Best Foot Forward

Click to view in E-Magazine | Click to view Brochure

-By Kristy Attard

“I’m proud to be associated with what is a fabulous iconic brand,” says Steve Gunn, the CEO of Blundstone. Blundstone is an internationally recognised brand designing and manufacturing premium quality footwear for 140 years. Situated in Hobart, Tasmania, Blundstone is famous for the superior comfort and durability of its footwear. During times of disaster, Blundstone actively helps communities to move forward, building on an already proud history. The Blundstone story begins on a mix of adventure, luck and fate.

In 1853, two brothers James and Thomas Cuthbertson set sail for Melbourne from England. They were blown off course, landing in Hobart. James set up his own business manufacturing and importing shoes which he later passed on to his eldest son James II. It was around this time that John and Eliza Blundstone arrived in Hobart. John was also experienced in shoe manufacture and set up his own business, ‘John Blundstone and Son’. The Cuthbertson family later ended up purchasing the Blundstone company during the Depression, and the rest is history.

Blundstone remains owned by the Cuthbertson family to this day and now supplies 30 countries worldwide with comfortable, durable footwear. Blundstone is most famous for its line of ‘The Originals’, elastic-sided, leather work boots fondly called ‘blunnies’ by Australians. Blundstone produces 1.5 million pairs of boots a year. Interestingly, in Italy, these boots are not worn for work at all – they’re a cult fashion item! The fashion conscious Italian market regards the boots as more of a lifestyle shoe, worn to make a statement. “If I spoke to the people there and told them I’m the CEO of Blundstone they’d have the view that I’m the CEO of a fashion house brand,” says Mr Gunn.

Although the company has a long history of success, Mr Gunn is adamant: “There’s never really been an attitude of ‘we’re here forever’ that’s been adopted. We always feel as though we have to keep proving ourselves.” The Australian market is highly competitive, driving up the standard for key players like Blundstone to design and manufacture quality footwear. “In terms of the product, we want people to come back to us time and time again so the product is comfortable, fits well, lasts a long time, is great value for money, people want to be seen wearing them… We have a brand that’s synonymous with value for money and longevity.”

Blundstone aims to appeal to as wide a customer base as possible. “I use the analogy of the forestry debate here,” Mr Gunn says. “You’ve quite often got environmentalists up against foresters and they may well be out on a site protesting at loggerheads, pardon the pun, and they both like to be wearing Blundstone’s so we need to stay friendly with a lot of people out there.” Blundstone footwear is worn by both sexes and all ages in a variety of environments, work and leisure, even onstage! The tap dancers in the popular stage show ‘Tap Dogs’ performed wearing modified Blundstone boots.

Being an ethical, environmentally conscious business is something Blundstone prides itself on. The company gives back to the local and wider community, especially during times of need. Blundstone donated 3000 pairs of work boots and gumboots to assist workers and volunteers involved in the cleanup operation in Queensland after the devastation of cyclone Yasi and the floods. “We did that for reasons to do with not really marketing the brand,” Mr Gunn explains, “clearly there were a very unusual set of events there where people desperately needed gumboots and the supply chain just wasn’t capable of providing, there just wasn’t enough stock out there.” Flood water can hide hazards and is unsanitary, often carrying diseases, so proper footwear was essential for the safety of volunteers. “It’s great to make a contribution. It’s not done for advertising reasons; obviously we get acknowledged and that’s fantastic.”

The Blundstone gumboot range is manufactured in Hobart using Italian technology producing over 200,000 pairs of gumboots per year. Any excess PVC coming out of the moulds which would have otherwise gone into landfill is cleverly reworked into the production process. This forward thinking approach reduces waste and cost of production.

Earlier this year the world watched as Christchurch was rocked by earthquakes causing death and destruction. Mr Gunn admits, “It’s been a little harder helping there to be honest because they didn’t start the actual clean up because of the constant tremors and fear of further earthquakes but we certainly found a way to do it with donation of footwear when it was needed.”

Blundstone values its vendors and has been helping them move forward from the crises in Queensland and New Zealand. “Their businesses were substantially disrupted by what’s gone on and we’ve been working with them with getting them new stock and coming to an arrangement [for flexible payment]. Mr Gunn reflects, “I think when those types of things happen you’ve got to be looking for ways to try and make a difference, to help out, and that’s the approach that we adopt.”

The Black Saturday bushfires were a dark day in Australia’s history. Together with the Lindsay Fox Group, Blundstone managed to get truckloads of desperately needed boots up in the actual fire zone. Mr Gunn comments, “We rally when those sorts of things happen; we understand that the community is helping us make a living when times are normal so we give back…” Mr Gunn is also quick to acknowledge other corporations and non-profits that think the same way and offer their assistance in times of crisis.

Maintaining a company culture based on strong values pays great dividends both internally and externally. The values are simple – forget ripping people off, be honest in all dealings. The Blundstone team is small and has a real sense enthusiasm regarding the company and its future. “It’s a heck of a lot easier to get people to work for you if they believe in the organisation and what it stands for.” Mr Gunn is pleased with the capabilities of the Blundstone team, commenting, “We pull together, we work hard, there’s a lot of pride in the place and a lot of determination.”

The Blundstone team has some exciting plans and developments underway for product expansion in the near future. “Watch this space because we’ve got lots of things in the pipeline to bring to market,” says Mr Gunn. In 2012 Blundstone is planning to launch its stylish school shoe range in Australia and then expand into overseas markets. Mr Gunn commented, “School shoes are notoriously lacking in comfort features and we don’t see why. We’ve used some of our skills in making work boots and crossed them over to school shoes.” Mr Gunn acknowledges that it is a difficult retail environment to be launching into, but is hopeful that consumers will see the value of purchasing school shoes with slip resistant soles. “Arguably school shoes cop more rough treatment than work boots – if my son is anything to go by then that’s the case – so we’ve introduced a slip resistant sole… Kids are walking disaster zones in most cases.”

Mr Gunn has this message for consumers that have yet to try and buy a pair of Blundstones: “I certainly invite a person to enjoy the product and hope that we can do something for them that improves their life in some small way, whether that be in a working life or a leisure pursuit.” Blundstone has a bright future path ahead. To be a part of it buy a pair of Blundstones and step into success.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:44 AM AEDT