Making a living, one bandana at a time

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It may sound too good to be true, but for 25 years and counting, St. Louis native and East Greenwich resident Bernard Rimmerman has made a living off of selling bandanas all over the state of Rhode Island with his brand BR Sportswear.

Rimmerman began his career as a salesman working at JC Penney part-time while he was a student at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. After six weeks on the job, he was called into the manager’s office for what he thought was going to be about something he did wrong. Instead, his manager told him that he was doing more in his time there than people that had been on the job for sixteen years and counting.

Soon after, he was moved around to different departments in the store to help boost sales. His manager eventually got him an interview at a Jacobson’s department store in Michigan where he was hired on the spot. With a young family and plenty of ambition, Rimmerman kept getting more responsibilities and more money at his job until he eventually relocated once again to Cleveland for better opportunities and a chance for growth since his then-employer refused to give him a promotion because he was so good at the job he was already doing.

In 1985, Rimmerman relocated to Rhode Island and commuted to Anderson-Little in Massachusetts, a clothing manufacturer and retailer that operated all over New England. As an outerwear buyer for over 400 stores, Rimmerman knew where to get jackets, coats and sweaters at the cheapest prices, so he would sell clothing on the side at flea markets during the weekends. Even though bandanas were not his specialty, Rimmerman said that he could always tell if he was going to have a good day of business based on how well the bandanas he had at his table would sell. They began selling so well that he took the plunge and moved into selling bandanas full-time.

With the original purpose of saving money to pay for his two sons to get through college, Rimmerman now sells bandanas because he enjoys the product, he knows where to get them and he really enjoys the interactions he has with his customers.

“Somebody said to me ‘when are you giving up?’ and I said ‘until I physically can’t do it,’ Rimmerman said. “As long as I can do it, I’m going to. I enjoy it. The people are nice and they I appreciate me and I appreciate them… I always tell my customers, buy what you feel comfortable with. I’m always just a phone call away.”

Today, both of Rimmerman’s sons are working professionals. His eldest is a political science professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York. His youngest is a cardiologist on special assignment with the Cleveland Clinic.

Most of Rimmerman’s clients have been acquired via word of mouth from satisfied customers and mainly consist of pet groomers and similar stores all around the state, though he also sells to individuals. All of his 300-plus designs and counting are made in the USA and he always makes a point to let his customers know that he provides fair prices, good service and no pressure during an interaction. He also doesn’t operate under any set business hours that allow him to be more flexible with buyers.

Rimmerman prides himself on is his very own list of 50 Ways to Use a Bandana that he has printed on all of his business cards and stationary. About 10 years ago, he compiled the list over the course of a few months to let potential buyers know that bandanas can be used for far more than just a sweatband or a scarf for pets. He said the most difficult entry for him to come up with was no. 23, an emergency diaper. He’s even had a customer use one of the designs he was selling as inspiration for one of their tattoos.

Rimmerman was inspired to come up with the list after a woman bought some bandanas from him at a convention so she could wrap her son’s birthday presents with them.

“When she left, I said to myself, ‘you know what, probably other people don’t know what to do with bandanas and this is a way of telling them.’”

Since he’s been doing it for so long, his designers sometimes use him as a sounding board to get his suggestions. As a trusted buyer he oftentimes gets designs immediately that many catalogs won’t have in their inventory until about six months after. Rimmerman himself uses a van that he has filled with containers of bandanas. His license plate even says BNDANA.

When all is said and done, Rimmerman said he would look back on his life positively since he has always made a point to work hard and enjoy what he is doing. He keeps active by walking around the mall every morning and stresses the importance of enjoying life.

“You’ve got to have a purpose and this is my purpose,” he said. “I keep plugging along and when my time comes, I’ll know I put forth the effort to enjoy the time I have.”

Rimmerman can be contacted at (401) 884-6752 or P.O. Box 322, East Greenwich, R.I., 02818.

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