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Biltmore Hats: Part III
Bonnie Durtnall
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Biltmore Hats: Part III

The 1970s: The Beginning of the End

The 1970s: The Beginning of the End

In 1972, Biltmore Hats was sold to Guaranty Trust of Toronto. This marked the first-time ownership was no longer held by Guelph interests – they were outsiders. It was true that those who physically operated the company lived in the city, but they were not responsible to or had a stake in the overall welfare of the community. The result was not an improvement for the company. In fact, as the hat market continued to fluctuate, teetering on collapse, the overall profitability of the company was in serious doubt.

Biltmore tries to adapt to the changing market. They opted for cheaper, more sporty hats. They diversified by selling belts and ties. They even sold products under their label that were not made locally.

It was all for nought. Sales declined drastically. The company filed for bankruptcy in April 1982.

Stetson Acquires

The future of Biltmore Hats was now in doubt. Their doors were locked, their sewing machines were idle, their workers looking for other employment. This was the case for 2 months. No white knight seemed to be interested in saving the business.

In 1982, the company’s luck was about to change for the better. Stetson Hat Company from Missouri, bought Biltmore in June of that year. However, the name “Biltmore” vanished as Stetson Hats only came out of the plant. Biltmore Hats was now only a branch of the John B. Stetson Company and, under this new order, produced hats bearing the Stetson name.

After what must have seemed a long two years, Stetson ceased to operate in Guelph. They, too, had gone bankrupt. Under Chapter 11, the future looked dire as the Canadian arm was spun off and held by the AJD Cap Company and it did not want to keep it at all.

From Factory to Townhouses

Yet, Biltmore, once again proved those who saw it defunct were wrong. New investors snapped up Stetson’s Guelph assets. This small Guelph group included a familiar name - Kloepfer. Biltmore once again was free to operate as its own entity.

In October 1988, the company once again began to manufacture hats boasting the Biltmore label. At the helm was President Robert William (Bob) Kloepfer (1939-2016). He worked hard to slowly increase profits and viability. Under his steady hand, the company focused on sports hats – specifically golfing hats. He also obtained contracts to provide the head wear for two important Canadian law enforcement bodies:

1.   The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

2.   The Ontario Provincial Police

 By concentrating on these two areas and reducing the facilities by half, Kloepfer helped improve the company’s bottom line. His successor, Walter Gosk, tried to diversify further into specialized markets. However, for whatever reason, he did not succeed. Biltmore Hats was again travelling a by now familiar road. In 2004, the company entered into receivership.

Once again, although the end seemed inevitable, Biltmore escaped. An American accountant and hat aficionado, Eric Lynes, bought the company the following year. From Louisville, Kentucky, his dream was for Biltmore to return to its previous strength – the production of high-quality, fashionable and well-constructed hats. He proceeded to work towards this goal. He laboured with some success for five years. However, in 2010, Dorman Pacific purchased Biltmore Hats. Although Biltmore Hats continue to be made, they are no longer from the Guelph facility. Dorman closed the Guelph plant in 2011. Today, the land it once occupied, is home to so-called factory-style two houses.

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