"WORK: ROCKY The hard work that led to Rocky's 2010 Plus Award in the Work category began more than two years ago with a commitment to develop a more collaborative process for making the best possible work boots. David Sharp, president of Rocky Brands, says everyone was included in the process from start to finish, which involved members from marketing, sales, design and sourcing. While such a team effort may seem logical, Sharp says it's not a common industry practice and it wasn't easy to get everyone on the same page at first. "We even held team-building exercises that demonstrated how a collective decision is much better than working individually." Sharp offers.

Two years later, the team effort is paying enormous dividends: Work boot sales increased by 34 percent in 2010 - not bad considering the overall work boot market shrank in size thanks to a brutal recession leaving many construction workers in the unemployment line. "We wanted to get closer to the consumer," Sharp says, noting the brand conducted more focus groups. "It has resulted in a much better percentage of styles being selected by the consumer as opposed to two or three years ago." Sharp adds that improvement is noticeable at a distance: "At 15 to 20 feet away from a shoe wall, Rocky product now stands out. Even the logos are in the right, consistent places, which increases our brand identity. There is a brand DNA now that is now pretty strong."

Specifically in 2010, Sharp says Rocky scored a couple of home runs. Boots featuring the brand's Net-Fit welt construction resonated with consumers seeking comfort, value and durability. The boots are backed by six-month outsole and 60-day comfort guarantees. "Basically we are putting our money where our mouth is," Sharp says. Along those lines, Sharp says the brand's Hi-Vis collection (designed especially for road crews and EMS employees) was another big success. The brand's exclusive reflective leather addresses a worthy need: increased visibility of workers where such improvement can be the difference between life and death.

Sharp describes Rocky's new approach to its work boots' design as more purposeful. "We actually had more employees working on our designs, but actually making fewer shoes - better," he says. It's a logical approach, considering the importance footwear plays in a tradesman's job. "Boots are on the same level of importance as their tools," he adds. "They have to be really comfortable and hold up to whatever the conditions."-G.D. Original article in Footwear Plus Magazine