While many retailers look to the digital realm for sales growth, Red Wing Shoe Company continues to bank on a high-touch, brick-and-mortar experience. Nearly all its sales of high-quality footwear for tradespeople take place in stores with associates providing individual attention to each customer. Operating this way for seven decades, Red Wing has no plans to alter that model, but technology does present opportunities to refine and support the customer experience.
Marisa Kinney, senior director of global retail for Red Wing, evaluates new technology options, and when one serves the company’s strategy, develops a plan to implement it. A new, high-tech fitting station uses 3-D mapping technology to create an image of your feet and a stride analysis to determine the best fit possible with recommended footwear meeting the job requirements. The technology, called “the Ultimate Fit Experience,” improves how stores measure feet over the previous two-dimensional measurement process.
“We have Red Wing Ultimate Fit Specialists at each store to help you every step of the way,” Kinney explains. “We share these results instantly through email and walk you through our key products and services in our care and repair center to keep your boots lasting for the future of fit.” The clientele—tradespeople who are on their feet all day—values the durability, safety features, and comfort of the products. When you have the advantage of a well-loved product line and trusted brand, providing a customized buying experience boosts brand loyalty even further. That is a guiding principle for Kinney’s store design work.
“Marisa’s persistence, focus on the customer, and ability to make things happen has turned her into a champion,” says Tom Buxton, CEO and founder of customer intelligence company Buxton. “She should be proud of her work, the people she’s built up, and the success she has inspired at Red Wing. All of us at Buxton are.”
While many footwear brands are selling more and more in a less personal digital space, Red Wing enhanced its tried-and-true sales model. “We want to build relationships and be known as the local boot guy,” Kinney says. “It’s the store experience, care, and service that sets us apart.”
The standardized design of Red Wing stores across its 700 locations around the world is guided by customers’ perceptions through the buying experience. Most stores are about 2,000 square feet in size, half of which is the showroom, with the back dedicated to back-of-house operations, including inventory storage. As the customer enters the store, they likely will notice a “Hero Table” within a few strides. This showcase displays the featured seasonal product in a can’t-miss location. After noting that display, the customer will see the “wall of expectation,” which includes a large image of the company’s logo, a single red wing, on the back wall of the showroom.
A typical visit begins with an associate greeting the customer near the entrance and guiding a conversation to understand their line of work and the appropriate footwear requirements. Next, the representative leads the customer to the new fitting station along a side wall, where precise foot measurements pinpoint the best sizes for the customer. Inviting them to then sit in a comfortably appointed fitting area with leather chairs made from the same material used in Red Wing boots allows for a personalized fit service.
This serves as a key aspect of the buying experience, because Red Wing’s models are targeted distinctly for different trades. A concrete worker needs a flat sole, for example, while an electrician needs antistatic boots. “We understand their line of work,” Kinney explains. “They are shopping with us based on an informed relationship.”
The retail showroom has an industrial vibe, with open ceilings and a polished concrete floor. This is a nod to the vocations of the clientele, some of whom may have installed the flooring, lighting, and HVAC at the store or similar retail sites in the area. Yet, the fitting area, defined on the floor by a sturdy rug, lends itself to conversation between associates and customers.
“We understand the importance of the digital world, but also the beauty in personal relationships. Because of this, we offer online buying options for other brands in our portfolio like Irish Setter, Vasque, and Heritage products,” Kinney says. The flagship Red Wing brand of work boots—requiring personal consultation and in-person fitting for best results—are sold only in stores, an innovative channel, and in Red Wing mobile shoe trucks that make their way onto the jobsite.
Like vehicles that drive to a jobsite offering workers meals, drinks, and snacks, Red Wing’s fleet of more than 100 trucks has been customized to take the retail store boot-buying experience to the workplace. Associates drive the mobile retail site to a parking lot and gather workers together to fit and select appropriate boots on-site. “We want to provide a brand experience similar to that of a store,” Kinney says.
As other retailers cut back on their brick-and-mortar presence, Red Wing continues expanding. It may increase its 700 locations to 1,000 over the next few years, Kinney says. Her team supports growth by providing real estate and design specifications and the construction and outfitting stores of both its corporate-owned locations and those of its dealer network. The aim is to provide the same consistent brand experience at all Red Wing shoe store locations, she emphasizes.
Her most pressing challenge to support this growth is rising costs in construction materials and labor. The chief tool to countermand cost spikes is value engineering, Kinney says. The team looking at items like fixtures, paint schemes, flooring, and finishes for ways to trim costs. Areas not directly supporting the customer experience, such as storage areas and bathrooms, also are fair game for cost squeezing.
It’s a challenging environment, but Red Wing’s long-earned reputation with customers will help it continue to grow even amid economic headwinds. By supporting a successful, venerable sales strategy with design tweaks and new technology when appropriate, Kinney is well-positioned to help fuel Red Wing’s expansion.