Blundstone hits 150 years

Family-owned Tasmanian boot brand Blundstone is turning 150 this year, and will be celebrating the brand’s heritage throughout 2020.

Founded in 1870 by John Blundstone, the business started making fit-for-purpose footwear, and never looked back. Surviving the Great Depression, and fitting out Australian soldiers in two world wars, the business has seen more than many others combined.

“I suppose being 150 years old is a pretty big achievement, especially when the economy changes all the time,” Blundstone global head of operations Darryl Wilkes told Inside Retail Weekly.

“It’s unusual for brands to be around for that long, so with all challenges and growth aspects going on, we see it as a real achievement.”

Part of the brand’s success comes from having a unified vision from the family owners, who set corporate values and keep the brand focused.

“There is no desire to do any other path. You have to be pretty focused on doing things right, building the brand. The family’s vision to support that activity ensures there’s no mixed messages,” Wilkes said.

However, the brand is not content to simply continue on the same growth trajectory it’s been on in the past 150 years. Blundstone is four times the size it was ten years ago, and in another ten, the business is planning to grow another three times more.

According to Wilkes, the retail environment is ever changing and for a business to succeed, it needs to evolve.

“Our business has remained mostly consistent, but the market is changing so you have to be adaptive. When you look at bricks-and-mortar versus online, consumers want to shop in different ways so you have to change your strategies,” Wilkes said.

“Footwear is one of those products where consumers love to look, feel and touch, [online] helps to push the brand to those consumers. Younger people tend to buy online, so it’s about making sure you cover both sides of consumers.”

Though the business has manufactured its own product for a century-and-a-half, it hasn’t opened its own standalone physical store – and, currently, there are no plans on the horizon. Instead, Blundstone products are sold in 10,000 stores worldwide, including about 2,500 in Australia.

“We are currently represented in seven different countries, and we have plans to grow. Some bigger countries – Canada, Israel, the United States, Europe – there’s opportunities in all of them for the type of product that we make,” Wilkes said.

The times they are a-changin’

Like many businesses, Blundstone has observed the growing consumer demand for businesses to be transparent and sustainable in the ways they manufacture and sell goods – and they’re taking notice.

“Sustainability is massive globally. Not just in footwear, but in any product. You have to be very focused, and very transparent,” Wilkes said.

“It’s one of our key initiatives for the future, and it’s being driven right from product development. We don’t develop anything without asking questions about product sustainability.

“We don’t want to introduce anything into our ranges that doesn’t meet our criteria, even to the extent that we’re looking down the track at reengineering anything that doesn’t.”

To Wilkes, it’s important to understand the business’ supply chain, and get ownership from its suppliers that they are doing the right thing and sourcing ethically.

“For those suppliers that won’t do this, we find alternatives.

“It’s about brand reputation. We won’t compromise in this area. Every brand wants to do the right thing, and that’s certainly one of our values.”

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