Founded more than 30 years ago in Southern California, Boot Barn is a specialty retailer dedicated to providing its customers with one of the largest selections of top-quality western and work footwear and apparel available in today’s market. With an 81-store footprint that spans across much of the Western US, the organization has a presence in California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Montana.
According to CEO Patrick Meany, the organization’s broad product selection has always played an important role in its success. “We realize that for many of our customers, footwear is representative of who they are as individuals,” he explained. “This is part of the reason we take our dedication to selection so seriously, and it’s why we strive to offer products that aren’t available anywhere else.”
In addition to its physical infrastructure, the Orange, Calif.-based company has a strong e-commerce platform, through which it’s able to sell footwear products to consumers across the US and abroad. The Web component was established in 1998, and although its popularity has grown, the brick-and-mortar locations are still the backbone of operations.
A growth spurt
Three years ago, Boot Barn had roughly 30 locations. According to Meany, a few factors allowed that number to more than double within the span of just a few months. In October 2007, the company was recapitalized when it took on a private equity partner, giving it access to a significant amount of additional capital.
“The recapitalization played a major role in allowing us to grow. Following that situation, we set forth a plan to grow a little more rapidly than we had in the past, although it happened much quicker than we thought it would,” Meany said, adding that much of the growth came about as a result of an unexpected opportunity. Of the roughly 50 stores added to the Boot Barn portfolio in the last three years, 45 were purchased through acquisitions; just five were start-up locations.
“There are only about a half of a dozen regional chains in our industry,” Meany said, noting that prior to 2008, the largest competitor was a company called BTWW Retail, which operated three chains of stores: Boot Town, Western Warehouse, and Corral West. “They operated approximately 130 stores, but they ran into some financial challenges as a result of the economy, so they contacted us, and we worked out three separate acquisitions in which we took over 45 of their stores.”
All of the stores were acquired in 2008—nine in July, 22 in October, and 14 in late November. This is a tremendous accomplishment, especially considering Boot Barn is not a franchise, meaning its team owns and operates each location. When asked about challenges related to the growth spurt, Meany said there were many to overcome. “There are of course going to be challenges when you have a string of acquisitions of this size,” he said. “Where do you start? They infiltrated all corners of operation.”
Prior to 2008, Boot Barn had grown at a pace of two to three stores per year, and most of those were start-up locations, which meant the company didn’t have to deal with many of the issues it faced while merging existing stores after the acquisition period.
“Acquisitions pose unique problems—among the most striking are the differences in corporate culture you have to deal with,” Meany said. “We kept most of the staff from the existing stores on board, and there are always going to be people who don’t welcome some of the changes you make.”
In addition to the challenges related to human resources, the team at Boot Barn had to work hard to bring all of the physical facilities up to date, an effort that included a re-branding process and the integration of a new IT system. Unlike some companies that choose to integrate IT solutions over an extended period of time, Boot Barn used a method Meany described as “brute force.”
“We opted to go into each store and immediately install our system, and within a short period of time, we were able to retag all the merchandise in a manner that was compatible with our system,” he explained, adding that the straight-to-the-point strategy played a vital role in the company’s ability to carry out a successful integration amidst one of the worst retail economies in decades.
The integrations were all completed within a 90-day period. Because the organization was able to get the system installed quickly, its team had access to information streaming in from all of the locations. “It was a huge accomplishment, but the truth is, if I had to do it again, I would try to get it done in 60 days—that’s how much of a difference it made,” Meany said.
With data coming in from all locations, the team at Boot Barn was able to keep an eye on which products were selling and which weren’t—something that proved even more important in areas like Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, and Montana, which were new territories for the organization.
“Different products are going to sell better in Wyoming versus Southern California,” Meany said. “Prior to the acquisition, we had a few stores in Southern Nevada and Arizona, but the majority of our operations were in California, and we didn’t have any locations much further north, so those markets were unfamiliar to us. The system installation helped us get up to date with the inventory needs in these areas, and the addition of e-mail and high-speed Internet allowed us to foster communications.”
Despite the economic downturn that’s plaguing most retailers, operations at Boot Barn remain stable, and the company continues to aggressively examine new markets for opportunities.