Last fall, former M. Gemi executives Eric Girouard and David Chernow debuted Brunt Workwear, a direct-to-consumer collection of work boots targeting everyone from electricians to warehouse workers.
Despite the fact that the business started amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and all its extenuating factors, including business closures, labor shortages and, more recently, a major supply chain crunch — the brand has had a quick takeoff.
After launching with four work boot styles, Brunt has since expanded the range with new versions of its most popular looks and it has added other product categories including socks and apparel. Execs say even more growth is on the horizon following a series A fundraising round that closed in mid-September and brought in $8.4 million.
Here, Girouard talks about how year one went.
What was the big lesson learned since launching Brunt?
Eric Girouard: “How fast this customer group was willing to adopt and try this, a new work boot brand in a category that is completely run by 100-year-old incumbents. That was the big question mark — how slow is the adoption trial going to be? And it is exceeding all of the expectations that we had.”
Why have customers gravitated to the brand so quickly?
EG: “We had a little bit of a tailwind from COVID, because our model lends itself [to the situation]. All of a sudden this customer base — which maybe was still going to stores but was already pretty digitally savvy — was pretty much forced to buy a lot of their stuff online. So there was a convenience factor of boots showing up to your house, you try them on, if they don’t work — free returns, free shipping, free exchanges. And there’s our value offering. Even though these were essential workers who were working when other people were laid off, they were more conscious of do I really want to spend $225 when I could spend $135 or $150 for a comparable boot from a quality perspective.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting out?
EG: “I’ve launched probably four to five different companies in different capacities, and you never know if you’re going to have the right product-market fit, especially with really technical safety work wear that’s ASTM rated. So we built the business lean out of the gate to ride out any of the challenges. But we were fortunate to get it right in the first swing. But it did create challenges because we sold out of product. Some of our marquee items sold out five times. But we’re finally to the point where we have a consistent flow of goods coming in on a monthly basis. And we just did a $8.4 million round of funding to help meet the demand from customers.”
What’s the best seller in the line?
EG: “Our Marin boot is what we’ve hung our hat on — this is the boot that sold out five times. It has a classic moc-toe wedge look to it, but most people have gravitated toward it because of the comfort. What we focus on first is comfort — and then the design and functionality. It’s insanely comfortable. A lot of our customers are working 10, 12 hours a day in it, but then they’re not taking it off on nights, weekends and sometimes buying a second pair.”
What’s on tap for year two and beyond?
EG: “We will not just be known as a boot business like a lot of the historical brands. We will be a head-to-toe work wear uniform business, from the safety footwear all the way up. Our work socks are out, our pants and our work hoodies are out, and you can bet there are going to be new items that are coming this fall and into the winter to complete the head to toe.”