Founder and co-owner of Dome Headwear in Jacksonville Beach, Jeff Whitaker grew up in Ponte Vedra Beach and now lives in Nocatee with his wife and three children. He says he is living his dream of owning his own business, with his best friend, in his hometown.
As told to Maggie FitzRoy
Q: What type of business is Dome Headwear?
A: We are a custom headwear company, making ball caps, visors and knit caps. We do custom hats for the sports industry, music, and outdoor and lifestyle brands. We do a lot of hats for musicians—George Strait, Luke Bryan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others.
Q: Where do you do business?
A: We are a national company. We have in-house sales reps in Jacksonville, Nashville and Phoenix. We work through a nationwide network of distributors, so we are sold in all 50 states.
Q: When did you start the business?
A: My partner, Chris Hetland, and I played football together at the University of Florida and so we started it together in August 2010 as 50-50 partners. We were best friends who wanted to go into business together.
Q: You were recently featured in Inc. Magazine. What led to that?
A: We were honored as one of the fastest growing private companies in the country by Inc. Magazine. We’ve grown fast in the past five years. One of the fastest 50 growing companies in Jacksonville. Among the fastest 100 growing companies run by Florida alumni.
Q: When did you graduate from Florida?
A: I graduated in 2004, Chris in 2006.
Q: What did you do directly after graduation?
A: I moved to Vail, Colorado. I caddied, skied, bartended and met my wife, Erin, there. That’s also where I got into the hat business. I coached high school football and then started selling custom hats to high school football coaches. I fell in love with the industry and wanted to start my own business back in Jacksonville.
Q: Your office/headquarters is on 3rd Street South in Jacksonville Beach and was recently renovated. What motivated you to do that?
A: Local customers come in to design hats. And since good things happen in bars, we built a bar in the office so customers can come here everyday and have a good experience. (No alcohol involved) but you can sync your computer to the TVs above the bar and build your own hat, place your order. We like to have customers come in and like coming in.
Q: Do you do business with a lot of companies in Jacksonville?
A: We have big businesses, small businesses. We tell stories through headwear. Every hat has a story.
Q: How does every hat tell a story?
A: Putting logos on hats—anybody can do that but we take it to the next level. For example, with unique embroidered locations and decorations.
Q: What about for companies that are not local?
A: We have an online hat builder and a sample travel bag. That’s where our reps come in. When they are out on the road they use the online builder and a bunch of samples as well.
Q: Do you have a favorite hat?
A: I know what goes into each and every hat. So, that’s like asking a parent who has multiple kids which is their favorite. Every single hat is my favorite hat.