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The skill and strategy of branding at Bob Hilbert Sportswear

In 1972 at 23, Bob Hilbert opened his truck lettering and hand-painted sign business in Colebrookdale Township.

Demand for screen-printing, which was called silkscreen-printing then but eventually didn’t involve silk anymore, led to a change in the focus of his offerings. Eventually, the business became known as Bob Hilbert Sportswear.

Screen-printing, embroidery, promotional products and custom design of T-shirts are what keep Hilbert and his employees busy these days. The automotive racing industry, schools and diverse commercial accounts make up the bulk of the business.

“We have a full art department,” Hilbert said, noting that 95 percent of designs on apparel and promotional products are created by his graphics team, and customers are usually happy with the results. Sometimes, customers just want a light tweak to a design, such as the direction in which the end of a letter curves.

While visiting the Caribbean with his wife Anne Hilbert, who does accounting for the company, the two met business owners who had a need for branded and event-promotion apparel. So in 2000, Hilbert opened a sales office and showroom in Cole Bay on the island of St. Maarten to fill this need.

International sales fit in with the significant domestic reach of the company. After 45 years in business and with many local clients, Bob Hilbert Sportswear has had customers in about 75 percent of the U.S., including recent orders from a race track operating in Alaska.

KNOWING THE CUSTOMERS

Occasionally, designs are directly submitted by customers, but the in-house aspect of designs and the ability to have new ones made upon request is valuable to many customers, including Len Sammons.

Sammons is the publisher of Area Auto Racing News, a weekly racing newspaper which started in 1963, and the events promoter behind Len Sammons Motorsports Productions. Both businesses are based in Mercer County, N.J.

“They are racing-oriented and know who our customers are,” Sammons said of Hilbert designers. “Even with the many years we’ve been doing business, they have kept the designs fresh; the quality continues to improve and the price is always competitive.

“They have never missed a deadline no matter how long we’ve waited to order or approve a design.”

POWER OF PROMOTION

Scott Rothenberger is like a lot of business owners who see value in promotional products.

Rothenberger is owner and designer of Scott Rothenberger’s Place in Washington Township, Berks County. The business specializes in landscape design and construction, interior design and event planning.

T-shirts, hoodies and oversized magnets of his logo for vehicles as well as canvas totes are examples of what he orders.

For the canvas bags, Hilbert’s staff researched to find the size, style and construction of more durable, lengthy handles stitched in Rothenberger’s branding color of cobalt blue.

“I had hundreds printed and gave them out to clients and fans to use at their local grocery stores,” Rothenberger said.

CREATIVE CONTROL

Pens, heavy-duty party drinking cups, water bottles, Frisbees, cooler bags and drawstring backpacks are some other promotional products which are considerably popular.

And performance fabric with better heat retention in wintertime in shirts and pullovers is seeing more demand, too, Hilbert said.

“I like having the control of creating everything here,” he said.