Marketing maven: No one makes things happen like Freddie Stollmack!
“You’re not really retiring, are you?” I ask Fred Stollmack of Weatherproof, a 49-year veteran of the business and long the industry guru of advertising and marketing.
“I really am,” he responds, “with no firm plans yet. I’ve had a few consulting offers from vendors, and I’ve considered teaching marketing classes at a college level. The problem with that is so much of what we do in this business is bullshit and I’m not sure that’s what I want to teach young people. Nor is it what I want to personally focus on at this stage in my life. My career in marketing/PR has taught me that everything is embellished; it’s an off-balance perspective on reality…”
Stollmack is anything but angry; in fact, he feels fortunate that only half his career was spent at the business end. “The second half found me where I belonged. Working with the Peysers gave me the opportunity to exercise my creative powers and for that, I’m very grateful.”
Still, Stollmack says his biggest career mistake was “thinking I owned the company when I don’t. I tried to out-negotiate Paul Peyser but I’m no match for him…” He describes his relationship with the family as a double-edged sword. “They put up with me and my very controlling personality, but I believe they also appreciated me and what I did for the business.”
And what he did was launch the original Weatherproof microfiber jacket (1991) which helped catapult the company from nothing to $300 million wholesale. “We had the vision to see an open lane and develop an opportunity. No one was using microfiber in men’s outerwear, so we took it and ran with it. Although it might not have happened without the aggressive advertising, more important was a viable product and the fact that we were first with it.”
But no one can denigrate the power of Stollmack’s brilliant marketing: first the ubiquitous ads featuring Al Roker (a popular weatherman in Weatherproof) and later Barack Obama at the Great Wall of China. “My theory on advertising is that less is more, so we focused the whole Roker campaign around a single jacket. The Obama thing was more luck: we happened to spot a photo of him at The Great Wall of China so we bought the image from Associated Press to use as a billboard. Although we were told the next day to take it down, the follow-up publicity was as powerful as the billboard would have been.”
Stollmack was also responsible for many of the outrageous parties and events Weatherproof has hosted over the years, including one with a 6’2″ transvestite DJ. “Whenever the corporate guys in Bayshore say ‘Are you crazy? I know I’m on the right track.”
His advice to young people coming into the business: “Network like crazy and follow your passion. I went to NYU for a business degree because my parents wanted an accountant, when I should have trained to be an actor or an artist…”
His crystal ball on the menswear industry is two-fold: “1) Companies led by creative, intuitive executives will more likely succeed. 2) Only those companies taking serious global initiatives will make it; you can no longer depend on the U.S. alone.”