When the global pandemic began in March 2020, nearly all parts of the economy shut down, leaving thousands unemployed and most brands scrambling to figure out what was to come.
For Eric Girouard, who was about to launch his direct-selling (D2C) workwear brand Brunt, it was particularly difficult. Girouard told PYMNTS he froze the company’s hiring plans and “essentially crouched down”, keeping an eye on the market to decide whether to suspend the business long-term or move forward. things. With construction among the first industries to restart and rehire laid-off workers after just about two weeks, Girouard realized that the company’s core clientele would not be staying at home for very long – and therefore instead of freezing, Brunt ended up speeding up his launch plans.
âI also felt that this would be a good time to enter the market, because customers who spend a few hundred dollars on their boots will generally be a little more aware of what they’re spending their money on,â he said.
Brunt ended up launching in September 2020, a few months earlier than originally planned. Girouard said he didn’t see many supply chain problems initially, as most of the big brands canceled their orders, freeing up factories overseas for new business.
âWe were one of the only brands to place orders for boots at the start of a pandemic,â Girouard said. âAnd so, our access not only to top-tier factories, but also to materialsâ¦ actually got us moving pretty quickly, because the capacity had basically opened up to all of the big brands that are 100 times our size. “
Recently, Brunt has seen issues with freight and trucking as the spread of the delta variant and growing consumer demand keep logistics tangled, but Girouard said the company is going about it on a day-to-day basis and planning ahead. in advance. With $ 8.4 million in Series A funding raised earlier this month, Brunt has struggled to stockpile inventory to avoid running out.
âWe have sold five times since our launch and we are still placing larger and larger orders,â said Girouard.
Brunt faces some well-established workwear brands including Carhartt and Duluth Trading Co. which enjoy immense recognition from traders making the way forward potentially difficult.
Girouard, however, previously spent more than a decade working for e-commerce and D2C brands including Rue La La, M.Gemi and Trade Coffee, which prepared him to take on the major players. âA lot of workwear brands haven’t had to innovate and really serve the customer,â Girouard said. “They continue simply because they are holders and heirlooms.”
One of the biggest lessons he learned was the importance of taking care of customers and meeting them in the spaces they want to be, whether through an ecommerce site, on social media or elsewhere.
âFirst class customer service wows many of our customers and creates a lot of brand loyalty,â said Girouard. He estimated that boots and workwear represent a $ 12 billion market in the United States alone, with 17 million customers.
âThe crazy thing is that most innovators, entrepreneurs and investors usually overlook one of the biggest and most powerful groups in the country just because it’s not sexy, it’s not great. attractive, it’s not haute couture, âGirouard explained. He noted, however, that manufacturing work boots comes with unique challenges, including ensuring they will meet safety certifications.
A study by PYMNTS, conducted in collaboration with sticky.io, found that 52% of consumers now buy retail products through D2C channels, compared to 63% who make retail purchases online and 77% who do so. in physical stores. Millennials are the most likely to make D2C purchases (67%), followed by Gen Z (62%).
Unlike other D2C brands, however, Brunt does not sell discretionary products or fashion items – “this customer literally needs our products and our boots to do their job,” Girouard said, noting that 91 % of people who buy Brunt boots say they wear them every day. And yet, the majority of people who need work boots still have to go to a store to buy a new pair when they need them.
âIf you already know your boot, your shoe size and your style, it should just show up on your doorstep when you need a replacement,â said Girouard. “It sounds very simple and logical, but the industry is so late.”