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Bouncing Back from Bankruptcy to Reinvent a Brand

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This story appears in the June 2012 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Most people associate J. Peterman with his Seinfeld character, the eccentric, peripatetic businessman played by actor John O'Hurley. The real J. Peterman, however, is Lexington, Ky., entrepreneur John Peterman, a former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman who founded his eponymous retail business in 1987 with a single item of clothing, the horseman's duster.

The J. Peterman Company and its fashion/lifestyle catalog (the "Owner's Manual") attracted well-heeled consumers and celebrities such as Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman and, of course, Jerry Seinfeld, who began parodying Peterman and his exuberant catalog copy on his show in 1995. Thanks to the exposure, investors lined up, and J. Peterman expanded, quickly opening 15 stores across the country. But cash flow never caught up. The business went bankrupt and was ultimately sold to Paul Harris Stores.

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