From hobby to $200 million in sales, one company prospers by advertising.


I’ve noticed that magazines of all stripes, including ASSEMBLY, have become thinner lately. That’s a shame. I know marketing budgets are tight, but I hate to see print advertising get short shrift-and not just because of mere self-interest. The fact is, advertising works.

Let me tell you the story of Norm Thompson Outfitters, a privately owned catalog and Internet retailer based in Hillsboro, OR. The company was founded by Norman Anchor Thompson Sr. in 1949 as a way to sell his homemade, hand-tied flies for fly-fishing. He started out as a mail-order business by placing an advertisement inField & Stream.

An immigrant from Britain, he settled in Salt Lake City before fighting for Canada in World War I. After the war he lived briefly in Los Angeles before settling in Portland, where he owned seven pipe shops and later two nightclubs. He handed the firm over to Peter Alport, his son-in-law, in 1950. Alport expanded the company’s product offerings beyond fly-fishing items and into clothing and other outdoor merchandise. In 1959, the company opened its first retail store in northwest Portland.

The firm grew to annual sales of $200 million before it was sold to Golden Gate Capital Partners in 2006. Namesake Norm Thompson died in 1968 from complications related to his exposure to mustard gas during the war.

Today, the 500-employee company sells clothing, gadgets, furniture, kitchen items, and gift items from its namesake catalog as well as from its Solutions and Sahalie brands. The Internet is grand, but for companies large and small, never underestimate the power of advertising in a well-respected and well-read magazine!