Dr. Martens Gives the American Workboot an Edgy Makeover

Dr. Martens aims to connect to U.S. work customers with edgy performance looks — giving workboot footwear a touch of style. Here, the brand’s senior sales director Martin Meade shares his strategy and outlook on the category.

FN: Dr. Martens is best known as a lifestyle brand. Where does work fit into the overall business?
Martin Meade: We’ve had a work line for 25 years, but it hadn’t been a major focus. We saw an opportunity and started to rebuild [the category] about five years ago. I hired a separate team including a designer, product developer and product line manager. We then worked on product that is appropriate for the U.S. market, and also modernized the line by bringing in technologies to appeal to a younger worker who has grown up in sneakers and doesn’t want to break in a workboot.

FN: How are you catering to the U.S. customer?
MM: We have a U.S.-specific line with the performance features and desired styling of workers. For example, we’re stronger in the U.S. in heavy industry such as manufacturing and construction, whereas in the U.K., there’s more focus on light industry and service. We also have global styles that have some [elevated features] for the U.S. market, such as puncture-resistant plates in the outsoles.

dr martens work boots
Dr. Martens’ Calamus boot.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Dr. Martens.

FN: Who is the core Dr. Martens utility consumer?
MM: We don’t have an absolute target. Instead, we target industries. We categorize the business in three major buckets: service, heavy industrial and light industrial, with growth around jobs in distribution, warehousing and delivery. However, we think about what styles are going to appeal to a younger consumer who wants to be more rebellious and not wear his father’s boots. If he’s going out after work, he doesn’t have to change his shoes. He might be 40 and older, having worn Dr. Martens in his 20s.

FN: How important is the female customer to the work business today?
MM: It’s not a large percentage [of our business] at this point — about 5 percent — but it is a focus. We have styles on women’s-specific lasts, compared with most companies that just take down their men’s styles. We think it’s a segment people ignore. We have women who are friends of the brand, so we’re going to continue to focus on it.

FN: What are some of the most successful marketing techniques for the industrial category?
MM: We’ve discovered the customer isn’t affected by print, so we do some social media. But it’s really about word of mouth and a great sales team that’s focused on in-store marketing. When a consumer comes into a store to buy a workboot, the last 10 feet of the [approach] to the shoe wall is crucial. That’s where we focus our energies and resources to make a splash, with signage or a blowout of a shoe so they can see the details. We also invest in tech seminars with our retail customers to educate them about a shoe’s technologies and benefits.

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