Milwaukee Boot Co.
is aiming to boost business and broaden its customer base with a new retail storefront at The Iron Horse Hotel
in Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood.
That's a boost for the boutique hotel, which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
protection while it restructures its debt, including a $2 million EIDL pandemic relief loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Earlier this month, Milwaukee Boot Co., a local footwear and accessories retailer, moved its brick-and-mortar store to the lobby of the hotel after nearly three years at its original location
, one block east of the Iron Horse on West Florida Street. The new storefront carries Milwaukee Boot Co.'s existing line of handcrafted leather products; a new line of exclusive Iron Horse branded merchandise is expected to launch this fall.
The store is only about a third of its former size, and it puts the brand in front of a whole new set of customers, but the business is already seeing a positive return.
"We've seen sales more than double and our average ticket price more than double, and traffic has been extraordinary. It's enabled us to be much more visible to not just the local customer but the customer who may be visiting from out of town," said Mark Kohlenberg
, chief executive officer of Milwaukee Boot Co., Moral Code Footwear and Accessories, and Well Dressed Men Footwear & Accessories.
Footwear produced by WDM, under the brand names Moral Code and Milwaukee Boot Co., have been the store's bread and butter, but relocating to a hotel retail space meant the product mix needed to focus more accessories and less on footwear in order meet the demands of guests who are more likely to make quick, smaller-item purchases like wallets, bags and belts, said Kohlenberg.
But ultimately, the goal is to turn those one-time, impulse buys into return business across all categories.
"Our hope is we'll be able to maintain that customer through our direct-to-consumer e-commerce site after they've returned to their home location," said Kohlenberg.
The partnership between the Iron Horse and Milwaukee Boot Co. started "casually" last year with some joint events and collaborations, which later led to the retailer displaying several items in the hotel's lobby. A few months ago, Iron Horse general manager Alan Di Leo pitched the idea of having Milwaukee Boot Co. move permanently into the lobby's former gift shop space. It only took a couple of days for the two businesses to work out an agreement.
"MBC and IHH share the same passion for the city of Milwaukee along with values of hand-crafted, free spirited and timeless products and services," said Di Leo in a news release.
Kohlenberg also noted the similarities between the two brand identities - both inspired by Milwaukee's history as a center of American manufacturing and industry - and overlap in customer demographics. For the Iron Horse, Milwaukee Boot Co.'s storefront and its shoe cleaning and polishing services add to the overall experience it advertises to guests.
Continuing to deliver on that experience is becoming all the more vital as the Iron Horse recovers from the financial devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ownership attempts to reorganize under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.
Asked to comment on the bankruptcy case, Kohlenberg said he was unaware of the Iron Horse's intent to file until the news broke earlier this month.
"From our perspective, it has not impacted anything, and our hopes are that this is more of a procedural type of a thing that will go away and it will be business as usual just like it was before," he said.
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