Steps in a New Direction
> Moving strategically in the mid-‘90s, McRae Industries purchased a leading manufacturer and seller of western boot products. Over the years, the company continued to acquire several popular brands to build a thriving business.
Venturing into the western and work boot world
AFTER NEARLY THREE DECADES OF SUCCESS in the military boot market, McRae Industries founder and CEO Branson McRae decided to “go West.” In April 1996, he purchased American West Trading Company, a designer, marketer, and distributor of western boots for people of all ages. The deal included two manufacturing plants in Clarksville and Waverly, TN, and a workforce of 450.
"Dad was a natural entrepreneur and a calculated risk taker. We continue to strive to follow his example."
“Over the years, Dad had ventured into a variety of other businesses, from developing computer software and hardware, to acquiring a jeans manufacturing plant, to owning a restaurant, motel, and Buick dealership,” says Gary McRae, chairman, president, CEO, and treasurer of McRae Industries. “Hence the name change from ‘McRae Footwear’ to “McRae Industries.”
The American West purchase was the last deal Branson would make for his company. He passed away in February 1997, from mesothelioma – believed to be contracted from his first job, building Liberty ships for the Allies in World War II.
“Dad’s entrepreneurial spirit was ever present throughout his life,” Gary says. “When he passed, we kept his spirit with us by doing what we thought he would want us to do – divesting our nonfootwear companies and expanding our boot and shoe brands.”
Building the western brand
In 1998, the American West venture faced uncertainty when its primary customer, Walmart, got out of the western wear business. “We realized our best option was to make our own western boot brand,” says Jim McRae, vice president, director, and secretary of McRae Industries. The company began churning out boots under the American West name – and looking for opportunities to acquire other western boot companies.
First stop: Dingo, a well-known national brand since the ’70s, that went up for sale in 2002. McRae purchased Dingo, and shortly after, the Dan Post brand – authentic western boots handcrafted with exotic skins and premium leathers.
The company’s third purchase was the Laredo brand, maker of western, riding and buckaroo-style boots. When Laredo fell on hard financial times, McRae Footwear beat out the competitor in a high-stakes bidding war.
Moving production overseas
“We were manufacturing our western boots at the two factories in Tennessee,” Jim says. “But all our competitors in the western boot market had gone offshore. We eventually followed suit and moved production of our western brands overseas – while continuing to manufacture our military boots in the North Carolina and Tennessee factories.” Today, Laredo and Dingo brands are made in China and India, and Dan Post is made in Mexico.
With three solid brands now in its purview, the company adopted the name “Dan Post Boot Company” for its western boot subsidiary. Today, Dan Post footwear products are sold nationwide through major retail discount stores, regional specialty chain stores, western boot distributors, direct mail catalogs, and Internet retailers. “Venturing into the western boot market was the right decision,” Gary says. “We’re sure Dad would be pleased with how it’s all turned out.”