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Stormy Kromer Readies for Busy Shopping Season as Company Overcomes Pandemic Challenges

Katie Thoresen/WXPR

Black Friday kicks off the busiest time of year for Stormy Kromer.

President Gina Thorsen said not only does it get busy because of people buying up gifts for the holiday season, but also because they mostly sell winter apparel and we’re heading into winter.

“Our business is really, really seasonal and we know it’s coming,” said Thorsen. “All of our employees are kind of gearing up and getting ready for a next couple of five weeks or whatever it is.”

The Ironwood-based Stormy Kromer employees about 90 people. 

Thorsen said while they are hiring right now, they don’t typically do a big seasonal hiring push. It just means the everyone puts in a bit more work over the next few weeks.

“We have just amazing people that work here,” said Thorsen.

She’s grateful that the employees have stuck with the changes and challenges that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the Pandemic Hit

In March, when Michigan put its first Stay at Home order in place, Stormy Kromer was preparing to close down production when it got a call from a someone at UW Health in Madison.

“He was like, ‘I know you have a sewing factory, and we need masks, and we need them fast. Can you do anything?’” Thorsen said.

By midnight the next day, a team of engineers and pattern designers at Stormy Kromer has come up with a protype for the mask.

For the next nine weeks, Stormy Kromer was fulfilling orders for masks and gowns.

“We even had marketing people, customer service people out on the production floor, anyone who was willing do it,” said Thorsen.

While Stormy Kromer has been back to its normal production for about five months, the impact of those nine weeks is still being felt.

“You know here and there you might find on our website a certain size or certain color is temporarily out of stock because there’s only so many hours in a day,” said Thorsen. “Because of how seasonal we are, we normally build all year round to put stuff on the shelf so they can ship it at this time, so we’re definitely tighter.”

While some new items they were hoping to launch this season are now delayed a year, overall, Thorsen feels good about where the company is at and how its managed through the pandemic.

Credit Katie Thoresen/WXPR

Preparing for the Winter Rush

As Stormy Kromer has been gearing up for the busy season, there have been some changes.

Thorsen says the factory is big enough that people can spread out and keep socially distanced. In places where that’s not possible, plexiglass has been installed. Everyone wears masks.

“We’ve been really conscious of all the COVID safety stuff and even doing more than what was required of us this whole time because it’s just the right thing to do to keep people safe,” said Thorsen.

Stormy Kromer also seen a slight shift in buyers. 

Increase in Online Sales

About 65 percent of the items it ships out goes to retailers. The rest of its sales are either out of its factory store Ironwood or direct to customers who order on its website.

The latter of which has seen a huge increase during the pandemic.

Thorsen attributes the rise in online sales to a couple things. She said there’s just been more brand awareness. Their plaid face mask sales have also been doing really well.

“That’s brought a lot of people to our site that we’re customers before, so I think all of those things have contributed to our growth and yet we’re still seeing good sales with some of our retail partners,” she said.

To meet the increased of online sales, Stormy Kromer recently had to switch from shipping through the U.S. Postal Service to Fed Ex.

“The postal service has been a great option for us because we ship small, light. A lot of people are buying one or two hats and the Post Office is really cost-effective for that,” said Thorsen.

But this year, the business noticed a huge slow down in shipping times.

Packages that would normally only take a few days were now taking up to four weeks and Stormy Kromer was worried about maintaining high-quality customer service.

“The volume of people calling about their order and it’s taking two or three or four weeks. I know the postal service has challenges but that’s just the reality for our business and what are customers are seeing. As we got close to Christmas, we just felt that was going to be a difficult thing to manage,” said Thorsen.

Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Thorsen says the company is ready for two of its biggest sale days of year.

While she doesn’t know what else this year might throw at them, Thorsen says she’s grateful for the customers and employees that have gotten them to this point.

“Back in March when we shut down for a couple days and we were, ‘What is this going to mean to us? Can we keep our doors open just making PPE?’ We had no idea. To be having a successful fall is really great. It’s good for our employees and us. We’re very grateful,” said Thorsen.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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