Comfort and practicality are two of the secrets behind the success of a local footwear manufacturer, as Julie-anne Sprague reports.
LOCAL footwear developer and manufacturer Footwear Industries has solved a problem faced by thousands of people worldwide, and become a marketer’s dream in the process.
The 2003 Telstra Western Australian Small Business of the Year winner has developed a niche in the form of premium quality safety footwear that comes with a comfort guarantee.
Footwear Industries, formed in 1995, emerged as the result of research by its founding directors, who discovered that many miners and tradesman wore shoes they found extremely uncomfortable.
On the basis of this research the directors set about designing, manufacturing and marketing comfort safety shoes. Three products resulted – Steel Blue, Howler and Krushers, which are sold in 10 countries around the world.
The company expects to sell 350,000 pairs of safety boots this year.
According to Footwear Industries marketing and export manager Peter Nichols, the company uses a 30-day money-back guarantee offer to reduce purchase risk and has recently had the product tested with the Shoe and Allied Trade Research Association, which allows it to advertise with added credibility.
“We had our shoes tested with SATRA. They are a testing house based in the UK and they have a comfort index test. Sports shoes rate the highest and we rated the same as a high-performance sports shoe,” Mr Nichols said.
“It’s a scientific test that cuts through the advertising and it has been independently tested; you can’t buy a rating.
“Since we had them tested and publicised it, sales have increased 40 per cent.”
He said because the company’s product was a more expensive offering it was important to reduce the purchase risk.
“The product is about 30 to 40 per cent more expensive than others on the market so we decided to put on a 30-day money-back offer on the shoes,” Mr Nichols said.
“If they’re not 100 per cent happy with them they can return them and get a full refund. That’s a good form of marketing for us because we’re prepared to guarantee them.”
After Footwear Industries had designed its first product, the Steel Blue premium comfort safety shoe, it was a matter of convincing the safety officers working on mine sites, he said.
“Often the boss says ‘I’ve got to buy these boots because I’m required to by law, but it doesn’t add value to what we’re doing so I’ll buy the cheapest product’,” Mr Nichols said.
“We had to go to the big mining companies and speak to the safety officers and ask them if they had workers with problem feet who we could put in our Steel Blue boots.
“They were thrilled with the them. And then they purchased more. We had feedback saying that in some cases productivity had lifted since they bought the boots.”
The success of its first product, Steel Blue, prompted the company to offer a cheaper version called Howler.
Mr Nichols said using Australian outback terms was the result of its core market.
“Steel Blue we liked because steel was strong and sturdy and blue represents the blue heeler. It’s a strong brand and yeah, it’s blokey, but that’s our target market; it’s the guys on the mine sites or construction site,” he said.
“The other brand names are Australian towns. We wanted to have an Australian feel without having a kangaroo.
“Howler was a brand we could have fun with and its logo is a dog howling at the moon.”
The third brand, Krushers, was designed to appeal to the Asian market.
“What we’ve found with the Asian market is that they aren’t that good with marketing. We’ve gone out sold the benefits of our product and we give the guarantee. Asian producers are very reluctant to do that,” Mr Nichols said.
“We have bright orange boxes that work really well. We have a big footprint on the box and it cuts through.”
The company has established a factory in Jakarta in order to price its product competitively in Asia, however it operates a factory in Malaga where it produces Steel Blue and Howler boots.
“Products that are imported into Asia carry a 30 per cent import duty,” Mr Nichols said.
Back in 1995 Footwear Industries’ marketing budget was less than 1 per cent of its annual turnover, and that figure hasn’t moved too far with approximately 2 per cent of revenue spent on marketing its products now.
“We’ve tended to put the money into research and development to create new products,” Mr Nichols said.
However, the company is branching out and utilising a wider variety of media, including regional television campaigns and trade magazine ads, which are helping build its market share across the country.
“We advertised on regional Queensland television and that was really successful. It lifted our sales by 30 per cent over three months. We’re now looking at advertising in New South Wales,” Mr Nichols said.