Style top factors in work shoe sales

Comfort, style top factors in work shoe sales

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NEW YORK – Comfort features and style are what drives footwear sales these days, even for practical work and safety shoes.

While price is a major player in the sales game, it is technology and good looks that will win the initial sale, and comfort features are being put into work shoes at a record pace.

In fact, a demand for comfortable work shoes may have contributed to the increase in production of men’s work shoes by 288,000 pairs for the second quarter of 1991 as compared to the first quarter.

Once purchased, successful comfort performance in a shoe will determine the repeat sale, according to resources.

New comfort products at Wolverine World Wide, Rockford, Mich., has brought better-than-anticipated sales this year, said Ted Gedra, national sales manager. Wolverine sells to chains and upscale discounters, said Gedra, and has been aggressive with co-op programs for its regular retailers.

Lake of the Woods, Prentice, Wisc., also supports co-op advertising, as well as local television commercials. A 30-percent increase in sales this year for the firm goes hand-in-hand with the its “diverse network of distribution,” said Jerry Hess, vice president and general manager. He touted comfort features in athletic-styled footwear.

When it comes to effective marketing, “Comfort technology is what sells the boot and what makes the customer come back,” said Dave Mitchell, vice president of product development at Georgia Boot Inc., Franklin, Tenn.

Georgia Boot’s divisions – Georgia Boot, Durango, and North Lake – target specific sectors of the work shoe market, including farm and ranch, and feature the firm’s new Comfort Core Insole technology. “The Comfort Core technology did not come cheap,” noted Mitchell. But a higher price tag is not a deterrant to consumers because the comfort is sought, he said.” Our major sales have been in Comfort Core,” confirmed Mitchell.

Mitchell also believes athletic styling has greatly influenced the work and safety shoe market. Georgia Industrial Footwear offers athletic styles in men’s and women’s slip-resistant safety-toe shoes. In fact, athletic-styled duty shoes are worn by workers at Opryland amusement park where Georgia is the official footwear brand.

Georgia markets its products through a sales force and contacts with restaurant and hotel chains – “a huge market,” related Jerry Cohn, president.

With its recent introduction of Comfort Core, and of the Sure Grip line, introduced a year-and-a-half ago for hospital and restaurant workers, Georgia’s overall price increase has been 3 percent over last year.


There is a small percentage of work shoe sales that go towards fashion purchases, according to Jerry Werman, president of Jerryco Footwear Inc., Island Park, N.Y. Werman noted lace-up styles on “psuedo-athletic uppers” have “almost become a cult thing.” He said 10-15 percent of his firm’s sales go to customers who buy for fashion purposes.

Although Jerryco does most of it’s advertising in Europe, said Werman, it is presently preparing a direct mail catalog for industrial factories here. For the last 6-8 months it has been marketing in Europe, and recently showes at Dusseldorf and London trade shows.

Jerryco, which did all its production in Korea until six months ago, now handles 25 percent of total manufacturing domestically.

Carolina Shoe Co., Morganton, N.C., also is realizing the importance of comfort features and has just started to include them in safety-toe footwear. Charles Horton, sales manager, said the firm does not use catalogs for marketing but sticks to the same avenues of distribution – through wholesalers and distributors – it has used in the past

Richard Shoe Co., Womelsdorf, Pa., does not put out consumer catalogs, but utilizes its 28 salespeople on the road. John Lebo, sales manager, described athletic styles as popular, and said the firm just introduced new toe shapes in Western safety-toe boots.

Results of consumer focus groups have lead Dunham, Brattleboro, Vt., away from traditional work-boot styles and toward hiking styles, said Mike Coogan, vice president of merchandise, marketing and product development.

Dunham plans on introducing a steel-toe hiker next spring. The firm sells through independent retailers, catalogs, and specialty distributors.

Reebok International Ltd., Stoughton, Mass., is presently researching the nursing market, said Jennifer Lawrence, brand manager for walking.

Lawrence said that although the comfort technology has drawn in nurses as customers, the firm does not plan on selling the shoes in uniform shops.

PHOTO : Safety-toe styles, from top: Lake of the Woods, Prentice, Wis.; Dickies, Import Systems International, New York; Caterpillar, Jerryco Footwear Inc., Island Park, N.Y.

PHOTO : An Eastland kiltie-style nursing shoe


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