Lakes Headwear in Pierz caters to national cap market


(Pictured is Lakes Headwear co-owner Aaron Bangasser of Melrose restocking the shelves with spools of thread. Staff photo by Lorae Vardas)

Tengwall is the sales manager at Lakes Headwear in Pierz, a small manufacturing company established about 10 years ago as an off-shoot of a larger plant in Little Falls that has since relocated elsewhere. With quality its top priority, Lakes Headwear has been quietly carving out a niche for itself both locally and on a national level in a highly competitive industry.

Requisitions range from direct orders like the Pierz Fire Department or Golf Course, to multi-national corporations including Target, Best Buy and DKNY. Most of the orders come from advertising specialty and promotion companies, Tengwall explained between phone calls at the nondescript shop located in the rear of Vet’s Super Stop on South Main Street. The small sign marking the entry doesn’t reflect the beehive of activity inside.

Lakes Headwear has been under new ownership since September when Keith Bangasser of Spicer and Aaron Bangasser of Melrose purchased the business from Mike Langer. With little experience in the field of creating caps, the cousins drew on their skills as owners of a computer service headquartered in Melrose called Computer Friendly. Through it they came into contact with a lot of manufacturers in the region, including Langer.

“We were looking for a manufacturing business to invest in,” said Aaron during a recent interview with the Record. “We had a set of criteria to follow. We liked the area and the industry. Mike had a good business setup, so we thought, ‘why not give it a try.’”

The first thing on the agenda was to computerize the office operations. That move alone, along with the new sales position, has helped increase productivity by 15 percent in the past six months, Aaron Bangasser was pleased to report. His partner Keith had already left with his family for the Easter Holiday, so was unavailable for comment.

Aaron credits the staff with much of the success to date. “The thing that makes this company great are the people who work here. They really helped us out in the transition. Tom has been a real asset also,” he said.

The company employs about a dozen people, some who remember cutting pieces by hand before the hydraulic cutting machine was installed. Among them was Irene Fiegen who recalled starting shortly after Mike opened the place when component parts were painstakingly hand-drawn on the fabric and cut with scissors. Alice Kahlhamer is another long-time employee who can speak volumes for the hometown company.

“We’re looking at growth here and employing more people,” said Tengwall. “We are advertising now for more assemblers and sewers. It’s a fun, laid back environment to work in. We can handle more employees and can go to a second shift, if necessary.” He said no remodeling is needed because as an engineer Mike Langer designed the work space well.

The company ships an average of 2,000 finished hats a week. The new owners would like to double the output, because the market is there, they’re convinced. Most promotion supply companies seek them out. Through technology, orders coming in from across the nation now can be more efficiently processed.

“The average household has 19 hats in the closet,” Tengwall found in researching the issue. “You wear the one with the coolest logo or is the most comfortable.” The rest become collectibles. Lakes Headwear custom manufactures all types of baseball and bucket hats for distribution by promotion groups to their customers.

They are big on American made goods. “Buy American. Employ an American,” stressed Tengwall. Nothing irks him more than a US Flag with a “Made in China” sticker, or other patriotic apparel bearing third-world country labels.

Metal or sewn eyelets, tri-glide or plastic back strap, the styles can be modified and personalized to order. The color combinations are endless. Except for embroidery of the logos, which is contracted out to an area speciality shop, the caps are crafted exclusively by hometown friends and neighbors.

Lakes Headwear is currently building caps for a brand new line of hunting clothing called Full Benefit being featured in April on PAX TV (Channel 41). The “hunt-commercial” for Backland Outdoor Company airs at 8:30 a.m. and spotlights some of the local workers in the 10-step manufacturing process.

The Bangassers indicated they enjoy being part of the community and are looking forward to hitting the golf links when the course opens. For more information one may visit the company Website at lakesheadwear.com.


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