If you’re looking for the best steel toe boots for your job, Timberland boot is a perfect choice. Based in Stratham, New Hampshire, Timberland sells footwear, apparel, and accessories through both retail and wholesale outlets, as well as its Web site, www.timberland.com.
The Timberland Co. got its start in 1952 and now employs about 6,300 workers. The company develops, markets, manufactures and distributes products globally, and operates 200 company-owned outlets. The firm also has 550 stores throughout the world, including shops in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Some of the brands distributed by the firm include Timberland, Timberland PRO, SmartWool, Timberland Boot Company, iPath, and Howies.
Timberland PRO sells work boots and footwear for working professionals who require protection and comfort on the job. S&H Distributor chatted with Bob McCarthy, a 17-year veteran of the footwear industry and Timberland’s senior manager of product marketing. (Editor’s Note: McCarthy recently left his position with Timberland.)
In his role overseeing the development of the Timberland PRO product line, McCarthy interacted and observed workers in various environments, conducted marketplace research and collaborated with safety managers, retail partners and the Timberland PRO design and development team.
In a previous position, McCarthy was the senior product manager and senior manager of field services for Timberland, spearheading various developmental training programs. Before Timberland, he worked for Nike in several positions around the country for seven years.
Know Better about Timberland
Solving Problems for the Workers
S&H Distributor: Is Your Firm a GlobalManufacturer?
BM: Timberland PRO is manufactured in Asia as well as in the Dominican Republic.
S&H Distributor: One industry analyst told us that Timberland is the new kid on the block in safety footwear, compared to Red Wing and some of the other established brands. How is Timberland developing its brand?
BM: I would say it’s good that competitors like Red Wing and Wolverine are there because they certainly push us. It’s much like in the old days when one could say that Adidas forced Nike to strive to be No. 1. Red Wing and Wolverine both have about 100 years’ head start on us, but certainly, we have grown into a very strong business. We are now third in market share and have spread into a variety of occupational end-uses, like the service industry. When you are thinking about wait staff and people who work in the kitchen as well, slip resistance is incredibly important. They struggle with the proper fit for shoes, and they need shoes that are repellent to a variety of cleaning agents and water.
We try to think of situations and wearing occasions where workers need specific types of footwear, and certainly, the service industry is one of them, and we’ve now gotten into that industry with the Timberland PRO BLACK Series.
We also have a line of boots called the Timberland PRO Valor Series that is ideally suited for law enforcement personnel and EMTs. With these introductions, we’ve moved from a work boot brand to the occupational brand of choice. Our compound annual growth rate is phenomenal, and it’s much, much faster than the industry is growing as a whole. So while I say that we are pleased with these metrics, I don’t think we are ever satisfied. We want to continue to draw inspiration from not only ourselves and the things that we learn in our own Invention Factory here, which is shared with the Timberland parent company, but we also make time and take pains to ensure that we engage in fruitful conversations with industry and trade and that we leverage the best technologies, materials, and approaches from other industries.
S&H Distributor: How do you see the U.S. safety footwear and work boot markets shaping up?
BM: Well, I see what everybody else sees. These are challenging economic times, and it’s going to take a while to climb out. But during tough economic times, you can take one of two tactics as a brand: One is to try to price things as inexpensively as possible, and try to cut your margins and well, for lack of a better word, cheapen your products.
I think the other approach, where Timberland PRO is much more focused, is putting an emphasis on quality. I think during tough times, if I were a betting guy, I would say workers and businesses look to quality and things that they can depend on. It doesn’t serve any useful purpose if you have to invest $100 in a pair of boots and find that they are falling apart two months into your job, and then you have to go ahead and replace those. In some industries, boots are a part of the overall uniform requirement, and they are partially subsidized by some manufacturers and other businesses, but in those cases, those subsidies are not being increased. If anything, organizations are scrutinizing those things, and those subsidies may very well be decreasing in the months ahead. So I think the quality is first and foremost.
Also, we make a concerted effort to understand, from the perspective of safety managers and employees themselves, what issues we can solve through design, aesthetics, and materials to improve the overall performance of the boot.
So for example, if I’m in discussions with officials at a large railroad operation, and I understand that they are experiencing both durability and cushioning problems and need nimble footwear for employees that are working on uneven and unstable surfaces, I’m going to focus our efforts on things like minimizing foot fatigue. I’d also consider incorporating elements in the soling of the shoes that will help to deflect shock and supportive devices within the construct of the boot that provides stability on uneven terrain.
These are the kinds of things that we learn from spending time out in the industry, really observing and talking with workers to best understand the environments in which they toil. The two biggest things that I could offer to your readers–Timberland PRO focuses on product quality and maintaining relationships with safety managers and consumers. This enables us to develop products that are designed for an occupational use and that can be truly problem-solving in what they deliver.
S&H Distributor: It sounds like Timberland PRO spends quite a bit of time observing how footwear performs in the workplace.
BM: A few years ago, we went through an evaluation process with a large rail company, visiting their second largest hub, and probably observing close to 200 workers over the course of the day. It was interesting observing these staffers in a very large facility, maybe 10 percent of the overall worker population, and seeing that every single person had blown thru the toe area in their work boots. Many of those workers were working either on cement flooring, which is harsh and hard on the knees, the lower back and the lower extremities. This is one of the leading causes of injury, whether you are looking at wholesale trade or transportation and warehousing, manufacturing, or even the construction sector.
We also noticed that there were a large number of staffers working on, for want of a better phrase, oversize cheese graters. The metal flooring in this facility was very sharp, very caustic in nature, and really could chew apart boots, on the sole as well as in the upper parts of the boots. So we started to take taking these things into consideration, we created and tested prototypes–a couple of different iterations of them–and came out with a new boot in a couple of different heights. It features high abrasion-resistant materials, like Timberland PRO Ever-Guard Leather. And we bumped up the thickness of the rubber in appropriate locations that make contact with the ground in a kneeling position.
We incorporated other features, including a solid rubber sole that offers good resistance but also featured an independent suspension like a system within the construct of the soling so that as consumers walk on uneven surfaces, it absorbs the shape of the terrain and then releases.
So we started to think, well, we are solving problems for these workers because we are getting inspiration from and testing with them, but we can also take this design/investigation to broader applications and other target markets and consumers. And that often is our approach; some of our product is more niche-oriented. But here was an example of a process that solved several needs and that certainly crossed a wide variety of jobs.
The Younger Consumers are Facing Limited Choices
S&H Distributor: Regarding OSHA’s recent standard calling for employers to pay for PPE–is that standard going to have an impact on work boot manufacturers or purchases of safety footwear?
BM: From what I recall, when I first saw that, the thing that stuck in my mind was metatarsal protection because there are some industries that require protection that extends beyond the toe cap. So, if there’s a toe safety requirement as well as a metatarsal protective requirement, in those cases, employers, I believe, will be mandated to make those purchases for their employees. But in many of those industries, employers will do something to help defray the cost of those shoes anyway, because shoes are really like tools. You think about the canning industries and glass factories, and other operations where there’s the potential for large heavy objects to fall potentially on one’s foot and cause what could be a career-ending injury. You know that’s risky to start with, and so I think a lot of employers in good conscience are already helping out in that regard, so I’m not sure that that’s going to change things dramatically. It’s not necessarily, from what I recall reading, affecting the broader market, which is the basic protective toe cap market.
S&H Distributor: Do you see any unique market developments?
BM: Something that I think is fun and compelling is the fact that we are looking at new consumers, and if you think about the infusion, potentially, of younger consumers into the work marketplace, that’s an exciting opportunity. But what’s happening right now is that in many cases they are under-served.
You look at a lot of the major urban centers, and you see what these young workers have in their closets and what they are wearing. It’s Chuck Taylors, or Vans, or DC or Globe. Some of these brands you may not have heard of. But often these lifestyle-oriented shoes would be their preference if they were entering, let’s say the warehousing industry, and they were getting a job at a distribution center or a packaging center. But there are no shoes in that style out there that meet the protection and durability qualities required on the job site. So they have to gravitate then towards if you’ll pardon the expression, “their father’s boot.” They’d have to gravitate towards a work boot. Or maybe a [hiking] chunky style that otherwise would not be their first choice. In many ways, the younger consumers are facing limited choices.
To that end, this season we are launching a line of shoes called the Bridge Series. The idea: we are trying to bridge that gap between consumer’s lifestyle choices and what’s required from a work perspective. So we have shoes that’ll be reminiscent of these different lifestyle-type shoes, whether they are related to more of a skate profile or more of a court-type profile, meaning they can be worn from work straight out with friends. With the Bridge Series, we’ll dial up the work attributes so the new footwear will have things like steel-toe protection; they’ll have rubber toes that overlay in some cases the steel toe for added durability.
Think about kids that might be kicking pallets in a distribution center, for example. The compound used in the outsole will have oil and fuel resistance. The outsole, regarding its pattern, will have multiple leading edges to create a high coefficient of friction and therefore slip-resistant properties which will be important for those who are working on either cement or epoxy floors. We’ll make sure that there are also design cues and colors that make these shoes aesthetically pleasing to those consumers, so that when they buy these shoes, they are going to find little elements of discovery, little cool logo applications, or design cues that make them unique. This new series will have an element of “cool” to them. This is really about catering to an under-served consumer.
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