Race car driver Matt Hagan has been wearing Rocky Boots since he was 9 years old. The now-32-year-old told Footwear News he was wearing Rocky gear when he climbed a tree stand to hunt deer for the first time. Today, the brand’s logo is splashed on the hood of his championship-winning Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car.
Hagan began working with Nelsonville, Ohio-based Rocky Boots in 2012, when the brand went looking for a new NHRA drag-racing team to sponsor. It eventually inked a deal with Don Schumacher Racing, owner of Hagan’s team, and found a natural synergy with the driver.
“We picked Matt because he was the perfect brand ambassador,” said Jordan Gottke, marketing director for Rocky and sister label Georgia Boot. “A lot of times, you get affiliated with a driver and he’s not really on brand. [But Matt’s] a hunter, he wears our gear, he has a farm, he works on cars — he’s the perfect fit.”
The partnership has quickly moved beyond the typical sports sponsorship into a retail business. Matt Hagan Outdoors, launched in November 2013, is a one-stop shop for Rocky product. Located in Radford, Va., the store was developed with the help and resources of Hagan’s father, David, who owns real estate in the area.
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“We wanted to show that we can do something outside the racetrack to help this brand and grow this relationship we have together,” Matt Hagan told FN. “We had a strip mall that was just sitting there empty, and it was one of those circumstances where it was a great idea to open an outdoor-wear store. And having Rocky as a sponsor — it fit really well.”
Hagan’s car exploded during a 2012 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Watch it here.
In its first year, Matt Hagan Outdoors performed well enough to warrant a relocation to a space nearly double in size — 10,000 square feet.
“All I can see is us growing at this point,” said manager Karri Whitt. She noted that there has been an increase in sales since the move to the new space because of its proximity to a busy state route. Added Hagan: “Traffic flow is phenomenal. Location is key. We … saw a big difference.”
In addition to Rocky Boots and Georgia Boot, the retailer sells work and outdoor shoes from brands like Durango, Ariat and Merrell. Work-related product represents about 28 percent of total shoe sales. The store also sells apparel, firearms, archery products and fishing gear.
Gottke said Matt Hagan Outdoors is not “your typical retail account” but more of a “brand builder” and is considered a top account for Rocky.
Jason Brooks, president of sales for the brand, noted that Rocky’s total sales at the store rose 28 percent in 2014 over the previous year.
According to Gottke, one reason brands get involved with racing is fan loyalty. “When you align with a team or a driver, you get their legion of followers, who in turn buy your product,” he said. “We already know these people are big-time blue-collar workers, so we’re hoping our affiliation with Matt will lead them to buy Rocky Boots. For the most part, that’s been the case so far.”
Indeed, racing fans flock to the store, visiting what Whitt and her team call “Matt’s Fan Area,” where guests can take photos with his car, trophies and old uniform. “Matt’s almost like a god when you go to that city. It’s unreal when you go into the store,” Gottke said.
Hagan credits the store’s success to its management and staff. Between working on his 1,100-acre cattle farm and traveling for races, he can’t oversee the business’ day-to-day operations but is very involved in the marketing side, appearing at events such as the store’s yearend championship celebration party.
Hagan, who talked to FN while riding his tractor, noted that he’s humbled to see his relationship with Rocky come full circle. “It’s a neat situation for me to represent the brand that I’ve been loyal to myself for so many years,” he said.