How Outdoor Shoe Brand Keen Is Establishing Itself in the Workboot World

Keen is hammering away at the workboot market.

Since launching its Utility division in 2010, the Portland, Ore.-based company has seen 30 percent year-on-year growth for the category, according to GM Chris Heffernan. Work looks, he noted, account for roughly 25 percent of sales for the brand.

Keen Performance Category
Keen performance category.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

And Heffernan said there are even more growth opportunities in this product segment, especially for styles produced in Keen’s U.S. factory. At the moment, about 20 percent of its work looks are sourced domestically.

“Our consumer responds to and appreciates what we’re doing. And it’s an advantage to have product made locally that’s ready to go,” he said. “But we have to do a better job of letting [consumers] know about products made here and pump up that message.”

Up to now, the brand has relied on PR and point-of-sale efforts to promote the work product, but it will increase marketing in 2017. Heffernan noted that grassroots initiatives, such as construction site visits and contests, will be part of the campaign. Keen’s work collection retails from $130 to $240. Among its key styles are hiking styles and sneaker-influenced shoes for men and women, with increased demand for lightweight composite toes.

Keen Performance Category
Inside Keen’s Utility factory in Oregon.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

Although the brand is a relative newcomer in the work arena, it has gained shelf space in major outdoor stores such as Cabela’s and Gander Mountain, as well as specialty chains including Whistle Workwear and Work ’N Gear.

“It’s not as much of a challenge to compete,” said Heffernan, who attributed that progress, in large part, to positive word of mouth.

In addition, Keen has seen healthy crossover from its outdoor business. “We’re finding a lot of [workers] have a Keen hiking shoe and know how comfortable it is, which has helped us tremendously,” said Heffernan, citing features such as the brand’s signature anatomical last that offers a generous fit. Conversely, he noted, many of the new workboot customers are now buying its outdoor products.

Keen Performance Category
Inside Keen’s Utility factory in Oregon.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

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