Business Focus: Red Wing Shoes

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A Conroe store linked with the name of a Sioux chief is helping workers and outdoor recreationists stay on their feet safely and comfortably. Tom Spirawk, manager of Red Wing Shoe Store, 2105 D West Davis Street, is passionate about the products and services Red Wing provides. “Like the sign on the window says, ‘Work is our work.’” The bulk of the store’s customers are workers employed in construction, electrical installations, oilfield services, petrochemical plants, agriculture, and manufacturing operations—jobs in which the workers are on their feet much (if not all) of the time. “Twelve-hour days are not uncommon,” he says, and emphasizes that the feet of his customers are exposed to injuries from contact with heavy objects, chemicals, acids, and electrical lines.

Red Wing Shoes, says Spirawk, helps protect against those injuries. Signature elements of the Red Wing product line are triple stitched seams, welt construction, and quality leather. Before the footwear is distributed to stores, it undergoes rigorous testing for strength, durability, resistance to impact, and waterproofing.

The steel toe, available in a variety of boot and shoe configurations, is the store’s biggest seller, Spirawk says, and is especially popular with oilfield personnel. Different toes made of composite materials can reduce accumulation of static electricity and insulate against electrical shock. Spirawk also notes Red Wing makes 60 percent of its shoes in America and uses only the best of leather skins in fashioning its products.

Spirawk and sales associate Stephanie Videll say first-time customers, especially the younger ones, are usually surprised by the level of service they receive at the store. “They’re not used to it. They’re used to going into a store and trying on shoes by themselves until they finally find a pair that seems to fit,” Spirawk says. “We spend time with the customer, help them through the process. It’s like a revelation to them.”

In addition to their experience in counseling customers about selecting the right size and fit of a boot or shoe, Spirawk and Videll can also use the Aetrex iStep® Foot Scanning Technology to reveal foot size, arch type, and pressure points. Customers stand on a scanning device for 30 seconds, and then they see a graphic display of their feet, along with recommendations for a proper fitting boot or shoe. “You buy not for size, but for fit,” Spirawk says.

Before he got into the shoe business, Spirawk tried his hand at many things. He left his home in New York at age 19 to come to Texas because he was dissatisfied with NY politics. He had friends in southeast Texas, and found work in residential construction and restaurants. Then, in the mid 1990s, he agreed to help a friend with a Red Wing Shoes store in Baytown. “One thing led to another,” he says, “and I became store manager.” Spirawk stayed in Baytown until April 1, 2007, when he opened his Red Wing store at its present location in Conroe. “I just love it here. Montgomery County is friendly to business.”

When he’s not at work, he says, he’s most likely on the golf course at Texas National in Willis. He also is an ardent motorcyclist and rides an ‘03 Harley Davidson Fatboy, and he has collected trophies for it in several contests. He and his wife Joan enjoy touring Texas on the bike.

Red Wing Shoes began more than 100 years ago along the shores of the Mississippi River in the town of Red Wing, Minnesota, named after Chief Red Wing. The company founder, Charles H. Beckman, arrived in the town at age 17 in the mid-nineteenth century and took a job in the local leather factory. In 1883, he opened a shoe store.  In 1905, with 14 investors, he founded the Red Wing Shoe Company. The company aimed at providing sturdy, comfortable footwear for farmers and other workers. In the beginning, the company was turning out 110 pairs of shoes per 10-hour day.

The country was in the throes of industrial growth, and Red Wing Shoes continued to meet the increasing demand for top quality footwear that could meet the harsh demands of a dynamic and sometimes life-threatening work environment.  By 1908, the company was producing 450 pairs of footwear per day.

When World War I came along, Red Wing manufactured the Munson U.S. Army Last, a model that continued to sell very well for another 50 years.  In 1920, the company introduced the Oil King Boot, an oil resistant boot favored by oilfield personnel. Just a few years later, in 1934, Red Wing came out with its first steel toe boot, which has been popular ever since with workers facing hazardous conditions. Red Wing steel toes are available in many different styles.

Red Wing continued to expand its product line and productivity throughout the 20th century. In 1986, it purchased the S.B. Foot Tannery Co. By 1990, Red Wing products were distributed in more than 80 countries. In 1994, the company added two plants—one in Potosi, Missouri, and the other in Danville, Kentucky—to its two plants in Red Wing, Minnesota. The combined output of the four factories is more than 22,000 pairs of footwear daily. The product line encompasses 180 styles of footwear and 120 sizes and widths for men and women. The company backs its footgear with a 30-day unconditional comfort guarantee and a one year limited warranty covering defects arising from normal wear.

Spirawk expects the Red Wing store in Conroe to continue to thrive. “Business this year is up 20 percent from last year.” He is considering expanding the store at its present location. Customers appreciate quality, he says. “Take a guy that’s had some kind of problem, maybe foot fungus, and put him in a pair of good-fitting quality leather boots—he’ll never have that problem.”

Contact Information:

2105-D W. Davis St. (across from Luby’s)
Conroe, TX 77304
(936) 539-2668
conroe.redwingshoestore.com

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