When it comes to custom headwear, DOME is doing it better


You’ve got to take your hat off to someone who starts a business in their living room with $500 and grows it into an international company with millions in sales … or, in Jeff Whitaker’s case, put your hat on.

Whitaker, a Nease High graduate and former Florida Gators football player, is the co-owner of DOME Headwear Co., one of the country’s largest providers of custom headwear, headquartered on 3rd St. S., in Jacksonville Beach.

After graduating from the University of Florida in 2004, Whitaker moved to Colorado and got a job selling custom hats to area high school coaches for a small business owner. During his time in Colorado, Whitaker got married and had his first of three children, prompting his desire to move back to the Jacksonville area to be near family.

He also decided to open his own custom headwear company and incorporated DOME in August 2010. About three months later, he was joined by co-owner Chris Hetland, also a Nease grad and former Gators football player, and the two began working out of Whitaker’s living room with an initial bank deposit of about $500.

Whitaker said the two owners grinded it out for about three years, selling direct from high school to high school. But things really took a positive turn for the business in 2014, thanks to an exclusive partnership with Riddell, which is the leading manufacturer of football helmets and football pads. Whitaker said Riddell didn’t have a custom hat product and really liked what DOME had to offer.

Now, DOME sells hats in all 50 states, and benefits from Riddell’s 300-plus person sales team. But Whitaker also makes sure that no matter where the hats end up, it’s no secret where they began.

“On every single one of them it says Jacksonville, Florida, so that’s one of the things I’m personally proud of,” Whitaker said. “We’ve been able to build a brand that’s based here in Jacksonville that reaches as far as overseas, that has reached every single state in the union. Every single hat that goes out has Jacksonville on it.”

Whitaker said the system for creating custom headwear was built with themselves in mind. The process is simplified, using a five-step system in which customers select fabric, the visor, the closure, colors and uploaded artwork. If a customer is uncertain about the art or logo, DOME can help with that too, thanks to graphic designer Phuoc Huynh, who has been with the company six years.

“Most people have a brand,” Whitaker said. “We’ve gotten good over the years of leading them to the right direction.”

For all the headwear the company has created, Whitaker says some stand out more than others, including a 2016 order for about 6,000 hats for a concert by country star George Strait. Whitaker said the company had a four-week deadline, and had to come up with all the art.

“They gave us some basic instructions, but they wanted to see eight to 10 designs, and we totally struck out the first time we presented,” Whitaker said. “They didn’t like it at all, and we said, ‘Give us one more chance, and we’ll go back to the drawing board.’ We didn’t sleep for about a day, redesigned everything and Phuoc came through like a hero and presented to them the next day, and they loved it.”

The company delivered the hats the day before Strait’s performance in Las Vegas.

“That was one of the most memorable we had,” Whitaker said. “It was both challenging and gratifying at the same time. You remember the losses more than you remember the wins, but this is a win we’ll never forget. It was a great day.”

Between building a booming company and spending time with family, Whitaker and Hetland also make time for local charities, such as the Children’s Cancer Fund and the Coaches Honor ministry.

Whitaker also serves on the board of Chemo Noir, a nonprofit organization which raises money to help in the fight against cancer. Kat Casey, founder and chairman of Chemo Noir, is a cancer survivor and longtime friend of Whitaker’s.

“Her story is incredible,” Whitaker said of Casey. “I know the way she approaches everything she does, which is 100 percent, so I wanted to be a part of it.”

A lot of DOME’s success is based on its quick turnaround and high-quality product. DOME can deliver orders, which requires a minimum order of 18 hats, within 30 days. Whitaker says DOME is on pace to sell 400,000 hats in 2017, and has done more than 1.5 million since the company began.

Despite its phenomenal growth, Whitaker says the company is always striving to accomplish more. Logos posted around the office read “Do Better,” a motto the company lives by.

“That’s pretty much what we try to do every day,” Whitaker said. “The most important thing for us is, every Monday, when we have a meeting, did we get better this week? We’ve grown from $500 in a living room at a wicker desk, to seven years later we’re in all 50 states and sold over a million and a half hats. We never imagined we’d be here.

“The sky is the limit,” Whitaker added. “We don’t know where we’re going, but it’s a pretty exciting journey to be on right now.”

For more information on DOME, visit www.domeheadwear.com.