MUST HAVES FOR SPRING - A BURNS CUSTOM HAT
March 2021: Editorial: Maddy Phillips Photography: James Phillips
Burns Cowboy Shop
363 Main St, Park City, UT 84060
Burns is the oldest same family owned western retail business in the world.
Miles Lamonie Burns, cowboy, fine leather craftsman, blacksmith, musician, husband, father, and visionary, founded Burns in 1876. Since its beginning, Burns has had six different shop names, six generations of ownership, and one family, one legacy, one culture: COWBOY.
We were so fortunate to have our Northern Utah Outdoors Reporter, Maddy Phillips, get the opportunity to sit down and chat with Jake who grew up with one of the sixth-generation owners, Braden Shaw and has been part of this family run business since 2009.
Jake: The family business started in Lowa, UT in 1876. We’re a 6-generation, family-owned company. The little log cabin saddle shop was rolled over the mountain range into the Severe Valley in Salina, Utah in 1898 and has been there ever since. It started out as a harness leather repair saddle shop, that’s what it first was, repairing all of the ranchers and farmers tack and equipment and things like that and that was our original foundation and heritage, which we're still doing today. Not as much the repairs like we used to, now we focus more on manufacturing saddles. That is one thing the family has always been, entrepreneurs and inventors. Inventing different ways to make things better and fix things. We then started carrying clothing and retailing western wear other than saddles, such as boots and hats. Our shop at one time was the largest footwear retailer in the state of Utah while we were still building up our saddle brand. We were still carrying other brands until Braden had a desire to manufacture our own hats on a small scale and then that that kind of took off. We bought more equipment, hired people to work in the hat shop and then it grew to where it is now: we take 1000 hats to one event, the national finals rodeo, we have hats at road shows, in the Salina store, here in Park city, Carmel by the Sea in California on Ocean Avenue, and we have a little pop up in Victor, Idaho and Jackson, Wyoming just off of the square. It’s a family atmosphere with structure and there’s nobody like us in the country. We’re a very unique situation, being family owned and building so many different quality, handcrafted products.
Maddy: So no more outside products?
Jake: Not so much anymore… we have customers and clients that come in and just love that… that we’re not just a retailer of other peoples’ goods that we actually hand make the product 160 miles south of here and that we’ve been around since 1876. A lot of people come in here and ask, “so are you part of family are you part owner in the company?” and we say, “well… adopted,” because that's how we train our staff and that's how the company treats everybody, which is like they are family. That reflects on people that come into the stores. We may not be owners, but we own it with our passion and love for the company and its products.
Maddy: And that goes to show with a company retaining its employees for so long and everyone being so passionate about it in return.
Jake: Yes. You could have the best product and the highest quality silver buckles, but if you don't have the people, the conduit to the product, you don't have anything. The number one investment in this company are the people, hands-down. If you don't take care of your people, you don't really have anything and you don't have much of a foundation. I don't care what your family story is, however much it sparkles and glitter's. When you come in here, if you don't have quality people that your customer’s don’t fall in love with and connect with, you don't have much.
Maddy: How did Burns Hats become a supplier for the hit series "Yellowstone" been for the company?
Jake: It’s a fun story. Their headquarters was about 2-3 miles from here for seasons 1-3. I got a call from one of our sales people and she said, “there’s some folks here and they’re going to do a documentary about Yellowstone National Park. I said I’d be open to helping them. “It’s like a 4 hour drive from here, yeah I know where Yellowstone is.” We didn’t know what the show was, being in its infancy then. So, coming full circle and after getting a little more information, we found out it was actually a TV show on Paramount Network. They ended up needing some hats and things and we were happy to help. We took a shot and made hat after hat after hat for the show. Stunt doubles, extras, actors all needed hats and it evolved into making other products for them, like boots and buckles. What’s interesting is how much the show has done for the western industry. Before, a lot of the western films and shows were time period and older era, which a lot of people don’t really want to wear that type of fashion now, but you make a modern western and people think, I can wear that! You can put that hat on anyone and it looks fantastic. You see it on the show, it looks great and you think, “now I can definitely wear that…. I can rock that hat!”
Maddy: And you make all of your own hat bands as well! How long does that take to make one?
Jake: Yes absolutely, all hand-tooled, hand-engraved, dyed and antiqued. It is a lot more time consuming than you’d think. You have all of these components on one hat band… probably 4-5 hours and quite a bit of expense, but to be efficient we definitely don’t make just one at a time. It’s a very clean, signature statement piece and it’s not shipped over here from China. That’s one thing we tell people, that these are not disposable goods that will end up in the landfill in a few years and we repair our products, resole our boots, replace the headbands of our hats and that’s what Burns’ produces: generational items that will last decades. You can wear one of our buckle’s for decades that your grandchildren will fight over. We were down at the Salina shop when my 8-year-old son pulled up his shirt to show one of our employees his belt and buckle and it was actually mine from when I was 5 years old. It had my name on it and he said how it was his dad’s belt and buckle and that’s when it really hit me. That’s what we want to produce, a product that lasts for decades.
Maddy: This company has had lots of really good, successful ideas and a lot of them have obviously taken off. Have you had many issues with products or ideas that haven’t been so successful and have had to can them or just had too many ideas floating around and became over saturated?
Jake: Yes. I love this question. You have to know as a group and as a company what your core is, what your core values are, and what it is you’re going to do, offer and what your services are. What is it we’re going to provide? You can try to do and become too much and try to please everyone. For instance, I said earlier we have the capability of making chaps. But do we? No. And that is because of capacity. If something is going really well, you can’t get spread too thin because then you’re going to do about a 70-80% job on everything and we don’t want to do that. In the future, may it be something we look at? Can we put it in the Walt Disney drawer, like he used to do with all of his many great ideas? Yes we can, let’s put it in the drawer and revisit it later. We don’t want to stifle ingenuity and proactive, forward thinking, but you’ve got to look at yourself and as a company, you’ve got to know your capacity and what you can do. Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our appetites and we take on too many things and think, “Oh boy, what have we gotten ourselves into?” Especially for passionate, hard-working, creative people which is what we are. Sometimes we think we’re superman and we can do a million things in a day and no, we should probably put that in the Walt Disney drawer.
Maddy: So, in closing, what is one thing you would want people to know about Burns Cowboy Shop?
So, like I’ve said at the beginning of our conversation, our people are our biggest asset. If you take any one of these people out of the equation and we get a flat tire. After all is said and done and the dust settles, it’s the relationships that you build. How did you treat people that came through the door? That’s what you’ll be held accountable for. It’s not, ‘did their boot hold up’ or ‘did their silver buckle look good when their grandson got it’, when you’re long gone, it’s the relationships that you built and how you treated people. That’s the only thing you have to stand on after this life and that’s how this company stands as well. My favorite thing to tell people after they’ve come into this shop or the shop in Salina is thank you for supporting our family business. When I tell them that, they stand a little taller.