Click here to watch the Wes & Willy ad "Be Home by Dark."
This boys apparel is sold at hundreds of specialty stores across the country and at department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's and Von Maur.
It's popular among celebrity children. Mark Wahlberg, Christina Aguilera, Brad Pitt and Kourtney Kardashian all have been photographed with their boys in the clothing.
Yet it's likely few people know that the Wes & Willy line of high-end boys clothing hails from Omaha. And founder Bill Mullen wants to change that. He's unrolling a national campaign to show that the 23-year-old company at 1701 N. 24th St. is committed to its roots and proud of its hometown.
“When a lot of companies grow and succeed, they pick up and move,” Mullen said. “But that's not us. Omaha is a large part of who we are, and we want to let everyone know who we are and where we are from.”
Mullen, 52, plans to show customers more about Omaha and his company through videos on its website.
“Everyone has a cellphone or an iPad and consumers are savvy,” he said.
Wes & Willy is putting QR codes — a code that can be scanned by a camera phone — on the hang tags of every piece of clothing that will ship out next month for the back-to-school and fall season.
Scanned codes will link customers to the Wes & Willy website, which features a video of Omaha boys being boys and wearing Wes & Willy while playing or riding bikes in their Dundee neighborhood. You might not recognize the street unless you live in the area, but the message mainly is that this is no New York City street or California boardwalk.
Customers also can hear a message from Mullen about the focus of his company, the quality of its products and its mission to create durable, comfortable clothing for boys “that they won't want to take off.”
The purpose of the video, he said, is to showcase Omaha neighborhoods and highlight how the company's hometown is a large part of the company's success.
Of course, the strategy will help Wes & Willy's retailers as well. Mullen said that while the retail industry is starting to regain its shape after the recession, smaller mom-and-pop shops like boutiques are struggling more than larger retailers.
So the QR codes will help specialty stores, most of which are around 800 square feet and carry only a handful of styles from the line, to provide more selection without having to purchase and stock the inventory.
In a concept Mullen calls “extending the aisle,” a customer scans the code, and if he or she sees a style on the company's website that's not in the store, the retailer can get it from Wes & Willy and have it for the customer in a few days.
“We want to help the boutiques be successful at what they're doing,” Mullen said.
Greg Chambers, who handles the e-commerce, branding and marketing for Wes & Willy, said it's a creative way to help small boutiques and specialty stores compete with online shopping.
He said the company plans to shoot new videos of local boys playing in Omaha neighborhoods for every season's line.
Wes & Willy creates about 150 styles per season and ships more than 800,000 items of clothing annually to about 800 specialty stores across the U.S., department stores, catalog houses such as Chasing Fireflies and CWDkids, and to Europe, Singapore and Russia.
Locally, Wes & Willy is sold at Von Maur and at Posh Princess children's boutique in the Shops of Legacy near 168th Street and West Center Road.
Wes & Willy brings in about $13 million in retail sales annually, Mullen said.
It wasn't always an easy road for the company, though.
Mullen got his retail career start in 1983 when he joined Leggoons, a popular board shorts company founded in Omaha by his grade-school buddies. He was in his 20s and a political science major at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. After Leggoons was sold, he decided to break out on his own and started Wes & Willy in 1989.
Shortly after Mullen started the company, he had to re-evaluate the operation.
His company in the early 1990s was selling cargo shorts 25 percent higher than other U.S. manufacturers because they were producing theirs overseas and he was working with a Tennessee manufacturer.
To be competitive, Mullen decided to go outside the U.S. and import goods. Now the clothes are made in a handful of different countries, including China and India.
That decision to go overseas gave Wes & Willy a 20 percent boost in sales and the ability to expand its product lines. Mullen said it would have been difficult for the company to survive without that change.
And what started as a one-man show at Mullen's kitchen table quickly grew. The company now has 25 employees, with about eight in the warehouse and the rest handling the design, marketing and customer service for the company.
The company still designs every piece of clothing and screen-prints more than 80 percent of the apparel in its north Omaha offices. The designs are ideas that come from Mullen and his brother-in-law, Martin Bruckner, who heads the design team.
Mullen said Omaha has always been home and is the reason his business has been successful. He said it's more affordable to run a business here than on the coasts, and Omaha's location is great.
“Being in the center of the United States helps us to get product from Omaha to L.A. and Omaha to New York in two to three days,” he said. “It's convenient. “It's also a good place to raise a family.”
Mullen expects the company to continue to grow. He's working on getting licensing from collegiate teams to sell boys pajamas that are tight fitting like football uniforms. He's applied for a patent on the pajamas, too. They'll likely be sold on Amazon.com, at Von Maur and at specialty stores across the country beginning in August, just in time for football season.
Two other lines also have been launched by the company: Mad Gringo, a men's tropical beachwear line with the slogan “go slow” that Chambers created about four years ago and is sold on cruise lines and specialty stores throughout the Midwest; and Jack Thomas, a more traditional and “preppy” line that will incorporate apparel for girls and will ship to specialty stores this fall.
“Things are going well,” Mullen said. “We want to show that there are a lot of creative people here in Omaha. It's an exciting time for us.”
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