Donna and I have increased our activity levels since we came to San Diego. Donna signed up for a boot camp and personal training. She does the boot camp workout at 6:30am on Monday and Wednesday and 8am on Saturday. She works out with a personal trainer on Thursday. I’ve been hitting the pickleball courts – I played two hours a day for four days straight this week and I’m feeling it. The Ocean Beach Recreation Center is closed today and Monday for set-up and tear-down of their Halloween activities, so I’ll take some time off.
If you’ve been reading my posts, you know I have an affinity – alright, it’s an obsession – with Western boots. I’ve been reading about a boot brand for about a year called Tecovas. I think it’s an interesting story.
There’s a guy from Texas by the name of Paul Hedrick who graduated with an MBA from Harvard in 2010. He worked as an analyst for McKinsey then entered finance in New York at Catterton. He made good money and saved it for a chance to do something on his own. He was a cowboy boot kind of guy and thought he found a niche he could exploit. In 2014, he quit his job, moved back to Texas and began his journey into the boot business. He wasn’t even 30 years old but he knew what he wanted to do.
He spent a year traveling to the shoe making capital of the Western Hemisphere – Leon, Mexico. He met with boot makers to learn about their different operations. He met with tanneries and learned about the types of leathers available. He created a business model where he would contract with a tannery for raw materials and with a boot factory to hand make the leathers into cowboy boots. His monthly order would be shipped to Austin, Texas where he stocked the boots and made them available direct through online sales – no distribution network or retail stores.
He’s totally transparent about his business model and although I don’t know the actual numbers, an example might be something like this. When he contracts for an all-leather handmade boot of his design, the cost when it arrives in Austin might be $110. He offers this boot with free shipping and 30-day exchanges for say $220. He has his margin and the buyer gets a high-quality boot at an affordable price. The usual model for cowboy boots would take a boot that has a manufacturing cost of $110 and sell it to a distributor for $220. The distributor would mark it up and sell it to a retailer for $340. The retailer would mark it up and sell it to the consumer for $500. So a boot of similar quality that you pay $500 for can be bought directly from Tecovas for $220. Here are a few excerpts from several media interviews with Paul Hedrick:
“I was wearing a pair I had bought for $500-$600 and I realized that cowboy boots were one of the few industries that didn’t have a brand I really liked or one focused on quality and online, direct-to-consumer value.”
“There have been lots of surprises, ups, and downs, but I think the one aspect of designing and manufacturing cowboy boots that will never cease to amaze me is how difficult they are to make. The number of materials to choose from, the number of steps in the process – essentially all handmade steps – all of that took a lot of time.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to build and run this company without the exposure to business at all of the other places I worked prior to launching Tecovas. I was a management consultant before working for a private equity firm. The entrepreneurial spirit was always deep inside, so when the timing felt right, I jumped. I love being able to exercise my creative muscles. I wanted to be an artist, actually a cartoonist, as a kid, then an architect when I was in high school, so it feels good to be able to create.”
“We design our boots to be very wearable for first time boot buyers. They’re simple and made of super high-quality, mostly unadorned leather.”
Paul spent about a year doing his research. He launched the company and fulfilled his first orders in October of 2015 – in fact, I think I read somewhere it was October 27th – two years ago today. In his first year of operation, he reportedly sold over a million dollars’ worth of boots. I’ve read that they are on track to exceed three million in sales this year – his second year of operation.
When I first started looking at the Tecovas website, they only had four styles of boot – two for men and two for women. They still have limited offerings with various leathers, each offered in two styles for men. One is a roper style boot – a boot with a shorter shaft and lower heel than the traditional Western boot – and a more traditional style. The ropers have plain shafts – the same calfskin shaft is used regardless of the vamp leather. The traditional boots also share the same shaft leather with a little fancier decoration than the roper. By the way, the shaft of a Western boot is the vertical part that surrounds your calf. The vamp is the part that covers your foot.
I wasn’t too interested in a plain calfskin boot in the $200 price range. I didn’t think it would have the quality I wanted in a cowboy boot. Then they added a full quill ostrich boot for $355 and it really looked good. This year they added two more boots – the flagship model made from caiman crocodile and a lizard skin. The crocodile goes for $455 and the lizard is just $295 and these boots looked good.
They have about 1,800 reviews on their website and more on their Facebook page. From what I’ve read, more than 90% are very positive. Lots of the reviews are written by long-time boot buyers coming from higher end brands.
Over time, I wasn’t too happy with the Ariat leather boots I had which were my first pair of Western boots. After becoming accustomed to hand-made all-leather Lucchese boots, the machine-made Ariats with synthetic materials just didn’t have the level of comfort for me. I decided to risk $235 and give the plain calfskin Tecovas boot a try. The thing is, buying boots online means guessing to get the right size. Proper boot fit is essential.
Tecovas advertises that their boots fit true to US sizing – and they offer free exchanges with no shipping costs. The best thing to do is have your foot sized with a Brannock device at a shoe store. I didn’t want to have a shoe salesman measure my foot when I had no intention of buying from him. I wish I would have had my foot actually measured at the Lucchese store in Santa Fe when I bought my crocodile boots there, but I just tried them on for size. The thing is, boot makers use their own lasts to shape the boot and different makers may have size variations. Just because I wear a size 10-1/2 D Lucchese doesn’t mean that size will be right in a Tecovas Boot.
So, I traced my foot with a boot sock on while standing on a sheet of paper. I did this in the afternoon when my feet are largest. Your foot size will vary throughout the day and generally they are slightly smaller in the morning than they are in the afternoon.
The dimensions of my foot correspond to a standard US size 11 D. My left foot is about 1/16″ shorter than the right, so I used the longer foot as my size. I ordered a pair of Tecovas Cartwright calfskin boots last weekend. Cartwright – does that name ring a bell? Remember the old Western TV series Bonanza?
I was kept informed via e-mail of the shipping and projected delivery time of the boots – they arrived yesterday. They were well-packed and came with a return shipping label. I tried them on and walked carefully on our runner carpet to check the fit. They were perfect. I inspected the leather and stitching. It’s flawless. The quality of the leather is unbelievable – they feel like expensive driving gloves and not to be cliche, they fit my feet like a glove. I went out to happy hour with the guys at Dan Diego’s and kept the boots on for about four hours. They are the equal of my full quill ostrich Lucchese boots as far as comfort goes – and that says a lot.
I’m so impressed with these boots, I ordered another pair from Tecovas – the Nolan lizard skin boots. It must have taken a lot of determination from Paul Hedrick to quit his high-paying job and launch his own business. It seems like his vision was well-founded and I wish him continued success with his business.
Meanwhile I’ll take the Ariat boots, which are in like new condition, to a consignment store. And I’m working on a boot storage solution. Donna has our closets pretty well organized, but I have to do something other than spread my boots on the floor of the closet. Donna recently wrote a blog post about closet organization here. She’s of the opinion that my obsession with cowboy boots is taking up too much valuable closet space in our home on wheels. I’ll let you know what we come up with.
It’s another beautiful day in San Diego with abundant sunshine. Donna and I are planning to hit the beach as the temperature is forecast to reach 80 degrees.