Tecovas wins favor with down-to-earth branding and exquisite styling.
Editor's Note: As statewide rules and regulations continue to change, please contact retailers for their latest store hours and delivery capabilities.
From an innovative online start-up, to a growing and stylish brick and mortar presence, Tecovas has continually pushed the envelope when it comes to what it means to be a Western brand in today’s market. We talked with Tecovas’ Founder and CEO, Paul Hedrick, a Harvard grad with Texas cowboy roots, about the booming brand that’s both effortlessly cool and down to earth to boot!
Tell us about your brand/store style – what does style mean to you?
Well first of all, Tecovas is a Western brand. Our primary mission is to be the most beloved Western brand in the world. We do that by creating unparalleled products, experiences, and joy, really for everyone who crosses our path. That's really who we are. It sounds maybe a little general, but we think about ourselves as someone who wants to optimize the customer's experience. It starts with a product, of course. That’s the most important thing to get right, but it also goes to all those interactions that you have with us. [It’s] that smile on your face when you realize that, not only you got what you paid for, but you got more than you paid for, and you got a square deal on something meaningful. Or maybe you just experienced us in store, and it was a far more enjoyable visit than you ever could have expected, because we think about retail differently.
As far as brass tacks, we mostly sell cowboy boots, very nice ones at that, what we feel are the highest quality, most approachable, Western boots on the market. We also sell some awesome apparel and accessories and have the full Western experience both online and in store. We have 15 stores now, and [we’re] putting some more in this year as well. Our goal with our stores was to make them really meaningfully different from what else was out there as far as what a Western store, a cowboy boot store, looked like. We wanted them to be very high end but very approachable. We wanted them to be really authentically Western, born in the West, but clearly also versatile in who they could appeal to. Looking at one of them you’ll see a pretty good indicator of our style, which is very well thought out, very detail oriented, very quality oriented but also really welcoming. You walk in, and it's bright. It's warm and feels like a well-designed friend's house, not a cluttered retailer. You're offered a beverage at the door, complimentary beer, whiskey, or Topo Chico. We have really friendly staff, and their whole goal is to make everyone's experience there, whether you're a first-timer, a many-timer or someone who's literally just browsing, an awesome experience even if you’re not buying anything. That represents who we are.
We ended up doing more innovation than we ever had before. We invested in making exciting new products as opposed to pulling them back or trimming down.
2020 was a crazy year – what does your 2021 business outlook look like?
It was definitely a crazy year. We had made, on our end, a really big investment in brick and mortar retail. We were online-only for our first three years [in business] from 2015 through 2018. We had opened five stores in 2019. So coming into 2020, we’d planned to open 10 to 12 stores. Obviously that looked really different come March when there was going to be closures and pretty major changes in consumer traffic. Ironically, we really ended up pushing still pretty hard into physical retail. We opened eight stores last year. We've already opened two this year, and the stores are profitable, which was pretty awesome and a pretty big blessing.
2021 for us is all about charging into the future. It's all about optimism. We actually grew last year, which was not something that I think would have happened naturally. We were very intentional about focusing on our customer. You know a lot of people wear our boots to parties, bars, concerts, weddings, offices. Thinking about the list of those things and what maybe you did a little bit less in 2020, that was the challenge. We're fortunate, because we're still a young, growing brand, and we grew. We didn't grow as much as we liked, so 2021 is really about kind of a little bit of making up for lost ground, but also being ready for the optimism that we've created for a lot of that comeback to happen.
Did you face any challenges during the 2020 push for digital presence?
As far as digital goes, our biggest challenge is not necessarily the shift to digital. We were a digital-first brand. We were digital, online-only, for a few years. Even when March hit last year, we were almost three quarters of our sales online. So we were pretty well prepared to make sure that E-commerce was going to be big and could make up for brick and mortar closures and/or declines. I think our biggest challenge, and really it flows into 2021, was making sure we were being relevant for our core customer, focusing on them, giving them exciting things we haven’t given them before, and making sure we knew who we are.
It was less about channel shifting for us and more about investing in the right products. We ended up doing more innovation than we ever had before. We invested in making exciting new products as opposed to pulling them back or trimming down. We were already working pre-pandemic on what we felt was the biggest gap in our lineup which is really a more rugged boot for ranch and work, and we went full steam ahead on all that and got those products to market. We launched our Ranch collection in the fall. We were innovative. We had some of our most successful promotions to date, while still staying true to our rule of not discounting. Unlike many retailers, we don't discount our products. We were proud not to do that, and overall it was a year of scrambling and learning and making sure not to fall down when our customers really needed us the most.
What is your best tip for online growth/engaging with your audience?
I think the best tip, and it may sound counterintuitive, is actually just to be human and to be present. I think a lot of people and entrepreneurs and retailers can get lost in the idea and the questions around how to optimize advertising, marketing, Instagram, Google, display ads, etc., and believe me there's a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid to reach customers effectively online from a dollars and cents perspective. But at the end of the day it's key to remember that your digital presence is just thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of one-to-one connections online. That social post or comment or ad is one person’s experience with your brand, so if they comment, be human, pay attention, let them know you’re listening. If they ask you a question, answer. Be friendly and kind. Be attentive in that micro level. Avoid negativity. We feel very strongly that positivity spreads, and that’s who we are as a brand. We have an internal saying that the brand with the most friends, wins. Growing a brand and engaging with your audience is a long game, especially in a category like ours, mostly Western boots, where product quality and service are paramount. You need to make sure those are on point before you try to grow too much so they will turn into your biggest assets. Make sure your quality of product and service are great first. Be human and be present, and be positive.
We feel very strongly that positivity spreads, and that’s who we are as a brand. We have an internal saying that the brand with the most friends, wins.
Are you expecting to see a return to in-person shopping this year?
So we've been bullish since before the pandemic, but obviously there was a period where we were closed two or three months depending on the store. Traffic was definitely nowhere near where it was the prior year, but we've already seen traffic levels pretty close to normal coming into spring , especially in certain areas where maybe it's a little bit more open, and I’m all about it. We're not trying to plan for it to go crazy or anything. We still have to be conservative in our planning, but I think anecdotally, there's a lot of people out there who are itching to get back to their normal habits, maybe even more than they were before. So there may even be a period where it’s a little bit more than we expect, but we're being conservative and just happy to serve the customers that we have today.
What is new and noteworthy from your latest product release?
We’ve got a few things going on that I'm excited about this year, now included. We really are trying to build our Ranch collection, so that's something that we launched in November. Those products are, maybe not surprisingly, well-received by the market, and people really loved it. We will be adding to that collection with a boot that’s more built for horse riding called the Prescott. It doesn't come out for a few weeks, a lot more of that rugged all-weather, all-occasion footwear. We are really excited to give people more of what we're best at from limited editions, to seasonal colors. I think the most exciting one that just came out- we re-released what was one of our most popular boots of last year, our smooth ostrich collection called the Jasper. This year you'll see a lot more for women. I'm excited about that. Not that we haven't had women's boots before. We've always offered women's boots, but since this past holiday we're really going to be focusing more on it than we ever had before, introducing more new styles by a multiple, more than any other year, so more things to come. Keep your eyes peeled.
Give us your best style tip!
I would tailor it in two ways. I would say if you’re a first-timer in Tecovas or Western in general, I think my main tip is, have confidence to buy something that you may not think you can pull off. You'll be surprised that you can, especially with our styles which are a lot more approachable than most people think. Get that cowboy silhouette so you can really feel what it's like to walk taller with cowboy confidence. Get the ostrich if you're on the fence. You’ll be rocking the coolest-looking, most comfortable shoes of your friends. I think for the enthusiast, my main advice is to consider something new. We can play an exciting role for you if you want us to, and we’re maybe a lower risk way to play, to fill that gap in your lineup that maybe you've never been sure about, because we're an approachably-priced brand. So maybe get that suede if you've never tried it. It’s really versatile. Get that interesting color like gray or lighter tan, that will make you stand out. Get the python if you can get your hands on one. That’s how I approach my style advice.
This interview is part of an ongoing series that W&E is conducting with retailers. Click here to peruse more stories and interviews from the retail industry.