Behind the Scenes With Thorogood Boots

Thorogood Boots: Footwear designed and crafted with an ideal blend of old-school processes and new-age technologies.

Behind the Scenes With Thorogood Boots

In 1855, Peter Weinbrenner renounced his German citizenship and immigrated to the United States to continue work as a cobbler. At the age of 28, he established a small cobbler shop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he worked diligently to support himself and his small family. Seventeen years later, a son was born unto the family. Albert Weinbrenner would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a leader in the shoe manufacturing industry.

At the tender age of 13, Albert’s humble beginnings started as an apprentice in his father’s shop, where he first learned to attach outsoles with wooden pegs. Just 14 years later, he and Joseph Peffer formed a business partnership, establishing the Weinbrenner & Peffer brand.

From their small store located at 140 West Water Street in Milwaukee (photo below), they manufactured and sold shoes and boots designed for tradesmen. On Jan. 1, 1900, the manufacturing corporation of Albert H. Weinbrenner Company was officially formed, and each partner purchased 50 shares of stock at $100 each.

In 1917, the Thorogood job-fitted brand was first introduced. The original catalogs stressed styles designed specifically for occupations, such as hobnailed shoes for miners and quarry workers, manure-proof uppers for farmers, along with various boots made for railroad workers, foundry workers and an 8-inch boot for oil well drillers. The Thorogood trademark was registered on May 28, 1918, and became widely known. The company’s military shoes were becoming just as popular in the civilian market. One style alone, a semi-dress pattern, was being made by the company at a rate of 1,000 pairs per day.

For more than 125 years the Weinbrenner Shoe Company, Inc. has been making private label footwear, including Thorogood boots, the only way they know how to — crafted with the perfect blend of old-school processes and new-age technologies.

Their company’s history is storied, built on a time-honored heritage. Current staff has latched on to that long and proud heritage by ensuring hand-inspection of leather before each pair of shoes or boots is placed in a box. In fact, their handcrafted shoes and boots encounter more than 125 steps before they go out the door. And Thorogood Boots’ staff is 100 percent confident that every piece of footwear going out the door will do the job it was intended to do. Their mantra: “Thorogood’s job-fitted footwear is a trusted tool you can count on to get it done. Lace up and go to work with confidence.”

Recently, I sat down and chatted with Thorogood Boots staff including Marketing Manager Bianca Boettcher, VP of Sales & Marketing Todd Hanson, and VP of Global Sourcing Rob Burnett to learn more about Thorogood Boots, the Weinbrenner company and their plans for 2020. During our discussion, it was clear to see that the entire staff — top to bottom — is extremely proud of their storied history and confident that their products are built to be better than what is currently on the market. As you read the discussion below, I am sure you will get that impression, too.


DC: Tell me about the history of Thorogood. What was the catalyst for inception? When and how was the company founded?

BB: Weinbrenner Shoe Company is our corporate name and was established in 1892. Thorogood is the brand of footwear that we manufacture and distribute worldwide. Weinbrenner Shoe Company started in 1892 when Albert H. Weinbrenner opened “Weinbrenner & Peffer” with his partner Joseph Peffer. They sold footwear from a small store in Milwaukee. The Thorogood job-fitted brand was first introduced in 1917. The catalog stressed styles designed for various occupations, such as miners and quarry workers, farmers, railroad, foundry workers and 8-inch boots for oil well drillers.

The Thorogood Boots brand was born in this small store located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Thorogood Boots brand was born in this small store located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

DC: What is the mission of the company today? Has the mission evolved over time? If so, how?

BB: We produce job-fitted footwear for people who still work for a living. Whether you’re a soldier protecting our country, a first responder keeping our communities safe, or trades person building America, we are committed to delivering footwear that works as hard as you do. Our new outdoor line celebrates our hard-working customers by offering a full line of outdoor boots that they can trust while enjoying recreational activities when they’re off the clock.


DC: Tell me about your product lines of boots. What features define a Thorogood boot?

TH: We currently make occupational footwear for the trades, public safety and the military. Our footwear is very specialized to meet specification requirements for safety directors and public safety contracts. Whether they require a 90-degree heel, electric hazard resistance, slip-resistance or they require their footwear to be Berry Compliant (100 percent Made in the USA), we design and manufacture high-quality footwear to meet these specific needs.

Thorogood is well known for its on-the-job footwear (much of it made in the USA), and the company is expanding its hunt-specific offerings.
Thorogood is well known for its on-the-job footwear (much of it made in the USA), and the company is expanding its hunt-specific offerings.

DC: In your opinion, which boots in your offering are good choices for outdoor-specific retailers?

TH: For 2020 we are excited to introduce a well-rounded assortment of outdoor footwear that is solution based to meet the consumer’s demand for quality and performance in the elements.

Our Infinity FD series features high-rebound energy return technology and Flex-drive construction to propel you forward. There are a total of nine styles in the Infinity FD series — four of which are specific to the outdoor category. These boots are all waterproof with 3M Thinsulate Insulation available in 400g and 800g options.

The Infinity FD series also includes a line of technical rubber hunting boots with patent pending technology that has been tested to retain 50 percent more heat than insulation alone. NASA inspired Solarcore lining has been added to the bottom and toe cap of the boot to retain heat where you need it most. These boots come in Mossy Oak Bottomlands and Break-up Country, as well as an 800g option featuring Realtree EDGE.

Our full line of outdoor boots has been developed to fill the needs of outdoorsmen no matter the season, geography or pursuit.

Thorogood Infinity FD series waterproof boots are available in a variety of insulation options and camo patterns.
Thorogood Infinity FD series waterproof boots are available in a variety of insulation options and camo patterns.

DC: What specific features of your boots do you feel match well within the outdoor retailer — largely hunting — market?

TH: We make footwear for a variety of outdoor pursuits to cover all regions — including our new Infinity FD leather and rubber hunting boots.

Specific features include our new Infinity FD technology, anti-friction footbeds and Solarcore heat-retention technology. All of our outdoor boots are waterproof, and come in non-insulated and with 3M Thinsulate Insulation ranging from 400g all the way up to 2400g.

We are also proud to have partnered with Mossy Oak to feature their Break-up Country, Break-up Infinity and Bottomlands patterns in a variety of our styles.


DC: Besides boots, what other footwear products or accessories do you offer?

TH: Unlike many other outdoor companies, our focus is on our footwear. We haven’t made it a priority to tap into clothing lines or other vertical markets. We do have a small selection of Made in USA socks that we provide as accessories to our footwear, but it’s very limited. We make footwear for a living, and our goal is to always provide the most comfortable, durable footwear out in the market today.


DC: There are a lot of components that go into footwear manufacturing. Tell me about the component parts you use from other suppliers and how you establish and keep those relationships intact.

RB: We have a long history with our vendor partners. We’re always challenging our supplier partners to ideate and help us become problem-solvers to come up with the best products. We work closely with them to develop new technologies along with our product development team.


DC: Without giving away any trade secrets, what details about your manufacturing processes and quality assurance and quality management practices can you provide? What is your warranty policy?

RB: Our product development team is the best in the business. Combined they have years of experience in technical footwear design, manufacturing and sourcing. We work as a team to ensure fit, durability and comfort. All of our product goes through field testing to gain insights and feedback on product before it is released to the public.

All Thorogood footwear has a one year warranty against defects in material and workmanship.


DC: Tell me about your dealer/retailer programs. How do you find new retailers and foster dealer relations? Do you offer dealer incentives? If so, please describe them in detail.

TH: We consider our dealers our partners, and we understand the pressure they have during the fourth quarter. We put together dating programs with the intention of getting them through the holiday period before their bill comes due. Thorogood has also committed to offering free freight on orders of six pairs or more. When our dealers succeed, we succeed. That is our ultimate goal.


DC: It’s now 2020; what new products will Thorogood be releasing this year? What does the future, both short- and long-term, hold for Thorogood?

TH: We want to continue to evolve and innovate our footwear while maintaining true to our core values. We have a passion for great footwear, and hope to continue to carry on our 128-year tradition into the future.

We also plan to focus on increasing our domestic capacity. During the last 10 years, we’ve seen a huge increase in demand in “Made in USA” footwear, and making footwear in the USA is not easy. It’s a challenge to find skilled workers to make high-quality footwear. We’ve established a manufacturing task force that is working with the University of Wisconsin on process improvements that will result in increased efficiency and productivity. We anticipate this to increase output by at least 30 percent in our two Wisconsin factories. We’re also investing in an additional facility in Maine to try to meet the unprecedented demand for the Thorogood brand.

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