Local footwear e-retailer seeks consumer connection with first brick-and-mortar store

Opening comes months before new product launch

Milwaukee Boot Co. in Walker's Point. Credit: Mike Miller

Milwaukee-based WDM Footwear & Accessories is in the process of expanding its private label production and e-retailing business with a brick-and-mortar location in Walker’s Point.

The store, dubbed Milwaukee Boot Co., opened last week inside a former factory building at 234 W. Florida St. It carries WDM’s line of men’s leather shoes and accessories, which are retailed under the brand name Moral Code.

And starting in late spring 2020 the store will add to its inventory WDM’s new line of casual, sustainably made footwear, also called Milwaukee Boot Co.

Since launching in 2016, WDM, which stands for Well Dressed Men, has retailed its leather footwear, wallets, belts and bags exclusively through its e-commerce site.

But the company’s newly opened brick-and-mortar location will meet local demand.

“Our old office space was in this current retail space and every week multiple people would walk in the door and think it was a shoe store, and we got tired of telling people ‘I’m sorry, you have to go to our website to buy a pair of shoes,'” said Mark Kohlenberg founder and CEO of WDM. 

He said the move was also inspired by the upcoming launch of the Milwaukee Boot Co. brand, which is geared toward the “weekend warrior” and plays up Milwaukee’s longstanding history of manufacturing and leather production.

“We wanted to tie into that gritty, authenticity of Milwaukee is a shoemaking capital and building the brand around it,” said Kohlenberg.

Milwaukee Boot Co.’s Moral Code products. Credit: Mike Miller

In the midst of retail industry disruption, especially for brick-and-mortar businesses, Kohlenberg saw an opportunity to appeal to customers by honing in on current tastes and preferences. 

“Part of that is just discovery, learning about new brands and new products,” he said.

The 1,000-square-foot space includes a shoe polishing chair and an embossing station for any newly purchased leather items. Comfortable furniture and a self-service bar with local whiskeys, ciders, beer and coffee creates an environment to “hang out,” said Kohlenberg. 

“It’s our first opportunity to actually physically listen to a customer,” said Kohlenberg. “E-commerce is fast and efficient and everybody loves it, but there’s also just a lot of anonymity to it. You miss feedback, both positive and negative about the product, about the fit, about the comfort. This gives us an ear to the consumer where we can correct product and improve product as we move forward.”

If the concept is successful, it could be a vehicle for continued growth in other cities across the U.S., likely with small-format locations or pop-up shops. He expects steady development and parking accessibility in the Walker’s Point neighborhood will help drive foot traffic into the store.

Milwaukee Boot Co. shares a ground floor lobby space with Gigi MKE, a longtime bridal boutique that recently moved downtown from Mequon.

Maredithe Meyer
Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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