For These Boots, A Campaign with Legs

An old brand and a ho-hum product, they were the challenges facing Washington Shoe -- until its president made some very sharp moves

When it comes to marketing, Corporate America bandies about big words and backs them up with bigger bucks. Meanwhile, small-business owners implement major marketing efforts on minute budgets. In this occasional look at marketing strategies, Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein details a small outfit's marketing strategy and runs those efforts by Chicago marketing executive Meg Goodman.

The Company: Washington Shoe Company.

The Entrepreneur: Rob Moehring, president

Background: Washington Shoe was established in 1891 in Seattle as a boot factory and has remained in the hands of the Moehring family through its entire existence. Rob Moehring worked for several years in sales and marketing and, in 1991, bought the firm from his father and uncle. Knowing that the times and demand for boots had changed, Moehring scrutinized the existing product line and launching a series of closely planned extensions.

The Challenge: In a market where there are so many choices, and where retail stores largely control shoppers' interactions with product, Washington Shoe needed to make itself stand out from the crowd, get people to notice their products, and give them a try.

The Solution: Control the customer's shopping experience, target specific audiences, and showcase new products. To begin with, Washington Shoe focused on its roots: work boots. Moehring identified his target customer as an entry-level worker who needed good work boots but didn't have a lot of money to spend on them. Next, Moehring extended his product line into rain boots and winter boots. Eventually, he expanded into ancillary products for children and accessories to go with kids' winter boots, such as slippers, hats, and bath robes. Children's products were customized with fun characters, creating items such as "frog boots" and "lady bug boots."

Washington Shoe built kiosk displays to put into stores, where all its related items could be featured together. By doing so, Moehring gained had more control over customers' shopping experience and was able to sell ancillary products along with its boots and shoes. Additionally, Moehring established an internal art department that dreams up new shoe designs, fresh displays, and innovative ways to present their products. "This has really been a key to our success," Moehring says. "It helps us move quickly and keeps our products fresh."

The Result: Washington's Western Chief brand boots and shoes can be found in large, well-known department stores nationwide. From sales of $800,000 in 1991 with two employees, the outfit has grown annual revenues to $10 million-plus and now employs 31.

The Expert Comments: "Washington Shoe really has a solid understanding of where its products fit in the scheme of things," says Meg Goodman. "They also understand that in today's marketplace they have to remain fresh and ahead of the curve. In addition, Rob's passion for his business is evident in his tone and his daily efforts to prepare for the future. This leadership can get a company almost anywhere when focused in the right way."

One key for the company: It isn't afraid to try new things and "go with what works, discarding what doesn't," Goodman notes. Like so many people with a passion for their work, Moehring's achievements at Washington Shoes have been remarkable. "However, as a marketer, I always want to see a plan that incorporates an integrated approach," adds Goodman. "They certainly have hit their stride in the retail arena. With the addition of just a little strategic direct marketing, PR, and promotions they can exponentially expand their reach."

Editor's note: If your marketing drive has put some runs on the board, here's your chance let us know all about send an e-mail to Karen E. Klein and tell us what you're doing. We will choose the most interesting submissions, interview the business owners, and have marketing expert Meg Goodman comment.

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