YouTube player

When inheriting his grandfather’s western bootmaking business, the demand generation needs a re-boot. How to respect grandpa’s legacy, but get new business in the door?


Raj: Hi there, RajJha with Hannah Mears and we do case studies. Today’s case study and this is yet another one, is all about branding and marketing, and demand generation. But it’s a really interesting one because what if you have a high-end brand and in this particular case, what if it’s been around for a while, what’s the best way to do that, to preserve some history behind the brand and also kind of bring it into the modern era. Hannah, why don’t you tell us a little bit about this company and what they’re trying to accomplish, and let’s see how we can help them.

Hannah: Yeah. So this is sort of a family business here, Raj. So maybe there are some emotions playing into this. So if any of you are out there and you have this big family business that you’re looking to update advertising while keeping some of the sentiment, this could be for you. Our profile today states, “last year I inherited my grandfather’s boot-making business. He grew a small Western boot maker into a mid-size shop over 30 years. We make custom-fit cowboy boots and ropers. We have 50 employees who I grew up with our family. We have a loyal customer base where we keep their boot fitting on file. And when they order, we make custom-fitted and designed boots.” I already love this so much just because I think it’s a really unique business to have and we see it’s a long-term thing that they’ve built.

So for our previous case studies, it could take 30 years and that’s okay. But their situation here Raj is grandpa didn’t do much advertising. He grew the business by making the most incredible products and getting repeat orders who refer more business. However, many of these customers are aging and ordering less, and we aren’t getting a lot of new customers to replace them. I think that’s probably a problem that a lot of older businesses are running into. Now, the question is that I have taken brains. Our client says, “I want to start advertising. We don’t want to go to the mass market. We want to keep making high-quality, custom products in grandpa’s tradition, but we need to expose new people to our company. What kind of advertising should we do?” So, Raj, your initial thoughts I want to know is they have a brand with repeat customers for over 30 years, which is really impressive. And it’s what I think holds the heart of a lot of these smaller homegrown businesses. And it sounds like they have this winning pretty high-quality product. So what do you think?

Raj: I think it’s fantastic. And really the question is because they talked about it a little bit in their question, which is how do you bring this into the modern era? You’ve got this 30-year business with a lot of existing relationships, but some of those folks are getting a little old and maybe they’re not going to be ordering as many boots. So I think it speaks to the quality and the delivery that they can have. But that’s just part of the situation here because a lot of businesses, particularly family businesses grew on this notion of quality and repeat business. But when it comes to the modern era where folks are looking more online, et cetera. So the referral from someone’s mom or father or grandfather as a customer is not going to count for as much. That’s not where they’re going to get their information. So I think it speaks really well to the delivery of the thing. And so making that kind of the kernel of what goes forward is going to be an important part of the strategy here.

Hannah: So clearly grandfather didn’t do a ton of marketing advertising. His product kind of spoke for itself. This is a lot of that old-school mentality. So when you’re looking to get into the advertising world of today and what you may need for business, what’s a realistic starting point?

Raj: Well, with a realistic starting point you have to take a step back and say, well, what do I have? What do I have to work with? Because you could say I’m going all-in with all the new digital stuff, but let’s look at what’s worked in the past and then ask yourself, how can you take, what’s worked before this referral component and work with that first. So I would first dig into that more before thinking about all the new tangled things you could be doing. I think that’s my first tip.

Hannah: So could you elaborate on that then? What do they already have that they can be pushing out there? Just elaborate a little further on. If you think that’s a starting point, give them some tips on how to start there.

Raj: So they’ve got business by referral. They know that works. But if they’re like 99% of the businesses that work by referral, they’re just waiting for the orders to come in. So Bob has always ordered a new pair of boots every two years, like clockwork. And maybe that’s on average, that’s now getting to three years on average getting to four years. So the question is, can you do something that’s not just waiting for the order to come in? Can you actually orchestrate the referrals and can you send something to Bob that says, “Wouldn’t it be great to order yourself a new pair of boots for Christmas?” Do you have their birthdays on file? Do you know their spouse? So you can hint to him, “Hey, Mary Bob’s birthday is coming up. Don’t you think you’d love a new pair of custom boots?”

So it goes from being passive about referrals to being active about referrals. It’s repeat customers and referrals. Who do you know who might like this? So it could be something like if you’ve got someone and you know that they could be a grandfather. Maybe they want to gift their son, who’s now an adult a great pair of boots. Get them to start on their first pair of boots, get them on file with the company. So think about, can you just turbocharge that repeat order and that referral business in the first instance, because that’s the thing that works.

Hannah: So make sure you exhaust every possible resource with your current audience that you already have before expanding out. Let’s say they take your advice and do that Raj. What would be the next step then they’ve already reached out to Bob about his birthday and the holidays and his family and B and C. So they’ve done all of that. They’ve covered that area. It started to work. Now they have to be proactive about the next step. What would that next step and possible advertising be?

Raj: Well, the next step is really taking what’s made this company special over 30 years and taking it to the world because what you don’t want to do because they said they’re not really interested in mass advertising. So I don’t think the right thing would be, to go and start advertising. Here’s a boot and just sell it to Google shopping or something like that. That’s not really what they’re talking about and not what they’re doing. So really it’s looking at the company story. Can you create a story out of this and start telling more people about that brand? Because you can reach people who are interested in cowboy boots, ropers, what have you. The story would resonate with these people, but you have to package up that story. So I would say start doing some more research on why grandpa started it? What were the first few years? How did he grow the company, get people involved in that story? And then you’ll take that into your marketing because the brand is about creating that story in someone’s mind, and then associating a goal. You know what, “I’d love to be a part of this.” So I think that’s step one.

Hannah: Is that how you make sure you don’t lose the quality and what the historical approach of your business has always been in approaching advertising and the storytelling mindset is that how you make sure that you never lose what grandpa builds?

Raj: I think it’s a huge part of it because also they don’t want to become a volume player. They want to stay in this more custom realm. And if you’re going to do that for someone to buy into something, that’s probably much more expensive, that is custom. They have to know the story. So it kind of goes hand in hand. You’re telling the story, but that means you’re also attracting the kind of person that will do that. And it’s, frankly, you’ll be able to get more money, higher margins from telling that story and selling that story than you would, if you just said, “Here’s a boot.” So I think that that’s, that’s part of the whole thing. So at the very beginning, we talked about, this is a case study about if you’ve got a high-end brand in high-end brands based on a story. They are based on the brand, having some value that’s apart from the thing itself.

Hannah: So let’s also talk about the location of why this product could be sort of unique in a way because you also have to think about, who’s wearing boots, where are the people we’re trying to get to? And a lot of the times when we talk about advertising, we talk about tactics as to where to advertise. So what makes this particular case study unique about where they should advertise?

Raj: Well, I think it’s unique in terms of geography. So what you want to do is look at their current customer base and where are they?. Very often it will have started in a few pockets. Maybe they’re in one location. And 50% of the business is within a certain radius of that area because they became known there. But then again, you don’t have this information, but maybe grandpa went to a bunch of rodeos and they went across, maybe went to Texas, they went to California and they went to all these other places. And that’s a very common thing for these bootmakers. They would show up and they would do fittings and sizing at the rodeos and they would take that back and take orders that way. So they’d have these little geographic areas. Think about, again, we, and you, and I say this all the time. What have you already been succeeding with? So maybe it’s going after that audience and making sure that they know about you because those events, for instance, or those areas already have it as part of the culture. So I think it’s using that and using that information in order to, again, double down on what’s already worked.

Hannah: And Raj, let me add in a little bit of my expertise, just from personal experience here with this location. My younger brother is involved in four H and he shows animals and all of those little boys grow up, but they need the boots. All of the little girls need the boots. Everyone involved in walking around that weekend has boots on. That’s what they do. And as these young kids are growing, they need boots a bit more frequently than your older clients do. 

There are booths set up at all of these local fairs for a bunch of different things you could do. If you could offer your product there, give the customer a fitting physically right there, you’ll be able to also pull customers off the street and say, “Hey, I see your boots are looking a little worn down, come look at ours. Here’s what we have to offer. Here are the discounts we can offer. Here’s our story of what makes us unique, and maybe you have a similar story. Maybe you were showing animals because your grandfather is. Well, I’m selling boots because mine is.” Make those connections. As you said, that personal connection is what they already have. So when you’re going to rodeos and things also consider all of your local forage, that’s a younger audience as well. And then you’re branching out without even really having to change the trajectory of your entire audience. So in my garage, that could be a great place to start and location.

Raj: Exactly. And can you get the whole family involved? Because, ultimately if you’ve got a size on file that works really well for the adults in the house, but for the kids, they’re going to be constantly upgrading until they get to that fixed size. So I think, can you get the whole family involved? I think that’s a really great way of doing it. I mean, it’s a generational thing.,

Hannah: Right? And then you’re bouncing ideas off their younger audience of what do you want to style the boot now? What would you be wearing? Then you’re just reaching so many different platforms at once. You’re taking care of the advertising, the selling, and now you’re looking ahead to the design of your product as well and what’s making it unique and making it work. And then that takes us into why your product is better than your competitors. So Raj, in terms of getting them to stand out from their competitors, how do they market their product ahead of their competitors? Like, let’s say the area or the Tony Lamas of the world who are already really successful in the realm of boot making.

Raj: I think it really comes down to the custom aspect of this. That’s the game-changer, because if I go and tell you about that area, “If you go there, they have a bunch of styles and no doubt that they’ve optimized those styles for the taste of the season.” But it’s very different when you go to a custom boot manufacturer and you look at it, you see the variety that some people want, completely different kinds of things that you would never see anywhere else. In my head when I’m thinking about, “How do you do this?” It’s actually showing off the creativity of your customers. And it’s showing that in the context of the quality and how soft are these boots? Like you barely need to break them in. What are those aspects of it? So I think I’m really leaning into the fact that it is custom, the fact that it is a fit, and the design. Because folks love to design things themselves. I mean, if you go fast forward into the digital realm, everyone’s designing various skins and things like that. And there was a period with custom sneakers where all the rage and people are going overboard on that. It’s really the same thing, but this is the same thing with tradition. So I think it’s even more impactful.

Hannah: Yes. And maybe when you’re visiting these rodeos and forages or wherever, you may go, you have select iPads or something sitting right there where your clients can come up. These young kids would love to sit there. And like at Nike, for instance, when you said shoe customization was possible, they could sit there and physically design their own boot and it would be guaranteed in a few weeks to be right at their door. Then they already feel comfortable. They’ve talked to you, they’ve asked you the questions. They wished they could ask the computer and they drew their product up for themselves. I think it’s an awesome thing. I think starting with honing in on the audience though, as we talked about, if we back up, make sure you’re taking every step possible to overexpose the audience you’ve already had to your product. Make sure you exhaust that before you move forward. But I think they’ve got a really great thing on hand. Raj, what do you think?

Raj: I think that’s the core. Like the double down on the history, double down on the unique aspects of the product, and do that first. And then once you’ve done that because that’ll go a long way. Then you could look at doing all the new tangled things we talked about in other case studies, like going on Instagram and showing off the designs. Starting the YouTube channel, which may be talks about the manufacturing process and the 30 or 50 employees that they have, which are like a family, and show the backstory of it. So it’s all around the storytelling and using new media to do that, to expose new people to it. But really it’s all built off the backbone that grandpa made. So don’t lose that. And that’s actually going to be the key to differentiating,

Hannah: Hey, out here in Western PA, I respect tradition. I respect farm work and hustling. I get it. My little brothers were involved with it. My family respects it. We have a little farm ourselves. So trust me, I think it would be successful out here. We really hope our advertising tips and tricks will help you only grow what grandpa started even further for generations to come. I love generational businesses. Raj, thank you so much for your insight today. And I look forward to seeing where these boots could go and whose feet fit them on.

Raj: Exactly. I might have to order some. All right, Hannah. Thanks. And we’ll see in the next case study.