Quality and Comfort in Footwear

Steel Blue

Quality and comfort are two things for which Steel Blue is known in the safety footwear business. For nearly twenty years, the company has focussed on producing only the best footwear for a number of market sectors by creating new and innovative processes for the design and production of its products.

Steel Blue was launched in August of 1995, led by five directors. Between them, they brought more than one hundred years of experience in the design, manufacture and marketing of high quality safety footwear to the company.

Ross Fitzgerald, General Manager of Sales and one of the original five, recognised that the group was taking a gamble with Steel Blue’s unique business model but was confident that the risk would pay off. “We felt that we could start our own business and started off with a quality product which was expensive in the marketplace at the time – which was a gamble – but we felt that was an area of the market that was missing,” he explains.

Steel Blue’s early offerings were a full fifty per cent more expensive than products offered by competitors, but it was never the company’s goal to be the biggest provider of safety footwear in Australia and beyond – only the provider of footwear with the greatest comfort and highest quality.

Clearly the gamble has paid off well for Steel Blue, which today is one of Australia’s most innovative and best recognised safety footwear producers in the market. “Eighteen years later, we have been proven correct that people are prepared to pay more when they get something for their extra dollars.”

Steel Blue, perhaps best known for its products developed for the mining industry, offers a full range of footwear to suit the needs of every customer. The company already offers well-established product lines supporting the needs of the mining, chemical, oil and gas and construction industries as well as sturdy footwear for hiking. The team has also developed new and upcoming lines for emergency response workers and rural workers.

The mining line has been designed to meet the specific needs of mine workers who regularly experience water, mud and slippery rugged surfaces in harsh environmental conditions. Steel Blue’s durable mining boots have been designed with steel toecaps to protect mine workers’ feet in both style and comfort. All of the mining boots offer premium leather, quality upper material and specially designed linings to protect feet from both hot and wet conditions. The line includes the Telfer, Argyle-Met and Mackay boots.

Chemical and oil and gas workers face their own unique hazards on the work site and the company’s line of boots – including the Jarrah, Warragul, Heeler and Cobar – was developed for these very specific needs. Using leather hand selected to be resistant to damage from caustic soda, sulphuric acid, oil and water, this line provides everything chemical workers need to stay safe while on the job.

Customers looking for a general use boot that will meet the varied needs of heavy industry and construction have a great deal of options to choose from through Steel Blue’s industrial work boot line. Built to withstand even the toughest environments while designed for comfort and safety, the general purpose boots offer something for everybody. The line, including the Argyle, Canberra, Portland and Collie, has nine styles that offer various properties and protection.

For electrical workers, the company developed its Torquay EH. This boot was designed with a great deal of research and consultation to protect electrical workers from the dangers of electrical shock on the job site. Across Australia, the boot has become standard equipment for electrical workers who value the high level of electrical insulation and the added level of safety and comfort the boot adds while on the job.

In a departure from the safety boot market, Steel Blue also offers a line of high quality products for the hiking enthusiast. Offering six styles, the company has developed attractive and functional boots that can be worn on the trail or even during a night on the town. All Steel Blue hiking boots – including the Townsville, Bundaberg and Wagga – are made with extra thick, soft padding and excellent ankle support to discourage ankle roll-overs.

The company’s most recent line, called Response, has been developed to serve police, emergency medical personnel and security workers. The line has been well received and is well on its way to being proven best in the industry. “The line has been out and is doing quite well,” says Ross. In the near future, the company will be releasing a new product line designed to meet the needs of rural workers as it continues to diversify across a wide range of industries.

Because of its insistence on always using cutting edge processes and the best materials, Steel Blue has received its fair share of awards and recognition as an industry leader in Australia. In 2005, the company won the Swan Business of the Year Award; in 2006, the Western Australia Entrepreneur of the Year; and in 2008, the Award for Marketing Excellence from the Australian Marketing Institute. Steel Blue is also the only safety footwear brand to receive endorsements from both Australasian Podiatry Council and Australian Physiotherapy Association.

Ross is never one to rest on the company’s prior achievements though, and remains hungry to continue the innovation for which the company has come to be known. “One of the keys for us, going forward, is to produce products that cover more of the other areas for continued growth in the future.”

He suggests that while the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was a challenging time for the company, the experience also taught the team something about how to remain successful amidst harsh economic conditions. “We don’t get complacent about success of the business. We’ve been through the GFC, which was difficult, but was also a help to us in that it encouraged us to take a second look at our process and operate more leanly and efficiently,” Ross explains.

This experience reinforced the value of diversifying the company’s offerings and inspired Steel Blue’s growth into new and exciting areas, such as the lines for response workers, rural workers and hikers.

To continually improve quality and comfort for its customers, Steel Blue employs a product development team that creates new design and production techniques and develops new materials in addition to new applications for existing materials. “Our team has many decades of experience and it is a focus to always bring our product to the next level through continual improvement.” Each new product then goes through an intensive research and development phase and on-site testing to ensure that it is appropriate for the wearer and can withstand the abuse it will face in the field.

But Ross recognises that amazing products are only half of the story and that the company’s focus on building relationships, both within the industry and with customers, and on providing high quality support have helped it grow into what it is today. To this end, customer service has always been our number one priority for Steel Blue. “Our service team is focused on making sure they look after the customer no matter what the inquiry is,” he says. “We work quite hard with our team to make sure the end user and distributor gets looked after and sorted out as quickly as possible.”

Steel Blue supplies customers throughout Australia and the world through manufacturing sites in Perth, Western Australia and Jakarta, Indonesia. “We work with our partners in Jakarta to ensure the quality is second to none, and they are doing an incredible job.”

The Australian market is served through the Perth manufacturing facilities, where imported uppers are attached to soles and finished before being supplied to Australian consumers, while the world market is served through the Jakarta facility.

In the future, the company has a clear goal of continued growth into new markets and territories. This diversification will ensure continued success despite the up and down nature of industries like mining. “We have other products on the horizon, with a focus on a couple of different sectors in order to spread sales and mitigate the risk of being associated with one sector,” explains Ross. “Our philosophy is to focus on footwear,” he adds, stating that there is no expectation to branch into clothing or personal protective equipment in the near future.

Behind each Steel Blue line of boot is the philosophy that has been driving the company for twenty years: the lasting desire to create the best, most comfortable products available. “That’s what our product is all about. We have a big team making sure footwear is the most comfortable around and that the quality is first class.”

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?

June 22, 2018, 5:12 PM AEST