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A Lesson on the Value of a Brand and the Influence of Trucker Hats

Warning: This blog post may make you feel old.

What were you doing in 2003? I'll tell you what I was doing. I was watching Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie navigate farm living in really high heels and Von Dutch trucker hats on their reality show, The Simple Life.

Do you remember those Von Dutch trucker hats? The Simple Life skyrocketed them into popularity and I wanted nothing more than to carry a chihuahua in a pink purse while wearing a denim mini skirt, studded belt and Von Dutch trucker hat. The problem was that those hats cost around $100 and I was a high school student with no money and parents who didn't understand why a $15 hat wouldn't do.

Flash forward 18 years and one Hulu docuseries later and here we are again, still talking about Von Dutch.

When I saw the docuseries pop up in my Hulu "TV for you" section The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For, I immediately hit play. As it turns out, I don't have a lot of nostalgia for the early aughts as I thought I did, so I actually didn't make it past the first episode. But in that first episode, I learned something that is such a perfect illustration about what branding can do for your business I just had to share it with you.

Von Dutch is a clothing brand that hit it's height of popularity in the early 2000's. It sold workwear with a grungy blue-collar style, like hard denim coveralls and trucker hats.

But — and this piece is important — it wasn't a designer. The company was not designing the clothes they sold. At least not when it first started.

When you look at what VonDutch really is, it's nothing more than a trucker hat with a patch on the front, or a pair of pants with a Von Dutch label on the back. And, as it turns out that's all Von Dutch really was. A label. Because, as a matter of fact, in the early days of Von Dutch the creators would actually remove the labels off a pair of Dickies pants and sew their own Von Dutch label on instead.

A plain trucker hat will only cost a couple of bucks, and a custom patch will cost you less than a dollar. Which means the profit margin on their infamous trucker hat was RICH. So if it was really just a patch sewn on some pre-existing clothing... what were people actually buying?

The Brand.

Von Dutch could charge $100 for a $3 trucker hat because they had built a brand that made people want to be a part of it. They were selling a lifestyle, a persona, that said beautiful, thin, rich, and famous people wore these hats and you can feel that way and project to the world that you live that same lifestyle if you wear a hat also. On top of that was scarcity. When you're hand sewing patches onto hats and clothing you can only do so much, which means Von Dutch was constantly sold out making it even more exclusive.

Now, let me give you an example that's not 20 years old.

I’ve got a friend (who may even be reading this! Hi! I love you!) who wants to buy a Louis Vuitton purse. She showed me the style she wanted and since my purse has Disney characters on it I had to google it so I knew exactly what she was talking about.

In my googling, I came across secondhand, authenticated purses in the exact style that she was looking for a fraction of the price. When I told her this, she hesitated for a moment and said “Is is crazy that I kind of want to buy it at the store? I want the experience of it.”

Totally not crazy. In fact, from a psychological standpoint it makes perfect sense. Louis Vuitton has created a strong brand around a high end experience. Their signature pattern is a subtle symbol of status only the truly elite can afford. They never have sales. You're going to pay the same thing on Black Friday as you would any other day. Their stores are luxurious and elegant with glass display cases and stylish uplighting. When you walk in you feel some type of way. That's their brand you're feeling. The same brand that allows them to charge $3k for a purse. And it would feel distinctively against their brand to buy anything at a lower price, therefore signaling to your brain that it's incorrect. In other words, it wouldn't feel the same to buy it secondhand as it would to buy it brand new.

Louis Vuitton's brand experience is what allows them to price their items the way they do. Would you spend that much on a purse if it were hanging on a crowded rack? NOPE.

I once came across a Valentino purse in a TJMaxx for only $400 and passed over it. No one walks into TJMaxx to drop $400 on a purse. But put that same purse in the right environment and $400 would feel like an absolute steal. Do you think the cost of goods is really that much different for a designer purse than from any other leather purse?

No, It’s the label that allows them to charge $3000. It’s the status, the experience. Building a brand adds credibility to your business and creates a desire within your audience so strong that they are willing to hand over whatever you're asking for. The higher the ask, the more value (or even perceived value) your customer will expect.

Louis Vuitton can't just toss your new purse in a shopping bag and send you on your way. Instead they box it up with tissue paper and ribbon and place it in a thick, luxurious branded bag with fabric handles that makes you feel like an absolute BOSS QUEEN as you walk out of their store. And who among us would not love the little ego boost that comes with carrying around a LV shopping bag on your arm?

Your brand is how your customers perceive your business, and it has a direct tie to your bottom line. When you take care of your brand it helps you grow your business and make more money. If you're ready to create a brand experience for your customers that helps you raise your prices and make more money, reach out to us about booking a call so we can get the conversation started!

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About the Author

Brittany Wong

Brittany Wong is the Founder and Creative Director of Happyland Creative®, a design studio helping small business owners make more money with their branding.