Muck Boots is a big-talking brand – in 2013, Gun Trade News interviewed distributor Belstane’s Monty Stuart-Monteith, who said it was “one of the big brands of the future.” Two years later, is that coming true? According to Belstane’s MD Peter Mellish, the intervening period has seen both growth and consolidation as the brand really takes off.
“Since 2013 we have seen amazing growth in sales,” he says. “We’ve nearly doubled the sales year on year, with existing accounts selling more and good growth out of new accounts stocking Muck Boots. We are now established in some great retailers including Harrods on the fifth floor next to the Beretta Gun Room.
“We are now structurally set up with five pillars to the business – sales, customer operations, distribution, marketing and finance. What we want is to make sure that the consumer gets the best product and enjoys them for years. The Muck Boot consumer is very loyal, and we enjoy engaging with them. The kingpin between Belstane and the consumer is the retailer, and we have to make sure we support them in every way with product, marketing, branding, and customer service.”
When it comes to Muck Boots, Belstane occupies a unique position: It’s both the old and new distributor of the brand, as its distribution switched hands in 2012 before returning to Belstane. “A lot has been said in the trade about that,” says Peter, “and it’s been interesting to hear retailers commenting that they have heard stories which aren’t true. The trade now understands that we are the exclusive distributor for The Original Muck Boots Co.” Still, he says, it wasn’t an easy transition: “The first half of 2013 was tough, building back relationships with customers and carefully handling any misconceptions. But 2014 was a milestone, both in reaction from the trade who now support the brand really well, and from Honeywell, the brand proprietor. I have been working closely with Cristina Bucci (vice president, business development for Honeywell) and the team in the USA. It’s clear that we have the same objective, which is to make sure The Original Muck Boot Co is supported in the trade by great products and clear distribution.”
And there are plans afoot to continue this growth in 2015: “We have some great marketing campaigns and new product introduction planned. We have just signed Manhattan Portage, the brand leader in backpack and messenger bags, which will have more impact into our distribution.”
Belstane’s holding company invited Peter to join Belstane as MD in June 2013, with a view to developing the company and adding more brands to its portfolio. He’d previously worked for a number of footwear brands including Converse and Nike. “Experience has taught me some good lessons in developing brands, and I saw some amazing potential with Belstane,” he explains.
Established in 1999, Muck Boot is a popular brand that’s managed to build a reputation for high performance across several sectors – not just shooting. Its collection includes specialist boots for sectors including gardening, agriculture and equestrian, to name a few. But the product range for its hunting footwear is the largest category in the collection, with many technical details developed specifically for shooting. So why is the shooting market so important? The simple answer is Belstane’s confidence in its product: “By default we have the best boots on the market for the shooter, and we would like see the shooting retailer develop their collections to include boots developed for the purpose.” That product boasts such technological advancements as Spandura uppers, antimicrobial treatment, Inscentable scent-masking, and of course, a specialisation in warmth that sees them keep hunters comfortable down to 40 degrees below zero.
“The shooting market is a growing sector of the Belstane business,” continues Peter, “and there is plenty of potential for us to develop with new product available for the retailer and consumer. Lots of work for us to do in relation to presenting the features and benefits of the product through to the consumer via retail.”
What’s clear is that Belstane is putting the product first and foremost in its bid to make the brand a success. On that note, there’s a new product on the way for 2015, Muck Grit, set to be presented to the trade this quarter. This product, Peter says, is a result of the UK’s key role in product development for Muck Boots – it was conceived after consultation with suppliers and retailers in the UK. “The US team understand that the UK is a huge market for them as a global business,” says Peter. “Much of what we develop for the UK market gets traction across the globe. With this in mind the US team visit the UK throughout the year to talk through development requirements and visit retailers from Scotland down to London.”
Perhaps that’s because of the unique British weather. But Peter says the business doesn’t totally rely on winters being harsh and downpours regular: “The boot business is a year-round one for us. We have a collection called Express Cool which keeps the feet cool when the weather is hot – that sells in the summer. And we carry a good range of gardening shoes and lifestyle boots.
“A mild winter generally doesn’t have a huge effect on us as we still can normally be guaranteed plenty of rain. Though September 2014 was the driest since 1910 and we had the best month in company history – I can’t really explain that one.”
Peter himself says he derives the greatest joy from his job when he sees people wearing the products out and enjoying using them in the field. We ask for his business philosophy: “There are two important basics to business: firstly understanding the consumer and secondly providing them with a great product. If these match then we have a great business. Sell-through is what drives the business forward, so we need to make sure the retailers have all the right assets to ensure the product sells.
“My management style is based around getting the right people to do the right job. Many years ago I came across the Peter Principle – not named after me but Laurence J Peter, The idea is that people are employed on their performance in their current role rather than abilities relevant to a different role.”
Finally, the now-customary Gun Trade News interview question of what Peter would do if he won the lottery: “I think I would turn up for work – it’s still great fun building a business. However, the one-and-a-half-hour commute each way isn’t great, so if I won the lottery I’d either buy a large house nearer to the office, or a helicopter to avoid the M6. And maybe take my holiday entitlement, which slips by every year.”