According to industry sources, it is nontraditional boot customers that are demanding comfort features in the best steel toe boots they buy rather than the cowboys. “We find core markets tend to be a little bit skeptical of these things, but the non-core market thinks it’s wonderful,” said Frank Scivetti, vice president of sales and marketing for Justin Boot Co., Fort Worth, about the introduction of Justin’s comfort-oriented boots.
According to Scivetti, men who have been wearing boots all their lives have definite ideas about how they should look and feel and do not consider comfort boots the real thing. In addition, many stores in the Southwest catering to traditional boot customers are “help-yourself stores where new issues are harder to get across. Retailers are slower to try it. It’s more work for them.”
Even though getting the comforting message across is challenging at times, Justin plans to continue offering comfort items like its soft leather Wellington style boot with a cushioned insole and rubber outsole. “It’s pure comfort,” said Scivetti. “We’ve done well with it, but Western retailers have to fight to get customers to try it. But they like it once they do. As time goes on, more of traditional boot wearers will appreciate the features.”
“We saw consumer preferences changing because comfort is a key issue not just in footwear, but apparel as well,” said Bill Whitlock, vice president of marketing for Acme Boot Co., Clarksville, Tenn., about the company’s decision to add comfort features to its line. “We saw comfort as a very important reason why a consumer made his buying decision.”
Casual boot wearers are Acme’s target audience, according to Whitlock, since traditional boot customers believe that in order for boots to be “masculine and macho,” a painful breaking-in process is necessary. But, he added, “We feel strongly that traditional boot wearers, as well as casual boot wearers, are concerned about comfort, as is the general population.”
In 1987 the company incorporated phase one of its comfort program in its better-priced Dan Post brand. Features included Poron and Cambrelle insoles and soft flex outsoles. A year later, phase two brought another Poron layer and Sorbothane heel pad. Since then, Acme has incorporated the same phase-one features into its Acme and Dingo brands, with Dingo also featuring a patented CP sole created from dual-density rubber. All three brands have the Seal of Acceptance from the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).
Larry Mahan Boot Co., El Paso, Texas, has also found that loyal boot wearers are more concerned with quality and authenticity rather than comfort, said Ben Miller, executive vice president of marketing. In handcrafted boots like those made by Larry Mahan, it is difficult to pad the bottoms, according to Miller. When cushioned insoles are used, these materials often do not wear as well as traditional linings. Instead, the company is concentrating on boots with good arch support in soft, supple leathers with soft linings.
Comfort is An Important Issue
Comfort is an important issue, agrees Rick Kennamer, marketing, and merchandising director for Laredo & Code West Boots, Nashville. For those kids who wear fashion footwear with pointed toes, comfort is not a concern, he said. But there is a new consumer in the marketplace that has worn athletic footwear and considers comfort a key element. “Our goal is for this consumer to pull off athletic shoes and slip on Code West boots and never know he took off his athletic shoes.”
Comfort features Laredo has introduced in both its adult and children’s lines include its 421 outsoles, a lightweight blown polyurethane sole that the company has officially registered.
Code West will use insoles with memory and moisture-wicking capabilities usually found in athletic shoes. Cork bottom fillers will add flexibility to outsoles, said Kennamer. Boots will also feature softer doubling materials that add substance to the softer leathers the company is now using in its boots.
Nocona Boot Co. Inc., Nocona, Texas, expects to offer comfort features in 20 percent of its line, according to Sam McConnell, vice president of sales and marketing, with the bulk of the business in the men’s area. Nocona is using Poron 4000 insoles with leather linings that increase moisture absorbency. McConnell added that this year, “We need to improve leather outsoles where they’re more comfortable and longer lasting.”
For Tony Lama Co. Inc., El Paso, Texas, it is the “urbanites instead of the cowboys” that the company is aiming its comfort line at, said Armando Romero, vice president of marketing. Since the company has experienced the greatest growth in metropolitan areas, comfort became an important issue. “They’re meant for people who walk on hard surfaces or stand,” said Romero.
Tony Lama has been working with podiatrists for the past year and a half in developing its collection of men’s comfort boots under the Lama Lites label. The roper style boots have cushioned insoles and skid-resistant one-piece unit bottoms that conform to the base of the boot, slightly angling at the arch. They also have a metal shank, a suggestion made by podiatrists working on the line.
Since the concept was so new to Tony Lama, the company sent 50 samples to dealers around the country in order to get initial reactions, and so far, said Romero, the response has been positive.
According to Gary Summarrell, executive vice president of sales and marketing for America’s Bootmaker, Lebanon, Tenn., last October the company introduced its Magic-Flex series of boots for men under its Texas Brand label.
The cement construction boots feature leather shoe portions and man-made shafts. Shock foam insoles are covered with Cambrelle, and soles are made of expanded PVC for a soft, cushiony feel.
This year, the company will expand its Magic-Flex series with the addition of Goodyear welt construction boots in all-leather with leather soles. They will have two layers of shock foam under the Cambrelle-covered insole and have an additional layer of shock foam at the heel.
“The athletic people have created a whole generation of people wearing comfort footwear,” said Glen Bratcher, product manager for Durango Boot Co., Franklin, Tenn. Even though Durango is a Western boot company, he added, it can still offer consumers comfort features in its products.
To acquaint the public with the line’s comfort features like cushioned insole covered with Cambrelle and taped side seams in the shaft, Durango puts boot collars on each pair, describing the genuine welt construction and reinforced heel slips. “It’s not a sales gimmick,” said Bratcher. “This is our silent salesman.”
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