- Tecovas is a direct-to-consumer cowboy boot retailer that also has brick-and-mortar stores in Austin, Texas.
- The startup has earned comparisons to direct brands like Warby Parker and Glossier for its lower price points and online offerings.
- It just raised $US15 million in new equity funding as the company continues to open stores across Texas.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
There’s a reason cowboy boot retailer Tecovas has been dubbed the “Warby Parker of cowboy boots.”
The Western-wear company started out selling high-quality cowboy boots online directly to consumers, earning itself comparisons to other direct brands like Warby Parker, Glossier, and Everlane.
And like those brands, Tecovas is able to sell its products at a lower price point than its traditional retail competitors. Tecovas’ most popular men’s boots sell for around $US225, and the average price point is about $US300, founder Paul Hedrick told Loose Threads.
The company was founded in 2015 and began expansion into the brick-and-mortar landscape in 2019, opening its first retail store in Austin, Texas. That’s also when the startup raised $US30 million in Series A funding led by Elephant, a venture capital firm founded in part by Warby Parker co-founder Andy Hunt. And just this month, the company raised $US15 million in new equity funding.
Hedrick told Business Insider in 2019 that he envisions his boots dressing many a person from New York to Chicago to Texas and beyond. With 70% of the company’s sales coming from outside of Texas, he may be on to something.
“My goal for the boots has always been for them to be equally fitting in the boardroom as they are in the bar as they are in the wedding as they are at a concert,” Hedrick said.
We visited the Tecovas retail store in Austin, Texas, in 2019. Here’s what it’s like.
In today’s burgeoning direct-to-consumer retail arena, Tecovas isn’t the first to strike gold.
Source: Business Insider
But it is the first to zero in on one particular untapped product and market: Western footwear.
Founder Paul Hedrick, a native Texan and subsequent avid boot-wearer, told Business Insider in 2019 that he saw an opportunity to disrupt the $US3 billion Western boot industry.
Source: Boot Barn
“It didn’t feel like anyone was trying to start the Warby Parker for cowboy boots,” Hedrick said. And so Tecovas, named after a rock formation in the Texas Panhandle, was born.
Hedrick said he knew what kinds of problems he had to eliminate. For starters, he wanted to demystify the current boot-buying experience, since the vast selection of boots can be overwhelming for consumers.
And by taking a direct-to-consumer approach, the company could expand its reach outside of Texas, making it easier for customers anywhere to get their hands on authentic cowboy boots.
Source: Business Insider
So Tecovas focused on streamlining the buying process.
There aren’t skyscraping walls of hundreds of options.
Instead, the company carries 15 men’s styles and six women’s styles in varying colours and materials.
And whereas boots can be fairly pricey at traditional retailers — a scroll through veteran bootmaker Lucchese’s inventory includes a slew of price tags north of $US500 — the price range at Tecovas sits at $US195 to $US695.
When Hedrick started the company, he said the only thing he knew about cowboy boots was from the perspective of a customer. He turned to boot experts for guidance on the ins and outs of the industry.
“I wasn’t going to try to build a boot from scratch on my own,” Hedrick said. “I was going to go to the best place in the world to make the product and have them teach me how the best products are made.”
That place ended up being Leon, Mexico, a town known for producing footwear for veteran boot companies for the past 80-odd years, said Hedrick.
Source: LA Times
“It was one of those obvious places,” Hedrick said. “Our factory at one point had pretty much every brand that I know in the business.”
So he worked with designers in Austin and with factory producers in Mexico.
According to the Tecovas website, there are over 200 steps involved in making a single boot by hand.
That includes the cutting of leathers, laying the cording on by hand, hand-stitching on the shaft — or the top part of a cowboy boot — and painting.
Hedrick said the company’s direct-to-consumer strategy translated to a different approach with the factory partners in Leon.
Normally, brands might take an ideal cost to the factories and then build the product out within those confines.
But Hedrick said he did the opposite since the company wasn’t bound by costs demanded by retailers.
He took the product he had in mind to the company’s factory partner and then settled on whatever cost it would require. And since the company was following a direct-to-consumer model that eliminated middleman costs, Hedrick said the price wouldn’t end up being too high.
Turning in-house to create products is another money saver in general for Tecovas and other direct-to-consumer disrupters like it, and it lowers the price for consumers considerably.
The factory partners also helped the company decide which materials were best to craft with, Hedrick said. Calfskin and suede were no-brainers since calfskin is one of the most common animal hides used in the industry. The more exotic — though still traditional — leathers came later.
The 14 men’s and five women’s styles Tecovas offers each highlight the different hides. The Jessie line, for example, features ostrich leather. “In order of popularity, ostrich has always been a pretty common cowboy boot leather,” Hedrick said.
A pair of boots from The Wyatt ostrich-made Tecovas line cost $US355. Hedrick said competitor brands price their ostrich leather equivalents around $US600 to $US700.
Hedrick said the alligator family is a close second in popularity.
And the lizard leather is particularly fun. It’s also durable and comfortable, according to Hedrick.
There’s also caiman belly, a crocodile leather, featured in the Dillon line, which Hedrick said might be his personal favourite.
Like Warby Parker, Everlane, and Casper — fellow direct-to-consumer companies specializing in eyewear, clothing, and mattresses, respectively — Tecovas has recently moved into the brick-and-mortar landscape.
Source: Business Insider
And since Tecovas lives at the intersection of country-western culture, fashion, and tech, Austin seemed like the perfect home for it.
In March, on the first weekend of this year’s SXSW — Austin’s annual festival that draws in thousands of visitors from around the world — the company opened the doors to its first retail store. The company only had showrooms previously.
Source: Austin-American Statesman
Hedrick said they had their hands full with foot traffic.
Now, hundreds of people pass through the retail location’s doors each day, Hedrick said, and the company is enjoying a nice spike in sales.
It doesn’t hurt that Tecovas jumped on a piece of prime real estate along Austin’s South Congress drag.
The stretch is one of the city’s biggest tourist draws. It’s where the iconic and Instagram-friendly “i love you so much” mural is located, to paint a better picture.
It’s also where the city’s longtime boot supplier, Allen’s Boots, has hung its hat since 1977.
Source: Visit Austin
Hedrick said tourism is a good source of foot traffic for the store.
“I think a lot of people come to Austin and just get it in their head that they need to leave Austin with a pair of cowboy boots,” Hedrick said.
As far as the clientele goes, Hedrick said he launched Tecovas in Texas for a reason.
“Initially it was a lot easier to tell the story to people who were already wearing and buying cowboy boots,” Hedrick said.
But they also have a modern sleekness to them, which Hedrick says could make it easier on novice boot wearers who are traipsing into the boot-buying experience for the first time.
“You don’t need to be an expert about boots to be able to wear them,” Hedrick said.
So Hedrick said the company sees a good mix of both seasoned boot owners and newbies coming through the store.
And that customer diversity is nothing new. Even before Tecovas ventured into brick-and-mortar, Hedrick said online sales came from some of the biggest cities across the country, like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.
In fact, Hedrick said that only 28% of sales in 2018 came from within the state of Texas.
But still, that many sales coming out of just one state was deemed enough to invest further in Texas.
In 2018, Tecovas raised $US30 million in a Series A funding round led by venture capital firm Elephant, which was founded in part by Warby Parker cofounder Andy Hunt.
Hedrick said the extra capital is fuelling new hires within the company and also the expansion of more brick-and-mortar stores throughout Texas, though he said there isn’t an exact estimate of how many yet.
This isn’t the company’s first funding round, either. Shortly after the 2015 launch, Tecovas took some $US4 million in venture capital, but that only came after Hedrick worked to get the company off the ground the hard way.
Hedrick said that he “took the term bootstrap seriously” and maxed out his credit cards and retirement account to fund the company in its very earliest days.
Now, with the additional $US30 million raised, Tecovas is poised to continue with its growth, which includes introducing new product categories to its offering, Hedrick said.
Duffle bags, belts, t-shirts, hats, and jeans have been added to the mix.
For Tecovas and other direct-to-consumer brands, Hedrick said product expansion seems to be a natural move.
But he said going forward, he thinks each digitally native brand will decide how they evolve.
“At the early stage a lot of brands are trying to become the ‘Warby Parker of X,’ and in the early stages, they seem similar,” Hedrick said.
But the successful ones that end up making a name for themselves are the companies that build a solid customer base, he said.
Having that direct line to people digitally is a trend that Hedrick said is not slowing down. But, these brands are starting to realise that they could extend their reach if they expand outside of the internet.
“It’s funny — a lot of the digital brands are starting to look a little more traditional,” Hedrick said.
And there may be some truth to that. Warby Parker, one of the earliest direct-to-consumer success tales, now has 60 retail stores in the US. Men’s clothing line Bonobos has more than 30, and mattress seller Casper opened its first permanent brick-and-mortar in New York in 2018.
Source: Business Insider