Blundstone Pty Ltd.
Blundstone Pty Ltd.
Incorporated: 1902 as John Blundstone and Son Ltd.
Sales: $60 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 316213 Men's Footwear (Except Athletic) Manufacturing; 316214 Women's Footwear (Except Athletic) Manufacturing; 422340 Footwear Wholesalers
Blundstone Pty Ltd. is Australia's leading footwear manufacturer. Originally synonymous with its durable and comfortable boots for the farm and factory, the company developed a sense of style that made its footwear sought after in fashion centers around the world. Its distinctive elastic-sided boots became a global hit in the 1990s. The company exports to more than 20 countries. It also owns New Zealand's John Bull brand. The company is one of Tasmania's leading employers; along with the associated Cuthbertson Brothers Tanners, it has been a part of the island's economy since the late 19th century. Blundstone has renewed its commitment to the area by investing millions of Aussie dollars in equipment and training to keep its products competitive with foreign imports.
Blundstone has been in business since 1870, when British émigré John Blundstone began producing footwear in south Hobart on the island of Tasmania. The original address was 71 Liverpool Street. By 1892 Blundstone had moved to a new facility and was working with his son. The company became John Blundstone and Son Ltd. in 1902. The firm soon built a new two-story building on Campbell Street.
The brothers Frank and William Cane acquired the footwear business in 1921. It was sold to the Cuthbertson family, who would own it for the rest of the century, in 1932. The Cutherbertsons also owned a tannery.
Brothers James and Thomas Cuthbertson had come to the area in 1853. They originally had sailed for Melbourne, but remained where they landed in Hobart after a sickening voyage had them vowing never to go on the seas again. James Cuthbertson established a business making and importing shoes.
The company had gotten a big boost in 1914 when it began supplying the army. World War II also produced great demand for boots. After the war, Blundstone produced a line of "Mountain Masters" boots for farmers to wear as they tramped about the countryside. These were discontinued in the 1970s but the concept was revived and updated in 2002.
A variety of different boots was developed, including those with chemical resistant soles, waterproof boots, and those with wooden soles. Blundstone's specialty was work and safety footwear; the company pioneered steel-toed safety shoes. Dress and uniform shoes also were made. Along the way, production methods were updated to employ the latest technologies. Stitched and cemented soles were replaced by direct-vulcanized rubber soles in the 1950s, which gave way to thermoplastic soles a decade later, noted Manufacturer's Monthly.
The company began exporting in 1969, beginning with Papua New Guinea. The company got a new CEO in 1973, Tony Stacey, who would hold the job for about 30 years.
In 1993, Blundstone opened a small manufacturing and distribution facility in New Zealand to produce gumboots for the local market. The company had begun making gumboots, which were waterproof, injection-molded footwear, four years earlier.
A Global Hit in the 1990s
Blundstone was making about 500,000 boots a year in the early 1990s. Blundstone's elastic-sided 500s began turning up in London boutiques, following a trend for heavy footwear set by punk icon Doc Martens boots. They also were becoming popular among fashion-conscious young Aussie women. Their durability was a selling point in the global recession.
Blundstone took bold strides with fashion in the 1990s. New materials, such as blue suede and white leather, were tried. Although these did not prove to be enduring successes, they created a buzz and established Blundstone's work boots as chic, CEO Tom Stacey told Footwear News.
The company trod into new environs in 1992 by inviting Australian artists to "Do Something With a Blundstone" for a touring exhibition. Three years later, it began sponsoring a contest for contemporary art at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.
In 1997 the company began an AUD 5.5 million program to upgrade its buildings, manufacturing equipment, and information technology. Blundstone opened a new distribution channel, the Internet, selling boots on its web site. The new technology helped make the company less isolated from the rest of the world. A training center was opened next to the main Blundstone plant. Cuthbertson Brothers Tanners also underwent an upgrade, spending AUD 2 million to install new technology.
A line of children's shoes called Blunnies (the brand's traditional nickname) was unveiled in time for the Christmas 1999 season. Children's author Alison Lester was recruited to design merchandising materials. Based on the No. 500, the tiny boots were an instant sensation around the world. A company official told Footwear News that the key to brand extensions such as this was authenticity. "It's not a contrived product," said marketing manager Barry Smith. "It's not the name of a tractor put on a boot made in a factory in China." Blunnies were made, with pride, "down under."
Blundstone was making 80 different types of boots. The company had started rolling out other new products, such as sandals, hiking boots, and women's safety shoes. Blundstone-branded socks and belts were also available.
Blundstone ended the 1990s with 340 employees and annual revenues of AUD 50 million to AUD 75 million. Half of this came from safety and work sales, according to Footwear News, and 35 percent from farming footwear. A total of 15 percent was exported to 22 countries. More than half of its exports went to retail fashion stores, where they sold for up to $125 (AUD 200)—more than twice the price down under (AUD 75 on average). By this time, the boots had caught on in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Italy.
The Tap Dogs, an Australian tap dancing troop that was touring the world, wore Blundstones in their energetic routines. A herd of celebrities was hoofing them around Hollywood, and they were also a favorite of humble backpackers.
Acquiring John Bull in 2000
Blundstone's New Zealand subsidiary acquired John Bull Footwear in June 2000. John Bull had a factory in Auckland that employed more than 100 people. The company had been formed in 1934 to produce footwear for the rural market. In 1981 it was acquired by OPSM Protector; it then became the leading industrial footwear company in New Zealand.
The New Zealand gumboot operation was moved to Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, in 2001, when the operation employed about 30 people. The Auckland factory continued to make John Bull boots.
With more women taking up industrial jobs, it seemed natural for Blundstone's designers to develop a line of boots called "Women's Work." Tailored to fit women's feet, these boots were marketed in packaging featuring designs commissioned from six female Aboriginal artists. They hit the Australian market in August 2000. The design effort was led by a woman, Sharon Teuma. Teuma had previously worked in Australia with U.S. brands Colorado and Columbia, and had led Blundstone's children's shoe development. The step into ladies' footwear was more than just politically correct, an official told Melbourne's Herald Sun ; women bought several times as many shoes as men. The first female-specific product was a multipurpose outdoor shoe.
Blundstone continued to produce new designs for both men and women. These included the unisex Mountain Master line of hiking boots (these were bundled with a special travel booklet produced by publisher Lonely Planet).
Blundstone struggled with a world leather shortage in 2001 brought on by the hoof-and-mouth crisis in Europe. Blundstone was unique among Australian footwear manufacturers in being associated with its own tannery. Most sourced their uppers pre-made from Asia.
Competition from cheap imports hurt sales in 2003, prompting management to consider moving production offshore. On the plus side, a severe drought had farmers sending more cattle to slaughter, increasing the Blundstone's stockpile of leather.
Blundstone was introducing new, more stylish lines into the John Bull collection. The Matador and the Warrior both had safety features as well as looks. Another new product for its namesake brand was the Blundstone Action Sandal.
In spite of the high cost of running a business in Tasmania, and pressure from low-cost foreign imports, Blundstone renewed its commitment to its home with an AUD 2 million investment in new machinery in 2004. A new automated leather cutting machine and extra molding machine were intended to make the operation more efficient, CEO Steve Gunn told The Mercury.
Our stated values are: Respecting the dignity of our people; Active legal compliance; Responsible community membership; Outstanding product quality; Outstanding customer service; Non-discriminatory employment; Safe and healthy workplaces; Active industry membership.
At the time of its 135th anniversary in 2005, the company's 550 employees were producing 1.5 million pairs of footwear a year at three sites, including the original Cuthbertson tannery in Tasmania. Training was a priority at the company to keep morale and quality high and turnover low.
Blundstone's gumboot operation was relocated from Laverton, near Melbourne, to Hobart, Tasmania in the fall of 2005. The Tasmania government pitched in $96,000 to help move a molding machine. Steve Gunn, a former civil servant and the company's CEO since 2001, said that the ample availability of skilled workers in Tasmania was one factor in relocating the operation.
Blundstone New Zealand Ltd.
Blundstone Australia; Blundstone USA; John Bull Footwear.
AirWair International Ltd.; R.M. Williams Pty. Ltd.; Redback Boot Company Pty. Ltd.
- John Blundstone begins making boots in Hobart, Tasmania.
- Army business gives Blundstone a boost.
- The Cuthbertson family acquires Blundstone.
- Blundstone begins exporting.
- Blundstone begins making gumboots.
- No. 500 boots appear in London and New York boutiques.
- A plant is opened in New Zealand.
- Blundstone experiments with materials; style establishes its work boots as a fashion concept.
- Children's shoes are introduced.
- "Women's Work" footwear is introduced; New Zealand's John Bull Footwear is acquired.
- As Blundstone marks its 135th anniversary, the company's 550 employees are producing 1.5 million pairs of footwear a year at three sites.
Allen, Nikki, "Beef to Boots Campaign Puts Best Foot Forward," Tasmanian Country, June 12, 1998.
―――――, "Blunnies Sold on the Internet," Tasmanian Country, September 26, 1997.
"Blundstone Buys NZ's John Bull," Christchurch Press, May 24, 2000, p. 23.
"Blundstone Gives Old Prejudices the Boot," The Australian, November 3, 1999, p. 43.
"Blundstone Gumboot Plant Relocates to Victoria, Australia," AAP Newsfeed, June 27, 2001.
"Blundstone Moves Manufacturing, Distribution Centre to Australia," AsiaPulse News, June 27, 2001.
"Blundstone Sinks the Slipper in UK," Herald Sun, January 22, 1992.
Brown, Terry, "Aussie Work Boots Top Fashion Item Overseas," The Advertiser, January 23, 1992.
Cawthorne, Zelda, "Designs for the Heart and Sole," Herald Sun (Melbourne), April 23, 2003, Bus. Sec., p. 29.
―――――, "Women of Steel Get Their Own Blunnies," Sunday Times (Perth), June 4, 2000.
Choy, Heather Low, "Blundstone to Stay; Boots Factory Commits to State," Mercury (Australia), April 27, 2004, p. 7.
Coster, P., "Fashion Strides Up to Blundstones," Courier Mail (Queensland), December 29, 1998, Bus. Sec., p. 25.
Coutts, Donna, "The Woman Behind the Boot," Herald Sun (Melbourne), March 17, 2001, p. W3.
Fyfe, Moya, "Bootmakers Face Showdown Over Environmental Licence," Hobart Mercury, April 25, 1996.
Geister, Wendy, "Blundstone Launches Women's Line," Outdoor Retailer, August 2002, p. 46.
Hart, Bob, "Forget the Socks," Herald Sun (Melbourne), June 14, 2003, p. W2.
Huntington, Patricia, "Down-Under Designs; Australian Boot Manufacturer Blundstone Is Expanding: Product Offering to Include a New Children's Line," Footwear News, February 4, 2000, p. 114.
"Ill Wind Created the Boot We All Love," The Australian, May 28, 2005, p. 47.
Johnston, Damon, "Boots Made for Hawkin'," Herald Sun (Melbourne), March 28, 2001, p. 18.
Konkes, Claire, "Boots Made for Staying," Tasmanian Country (Australia), September 26, 2003.
―――――, "Small Businesses Sink the Boot; Locals Left Out," Tasmanian Country,
Lamb, Eve, "Blundstone Graduates Give Unemployment the Boot," Hobart Mercury, May 27, 1998.
O'Leary, Wade, "These Boots Are Made for Walking to Kindergarten," Daily Telegraph (Sydney), November 23, 1999, p. 9.
Russell, Teresa, and Craig Donaldson, "How to Secure the CFO's Seal of Approval," Human Resources Magazine (Australia), May 31, 2004.
Simon, Kearney, "'Blunny' Strides into the Art World," Hobart Mercury, February 24, 1995.
Sproull, Richard, "Blundstones: Bless Their Soles," Australian, February 15, 1999, p. 35.
"Steve Gunn, Blundstone Group Chief Executive," Herald Sun (Melbourne), November 18, 2002, p. 28.
Tasmania Department of Economic Development, "Blundstone Brings Gumboots Home," September 28, 2005.
Trayler, Debra, "The Sole of a Workboot," Manufacturers' Monthly (Australia), July 2001.