Hats in a hurry
Colorado man customizes in a matter of minutes
Friday, May 16, 2014 8:26 AM
Wally Kenney can customize a tractor hat to fit almost any taste.
Walley Kenney of Northglenn, Colo., is at the Jay County 4-H antique collectibles and crafts flea market this week at Jay County Fairgrounds to sell his customized tractor hats. He can create a custom hat in about two minutes. (The Commercial Review/Kaytee Lorentzen)
The Northglenn, Colo., man is selling customized tractor hats at the Jay County 4-H antique collectibles and crafts flea market this week at Jay County Fairgrounds.
Traveling with a mobile home and trailer for about 10 years, Kenney has sold his hats at hundreds of tractor shows all over the United States.
“I’ve been to Florida, to California to Pennsylvania and most everything in between,” said Kenney.
The Colorado resident started selling tractor hats in 2004 after his sports business in Denver saw a decline in sales, he said.
“I never made a penny after John Elway retired,” said Kenney of the former Denver Broncos quarterback who is now the team’s general manager and vice president of football operations. “And so, I started doing tractor hats.”
Kenney was born and raised on a farm in Iowa, where he found his love for tractors. He has always been fond of the Oliver tractor, which inspired him to create his first patches and hats.
As a hobby, he made up four different Oliver tractor patches and then purchased his own hat-making machine.
He took his creations to the National Oliver Show in Madison, S.D., in 2004 and sold $3,000 worth of hats in one weekend.
“It was the first show I ever went to,” said Kenney. “And so, it was like, gee, I think I can make a living doing this.”
He then discovered how many tractor shows there are across the country and made a career out of the business.
With an array of patches, hat styles and colors to choose from, Kenney makes the hats in his trailer. It only takes a few minutes to make after a customer places an order.
“I’ve got close to 200 different color combinations and styles of hats, he said.
And there’s a hat for everyone, including styles for women and children. He also sells hats that have a mesh back, which he’s been told are hard to find.
Another top-selling item is his straw hats. They are a high-demand item because older men use them to shield their head and ears from the sun, said Kenney.
His typical customer is a retired farmer, but he said he sells hats to many young farmers as well. Kenney sells both high crown hats as well as low crown hats to appeal to both older and younger customers.
Because most of his business comes from repeat customers, Kenney believes he’s operating a good business and people enjoy his hats.
“Guys are particular about hats the way women are about shoes,” said Kenney. “Being able to make hats here … if someone likes something, I can make it up in about two minutes.”
Kenney says he experiences success at most of the tractor shows he attends.
One year, he went to a tractor pull in Wichita, Kan., and a man purchased a hat from him. When Kenney saw him at the tractor pull finals in Colombia, Mo., the customer wanted to purchase 10 more hats because it was so popular among his friends and family.
“He was getting one for everybody,” Kenney said.
Even while traveling from one tractor show to the next Kenney has made unusual kinds of sales, including being stopped along the highway.
When he was in Texas traveling to Florida, a highway patrol officer stopped him even though he wasn’t speeding, was wearing his seatbelt and was driving legally. The officer wasn’t pulling him over to give him a ticket. He just wanted to know what types of hats Kenney sold.
“I made a sale, and I thought I was getting a ticket or something,” said Kenney.
He believes he has a uniqueness of his business, which also includes selling flags, decals and T-shirts is what helps keep his sales steady.
“I feel like I have an interesting business, because so far I’m still the only person that I know of in the world that does exactly what I do as far as making the hats at the show,” said Kenney.
Kenney will be at the swap and sell meet through Saturday set up near the entrance of the fairgrounds.