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Long before Holden Rook and Brooks Gay were assigned a project in their entrepreneurship class requiring them to start a business, the roommates had already discussed starting their own venture.
So when the class project met reality, they already had their plan ready.
Rook – a sophomore marketing major from The Woodlands – said the class brainstormed for “about 2-3 weeks” and then had to pitch the idea to Dr. Jim Litton, associate professor of Management Sciences and Director of the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship & Philanthropy, who was teaching the entrepreneurship class.
“Brooks and I had expressed an interest in doing something before the class had even started, but it was Brooks who kick-started the idea in class,” Rook said. “Brooks was the brains behind the start of it since he’s from Abilene and knew the ins and outs of how to get our business started here locally.”
And that’s how Abilene Hat Company was born.
Gay – a junior business management major from Abilene – is a former baseball player at Abilene Wylie High School and last season at ACU, who had the original idea for a hat company.
“I wanted to create a hat company that represents Abilene and the surrounding areas because of the number of people who wear hats and how much pride people have in being from this area,” Gay said.
After making their pitch to Litton, getting approval, putting together a team, and dividing up responsibilities, the team – consisting of Gay, Rooks, ACU volleyball player Ashli Edmiston, Reece Westby, and Nick Schott – met about logistics and designs and began the process of giving life to the company.
“Our goal was to, first, make a good grade in the class,” Gay said. “We talked about our vision, bounced ideas off each other, and set our goals higher. We wanted to create the most revenue and profit in the current class and break the current record for revenue and profit ever in that class. We broke the current records and created the most revenue to date.”
The team is now just Gay and Rook, and they have moved the business forward to the point that they have a sales point online and in a storefront at Covey Apparel in Terrell, Texas.
“Our short-range goal was to find some local businesses willing to support another small business and give us a chance to get into their stores,” Rook said. “The long-term goal is to expand into all of West Texas to allow many people to see our brand.”
The company’s most popular hat logo is a patch on a rope cap with the words “West Texas” atop a pump jack, an iconic symbol of one of the lifebloods of West Texas life.
“One of our long-term goals is to create different pieces of apparel with similar ideas and designs,” Gay said. “I want to represent where we are from, the pride the people of West Texas have by capturing those feelings and displaying them on a high-quality product. I believe the patch design with the oil rig does the best job of capturing the spirit of the hard-working people of West Texas.”
Gay and Rook said their COBA classes have given them insight into so many different aspects of running a business, from the entrepreneurial mindset to all the areas of running a company.
“The most beneficial things I’ve learned have been small pieces from numerous classes,” Gay said. “We use Excel to keep our books, we use marketing strategies in our social media, and many other entrepreneurship techniques from the classes I have taken.”
Rook echoed some of that when describing what he’s learned inside the walls of the Mabee Business Building.
“Definitely learned more about the entrepreneurial mindset,” Rook said. “You must be ready to adapt to the market and whatever it’s feeding you to succeed. Everything is always changing, and you must be ready to change.”
While Rook said the next stop is continued growth and perhaps adding additional employees, Gay said he wants to expand the business into collegiate athletics, where Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) now allows student-athletes to promote products in exchange for money.
“That would not only be mutually beneficial for us and the student-athlete but will also significantly push our brand,” Gay said. “The athletes we are connected with at large schools have significant social media presence and will grow our total audience.”
To learn more about entrepreneurship at ACU, click here.