Upstarts: Ridgemont Outfitters
Ridegemont Outfitters Founders Stacy Lowery and Alex Hall sat down with TransWorld Business to provide insight into what is driving momentum behind the brand, which they describe as a cross breed between an updated, more modern spin on a hiking boot, combined with a rugged skate-inspired shoe. . The two business partners hail from a footwear background, both previously serving as executives for skate shoe brand Duffs, and have been working on the idea for Ridgemont for the past five years. Hall and Lowery actually waited approximately four years to launch their idea into the market, just to make sure they had a truly unique business model, explains the entrepreneurs.
“We were waiting to see if someone had this idea already and would beat us out of the gate,” says Lowery. “If you look at the attention Venture Out and the brands in that section of Outdoor Retailer have been getting, our timing seems to be pretty on point.”
After seeing that none of the other major brands were stepping up to fill the space, Ridgemont began working on plans to launch their idea into the market.
“I started sketching ideas early on and we started doing market research to try and find some focus,” Lowery says. “I think I had a pretty clear vision aesthetically, but I also reached out to some friends of mine who are very talented designers for advice and feedback. At one point I did a rendering for the shoe that became the Outback. I think it was at that point that we started really getting excited.”
Fast forward to today, and the brand has already successfully launched its inaugural collection into retail accounts and are starting to broaden the awareness for the brand within other spaces, like its recent debut at Outdoor Retailer’s Venture Out section.
How were some of the initial designs conceived, and how did you go about sourcing the perfect materials to use for the footwear?
Stacy: I originally thought about the designs in two ways. The first was to make a better looking boot. The second was to make a more rugged skate-style shoe.
Finding the perfect materials turned out to be more difficult than we expected it would be.
We were already making shoes and had great suppliers so we thought we pretty much had it nailed already. But when we started trying to source really high-end leathers with real water-proof coatings, things got more difficult.
We visited several tanneries and finally settled on one that met our criteria. Some of the other components were finalized through trial and error. I knew I didn't want to over-build it. That already exists. At the same time, I couldn't under-build it or it wouldn't perform in the outdoors. We would make a round of samples and go camping and hiking and try to destroy them. Luckily we have some good friends who are always out there doing stuff that also helped test the early stuff.
What about the actual construction of the shoe – what sets it apart from other footwear that’s on the market right now?
Stacy: For one, they're genuine vulcanized construction on our current line. I thought it was important for us to really make a statement with our first line, and I felt like building our shoes this way would instantly set them apart from everything else on the wall.
Remember, we're not in skate shops, so vulc soles really stand out in the places you find traditional hiking gear. Visually, I was getting exactly what I wanted, however, we then had to figure out how to build them to perform. I'm not going to say we pioneered anything, but we definitely had to push to develop processes that would stick some pretty high moisture content materials together
We also used higher quality materials in every facet of construction. The little things do matter here, even if you can't see them.
We have gusseted tongues on all of our styles to keep debris out, and we use a composite lasting board, which acts as a shank for added stiffness. All of our shell materials are water resistant and we use non-wicking thread to inhibit water from penetrating through stitch holes. We do all this while trying to make it look like we do none of it.
“We know that to survive we'll have to move in to the REI's of the world at some point, but before we do that we have to build our brand recognition. We're trying to use this time to tell our story and build our following. We hope that when the big guys come calling they'll see that part of our value will be bringing them some younger customers.”—Stacy Lowery, founder, Ridgemont
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an emerging footwear brand and what is your strategy for moving past that and growing in 2015?
Alex: Getting in front of the right buyer is probably the most difficult part. A lot of the retailers we're meeting with acknowledge that they missed the boat when some of the newer outdoor brands launched. At the same time, when a buyer is on the younger side, they instantly get what Ridgemont is all about.
How many silhouettes are in the collection now and is there plans to expand the offering in future seasons?
Stacy: We launched with four in 2014, two mids and two lows, with two to four colors each. At OR we'll be showing two new models, the Monty Low and Monty High, each in 3 color ways. The Monty is more of a traditional outdoor look, but with proportions that suit our eye.
Talk about the recent build out of your expanded rep force – why are you focusing in on these areas as key for sales? What has been the result so far?
Alex: We're very unique in this space, so we're taking a pretty unique approach.
We've decided to take a little different approach to the standard 'get as many commissioned sales reps in as many territories as possible' and have decided to take a more curated approach. We're focusing on key shops and in key territories with a smaller more focused sales force that understand Ridgemont's premise and will help us spread the word. We want to be able to work with the specific retailers that can help us to best highlight the brand.
Which top core and chain retailers currently carry Ridgemont?
Alex: We're in a handful of independents in So Cal, The Rockies and are working on the Pacific NW and East Coast. The reception has been great so after this season of trade shows we're hoping to have a handful more independents and a few smaller regional chain stores.
What is your distribution strategy as the brand gets some momentum?
Stacy: We know that to survive we'll have to move in to the REI's of the world at some point, but before we do that we have to build our brand recognition. We're trying to use this time to tell our story and build our following. We hope that when the big guys come calling they'll see that part of our value will be bringing them some younger customers.
What are some of the untapped opportunities that exist for the brand at the moment?
Stacy: Almost everything is untapped! We have so many ideas that we haven't executed yet. We're building some great relationships with other like-minded brands in the outdoor space like Coalatree and Richer Poorer that we've done some stuff with already and we have much bigger plans with going forward.
We are also working on projects with some as yet undisclosed brand ambassadors. We have some cause-based initiatives in the works as well. We're slowly expanding the line too. The Fall '15 line will have some non-vulc shoes that blend a more traditional hiker design with our own Ridgemont aesthetic. We've had a tremendous amount of interest in our bag range too, so we're going to but some focus on that for next year.
What are you most hyped on about Ridgemont? Any particular shoe within the collection that you would recommend above all the rest and why?
Alex: Media, consumer and retailer acceptance have all been huge. Whenever we were featured in places like Gear Institute and Outside, our website blew up. Those guys live the outdoors and they're validating our concept. And at the same time, people are always asking us if they could skate in our shoes. To me, that means we nailed it from a looks perspective. You could skate in a pair of Ridgemonts, but you'd be better off in something else. At the same time, we're finding people are wearing these for their daily domestic adventures, which is exactly what we wanted to see happen when we came up with the concept.
Stacy: I'm biased, but I love the entire line. The new charcoal Outback looks great, but the Mesa is what I tend to gravitate to a lot. It's really simple and looks great with jeans so that's what I usually rock.
Which tradeshows will you be at in Jan. 2015 and how can buyers get in touch with you?
Alex: Made our official debut at Outdoor Retailer as a part of their Venture Out section, alongside some similar brands with their own unique take on outdoor adventure. It kept us busy and we had a great experience overall.
If you didn't make it to OR or need to get in touch with us, general inquiries can be sent to info@ridgemontoutfitters and retailers can email jeremy@ridgemontoutfitters.