Shoestring Operation: Small Hanover Footwear Company Hopes to Move Up a Few Sizes
A selection of women's boots byPerfect Storm , sit on a self in the office of Stuart Coulter, president of the company, on Sept. 11, 2013, in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Stuart Coulter, president of Perfect Storm Boot Corp., sits on his front step at his home in Hanover, N.H., with Chamomile, one of three family cats, on Sept. 11, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck} Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — New hiking boots, sandals and outdoor shoes line the shelves on three sides of the small office in the basement of Stuart Coulter’s Montview Drive home. Three ranks of matched pairs queue up on a third of the floor, leaving just enough room for chairs, desks and computers. The family’s spacious garage is so crammed with footwear samples that the cars live outside.
Coulter is not a hoarder, or even a collector. But he is a guy who knows shoes — and who needs a bigger office.
This month, Coulter and Greg Pang, his partner in The Perfect Storm Boot Corp., launched their new label of all-weather boots in New England, and they’re hoping to build the brand and its popularity around the world.
“There are a lot of good brands of all-weather boots on the market, but they’re pretty expensive,” Coulter said. “We’re not trying to steal their customers, but we have developed a high-quality boot with some unique features that is much less expensive than they are.”
“Our concept was to hit a price point in the middle — in the $50 to $80 range — that will bring new customers to the market,” he said.
Perfect Storm introduced 11 styles of footwear last week, with lines of shoes and boots for women, children and men. The launch is a result of years of planning and preparation for the partners and their fledgling company
New England — an area where people like to get outdoors and for three seasons the weather is cold and not always accommodating — is an ideal place to launch the insulated footwear, Coulter said.
If things go well, Coulter and Pang, who lives in California, plan a national sales push for the fall of 2014.
In the Upper Valley, Perfect Storm boots and shoes, which are made of waterproof neoprene, are being sold at Hubert’s, West Lebanon Supply and Farm-Way in the Upper Valley.
The boots had just arrived at West Lebanon Supply and were to be on display in the next few days, owner Curt Jacques said Friday.
“We’re excited about them, and it’s nice dealing with a company that takes a real hands-on approach. And Stuart does that, and he’s local,” Jacques said, noting that Coulter had solicited ideas from him and staff members on marketing and displaying the boots. “Other companies don’t do that. Some of them have gotten too big for their boots,” he joked.
“It’s nice deal with people who are so passionate about what they’re doing.”
Coulter, who grew up in Williamstown, Mass., got into the shoe business after he graduated from Williams College with an art degree in 1980. He started out in retail sales and then joined Avia and became the New England regional sales manager. He joined Asolo in 1996 as national sales manager.
In New England, the shoe business has a rich history, and still plays a significant — albeit much diminished — part in the area’s economy. From its early cobbler, one-man shop beginnings in the 1700s, footwear manufacturing from Massachusetts to Maine grew to world prominence, employing more than 50,000 people in Massachusetts alone by the mid-1830s. Almost 3 million pairs of men’s boots and shoes were produced in the central part of that state in 1837, according to the Old Sturbridge Village, Mass., historical society.
Today, New England is still the headquarters for the North American operations of such top brands as Timberland, New Balance, Reebok, Converse, Adidas, Sperry, Clarks and others, but shoe manufacturing jobs have slipped into the low thousands.
About 99 percent of all the shoes sold in this country are made outside the United States, industry figures show.
In 1998, Coulter and his family moved to the Upper Valley when Asolo North America moved its national sales and distribution headquarters to Lebanon.
After a short stint in California with American Sporting Goods as outdoor division manager, Coulter was able to move his job with the company back to Hanover and continued being in charge of line creation, development and sales of all outdoor products.
While in California, Coulter got to know Pang, and they worked together with manufacturing partners in China, where many of the world’s shoes are made.
Coulter and Pang decided to start III D Sporting Goods in 2007. In order to support themselves and Pang’s move from California to Lebanon, the company focused on designing, manufacturing and shipping store-brand outdoor footwear, which is still a main part of III D’s business.
“By the time that everything gets done, you don’t make a lot of money doing that,” Coulter said.
In the first year, III D Sporting Goods grossed $1 million in sales, but the profits were barely enough to keep two families afloat.
“Things were really tight, and we were definitely doing it on a shoestring,” he said.
But the company grew, and “we have a lot more business, but we’re not making a lot of money. You really have to have your own line if you’re going to succeed.”
So they decided to start Perfect Storm. But there was a lot to do to make the venture a reality.
They had the concept, and they knew their target market, but the boots had to be designed and prototypes made.
Manufacturers in China had to be found and costs worked out. Production glitches had to be fixed — a label wouldn’t stick and a new material had to be found to make the tiny logo adhere.
Before they could deliver Perfect Storm footwear to retailers, they had to have the products in hand. They leased a warehouse in Manchester and produced and shipped the boots to New Hampshire by sea through the Panama Canal.
“I would love to make them here, but it’s just not feasible” and the regulatory requirements would be difficult to meet, Coulter said. “We would save a lot on duties and time.
“We’re moving slowly. We’ve tried to do everything right. We’ve planted the seed in New England, and we’re Hanover-based.
“Next year, we plan to get them to the rest on the country,” Coulter said.
And maybe by then, he’ll have a bigger office.
Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3216.