Duty Shoes Take Comfort Features In Stride

The safety end of the market is expanding due to the rising costs of liability insurance rates. It does not take much work to wear duty shoes anymore. This season, professional and safety footwear, especially the best steel toe boots on the market with both of safety and comfort feature have shed its heavy image for comfort features like softer leathers and polyurethane (PU) bottoms.

While work shoes continue to incorporate fashion elements, function and comfort still take precedent, according to professional and safety shoe resources.

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“Work footwear has become a much broader category,” said James Levine, President, Import Systems International Inc., (ISI) the exclusive licensee for Dickies brand footwear, here. In the next six months to a year, Levine predicted, the market will see a growing number of casual bottoms on work boots. “The casuals are coming on strong,” he advised. “It’s not just for working. It’s today’s footwear.”

Levine projected that the work shoe market would continue to grow, with innovations in shoe construction superseding fashion changes. The design changes in work shoes are not “quite so volatile,” said Levine. “Yet there is limited style, with colors, lasts and lining materials.”

William Ison, vice president of sales, Musebeck Shoe Co., Oconomowoc, Wis., agreed. Both the work and safety shoe markets are growing, he said. Work-shoe sales, in particular, are up again this year because “work shoes are being used as light casual shoes,” Ison advised.

Work Boot Program

Dunham Shoes, Brattleboro, Vt., is continuing its work-boot program, the company’s niche in the work-and-safety market, said Richard Sherwin, vice president. “It continues to be very … strong with us. We will continue to introduce new styles, like our package of softer 365-series unlined work shoes.”

The safety end of the market is also expanding due to the rising costs of liability insurance rates. “They (companies) are forced to take precautions, and are making sure their people have safety footwear,” said Leonard Paul, general manager, Georgia/Durango Boot Co., Franklin, Tenn. The security business has grown, as insurance premiums increase, he added.

“There are more shoes with steel-plated soles,” noted ISI’s Levine. “There is a rise in the quality standards of steel-toe testing and acceptability.”

To meet the comfort demands of consumers, work and safety shoe resources have already added up bottoms to their footwear or are currently making these changes. Since polyurethane is a lightweight material, put bases make it easier for workers to stand for extended periods of time.

Dunham Shoes is using PU on all its work boots, because, said Sherwin, comfort, and lightness sell a shoe.

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Putting on PU

Warson Group Inc., St. Louis, a new entry in the work and safety market, is using PU soles on its branded Rucks line. “It (PU) has high durability and has a more cushiony feel to it,” noted Douglas Sproull, vice president of merchandising.

Even though polyurethane is considered more costly than other materials, companies have decided to add it to their shoes, confident that consumers will pay higher prices for comfort. “There is a limit on the high end,” said Warson’s Sproull. But there are different variations of polyurethane, where it is possible to get density still and provide a shoe that is cost effective, he said.

Although consumers may not buy work and safety footwear as often, due to the durability of polyurethane, for ISI the investment is worthwhile since the company is “gaining friends long-term,” said Levine. “We may miss a few sales short-term, but long-term, I gain market share.”

Work and safety shoe companies also are investing in Electro Static Dissipative (ESD) insoles. It is used in footwear aimed at those who work in computer-relative environments. It is designed to keep electricity away from the body, therefore, preventing shocks.

Weinbrenner Shoe Co., Merrill, Wis., is among the companies adding ESD insoles. “The company is committed in this area,” said Steve Kellman, vice president of marketing. “We have created a special occupational footwear division using the new space-age material. The entire package is put together using comfort and performance.”

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