The coronavirus pandemic is expected to reach new heights over the next several weeks, and more and more states are asking nonessential businesses to curtail operations.
However, for retailers carrying vital personal protective equipment such as safety footwear, their doors are open for business, albeit with uneven results.
Evan as businesses such Amazon, Walmart and Lowe’s add thousands of new employees to their teams who require safety footwear, retailers in the work boot business have reported a slowdown in sales. Many manufacturing plants have scaled back on staff, they noted, while those workers still on the job are uncertain about job security and are holding onto their money, .
“I think everyone is concerned where their next paycheck is going to come from,” said Alan Tenney, manager of Winterport Boot Shop in Brewer, Maine, about the recent slowdown in business. “We’ve cut back on our hours and are concerned about what’s going to happen in the future.” Although the store does business with hundreds of local industrial accounts, said Tenney, the majority of safety shoe sales are done through employee stipends that employers have place on hold.
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Like Winterport Boot Shop, Safety Shoes Plus in Mobile, Ala., has seen a dip in its work boot business, according to sales associate Elliot Williams. “A lot of these companies have kicked out their [outside] contractors working at the plants,” said Williams, about a diminishing workforce. However, he noted, if a chemical spill occurs, workers would need a new pair of boots.
At Harrison’s in Spartanburg, S.C., a five-store chain in the Carolinas, owner Kevin Harrison said while the store’s brick-and-mortar safety shoe business is down 50%, online boot sales are up 25%. Overall, though, the store is experiencing a net loss, with companion apparel sales slowing to a halt. “A lot of the large manufacturing plants in the area have shut down for a few weeks due to supply chain issues,” he said, and they are forced to furlough workers.
While job cuts in the manufacturing sector have contributed to slowing sales, retailers agree many consumers are simply unaware safety shoe stores are open for business. “The hard part is letting customers know our hours since they are always evolving,” said Tenney. “If they’re not on social media, they don’t know. It’s about communication with customers.”
Although jobs in heavy industry may be experiencing a decline, the uniform market remains a bright spot, according to Brent Jennings, VP of marketing for Warson Brands, which produces footwear under the Reebok, Iron Age, Rockport Works and Florsheim Work labels. While its overall occupation business is down, he said, “Business continues to be strong and healthy in a few categories, particularly duty, uniform and tactical due to the need of COVID-19 response from these workers.”
At Hoss Boot Company, which is also experiencing a decline in business, President Don Colbert said there’s been activity in the niche food sector. “We continue to do drop-shipments for our e-tailers and to some retailers who service food manufacturing with our slip-resistant products designed for that industry,” he said.
Despite an atmosphere of doom and gloom, Prasad Reddy, president and CEO of Twisted X Boots, remains optimistic. As retailers deplete their current work boot inventories, they’ll need to replenish their stock. According to Reddy, a major footwear chain specializing in work boots that pulled back on its weekly orders due to the coronavirus situation, has announced it is ready to start doing business again.
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