Increasingly, today’s workboot business is being impacted by a continuing shift in trade job opportunities and the scramble by companies to find younger workers interested in pursuing these careers.
Brands such as Carhartt are navigating this space by keeping an eye on the new opportunities in this market segment from the footwear news of workers employed Amazon warehouse facilities to those in manufacturing plants in the South.
Here, Rob Mills, president of Black Diamond Group and Carhartt Footwear talks about connecting with consumers to build a better workboot.
1 . Which industries offer the most opportunity for workboot brands today?
“Different regions of the country support vastly different industries requiring [specific] safety specifications, so we watch the trends and waves of employment. In particular, e-ommerce has changed the world of retail, with product [stored] in warehouses. Amazon warehouses are popping up all over, with as many as 3,000 [employees]. It breaks down these facilities based on the type of product. One in Columbus, Ohio, doesn’t ship anything bigger than an envelope, so employees wear athletic shoes. Others ship refrigerators and couches, so workers need heavier-duty workboots.”
2. How closely do you work with industry leaders to develop product to meet workers’ needs?
“We’re very involved with the end user community and the businesses where they work. For example, feedback is gathered through job site visits, joint meetings with retail accounts and communicating with the Carhartt Crew — 6,000 members who do testing and field studies in the boots and share their [thoughts] to help shape future product development. I recently came back from a visit to a manufacturing plant in the South, where I dug deep into what workers were looking for. I took the information back to our [team] to put together a product brief, then feached out to Carhartt Crew members for their [reaction].”
3. Certain trades have a shortage of workers today. How can boot brands encourage participation in these fields?
“Before the younger generation can be lured into the trades, they must be educated on the opportunities these jobs provide and what skills are needed. We can support this through resources like social media or sponsoring organizations such as Future Farmers of America and SkillsUSA, a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to provide quality educational experiences.”
4. What is the younger generation looking for in work footwear?
“They’re more educated and selective about what fits their needs [than older customers]. The economy has been good for a lot of people who now have more expendable income. They’re investing in what they wear, including their workboots. When developing any product, our focus starts with comfort and durability. Price is a consideration, but we’re always looking for new performance materials and manufacturing efficiencies to create a better value. We never build a product to hit a price.”
5. Over the next decade, what will be the key challenges and opportunities for workboot labels?
“It’s diffcult to predict. However, if you pull back regulations and make it more conducive for [companies] to manufacture in the [U.S.], it will come back. If taxes are lower, that’s also an incentive to build a factory. They go hand in hand. The opportunity is the stability of the workboot industry since it doesn’t experience the highs and lows of fashion [trends].”
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