A rendition of the fictionalized Urban Sombrero on Seinfeld.


The J. Peterman Co. wants to grow, but its past is telling it to look elsewhere for funding.

The company on Monday began a 40-day crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter, where it hopes to raise $500,000. Late Wednesday, it already had 189 backers who pledged $28,575. The campaign offers different levels of participation.

So far 10 backers pledged at least $25, while the most so far at 45 backers pledged at least $35 for an Otavalo shirt, a cotton workshirt worn by the mountain people of Otavalo, Ecuador. Several pledged $200, although some were for a limited edition silk/cashmere turtleneck (either men or women), and others for a limited edition Mod Flapper Dress. There were also four backers who pledged at least $275 for the Urban Sombrero, the brown head topper worn in 1996 by the “Seinfeld” character Elaine, played by Julia Louis Dreyfus, who in the storyline ran J. Peterman. Three backers pledged $400 for the collector’s edition of the sombrero, which comes in a hatbox signed by the real John Peterman, as well as the award-winning actor who “stole” his identity, John O’Hurley.

Two backers so far pledged at least $1,000 for a full kilt outfit, comprised of a five-yard kilt in black Watch Scottish wool tartan, complete with a format jacket and vest, the matching fly plaid worn over the shoulder with a brooch and hose with matching plaid flashes. There are no backers yet for the $8,600 pledge for a buying trip with the real Peterman scheduled for October.

Peterman, based in Lexington, Ky., began as a mail order catalogue in 1987, but its expansion into retail doors eventually led to its bankruptcy. The company was acquired in 1999 by Paul Harris Stores Inc., which later found itself in its own tour through Chapter 11 bankruptcy court proceedings. That gave Peterman the ability to buy back the company. He relaunched the business in 2001 as a catalogue operation. In the process, he connected with O’Hurley and others to join forces as investors in the business.

John O'Hurley and John Peterman

John O’Hurley and John Peterman  Courtesy Photo

 

According to O’Hurley, the business today has an annual volume of $35 million, “but we want to try to grow the company in a more responsible way.”

O’Hurley spoke about how the company was very dependent on its bank credit line in the first incarnation, and how merchandising decisions were made to hit the bottom line requirements, with little thought to the firm’s core value proposition.

“Self-funding that credit line allows the company to be more authentic than just selling [product] that’s already in the mainstream,” O’Hurley said.

The urban sombrero pitch on Kickstarter bridges the gap between the fictitious J. Peterman company and the real J. Peterman, said O’Hurley, who added that many viewers of “Seinfeld” reruns don’t even know that a real J. Peterman exists.

Most of the Kickstarter options are core items in the catalogue, making the funding maneuver a way to get commitments on certain product styles before they are pushed into production. O’Hurley said that “$500,000 will take a significant bite off our credit line.”

The company sends out 13 to 15 catalogues each year, with about 125,000 printed for each run, and the product descriptions stay true to the original Hemingway-styled adventure story. O’Hurley said most of the time the product line sells out. “Inventory control is a huge issue for us. There are times we wish there are more, and other times we gamble too much,” he explained.

Separate from J. Peterman, the 14-year veteran cohost of Purina’s National Dog Show said that beginning on Easter Sunday in 2017, NBC will be adding a Beverly Hills Dog Show on the USA network. “It will have a celebrity element, and will look different from any other dog show,” hinted O’Hurley at the possible format.

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