addition to the crew, giving us a hand during the busy fall/winter/holiday season. She’s jumped in so well it feels like she’s been here forever!
Lori DeRosso does double duty for us, working both in Customer Service and accounting. (She also provides administrative support to our CEO, so let’s just say she’s a busy lady!) In addition, Lori’s daughter just started sewing on the Kromer production line.
Starr Higgins juggles multiple roles here at Stormy Kromer and does so beautifully. Not only will you hear her voice over the phone, you will also meet her in person if you happen to stop by our factory store. She’s the boss of our recently refurbished store and will help you find a hat in your perfect size.
Now that you’ve gotten to know our amazing customer service crew, as well as our designer, which other members of the Stormy Kromer team would you like to meet?
By now you’ve probably figured out the Stormy Kromer website got a bit of a facelift a few weeks ago. We’ve showcased some of our new products and displayed some of our latest photography. You have also obviously found our new blog. But what else is new or different on the site?
Perhaps because of our location in Michigan’s beautiful yet remote Upper Peninsula, our friendly Customer Service folks are often inundated with phone calls simply asking us weather-related questions. Things like, “I know it’s only September, but do you have snow on the ground yet?” or “How far below zero is the wind chill today?”
We thought we would help solve your weather quandaries by simply providing live, up to the minute Ironwood weather, right on our homepage. In the upper right corner you can see the current conditions, the snowfall for the season, and even click over to the full Ironwood forecast. (Of course, if you’d prefer to call Kirsten or Katie in Customer Service, they’ll still be glad to chat!)
Right below the main images on the homepage are three smaller boxes – two of them will usually link to this blog and our Facebook page, and the third will change to promote our latest news, contest or announcement – like our Tall Tails Fishing Derby, which incidentally, will only be running for a few more weeks, so enter now!
Finally, don’t forget about two special features that come with your Stormy Kromer cap purchase: our Lifetime Guarantee and No-Charge Insurance Policy. In addition to guaranteeing the craftsmanship of our caps, you can also insure your cap against loss. The links to learn more about these features have been moved to the lower right corner of our homepage.
What are your thoughts about our new site? If you have favorite features or feedback, please share it with us in the comments.