May 8, 1997 in Nation/World

Making Tracks Seattle Firm Finds Niche Producing Hiking Shoes

Carol Smith Seattle Post-Intelligencer
 

Menno van Wyk isn’t one to let the competition run away from him.

As chief executive officer of One Sport Inc. in Seattle, van Wyk saw a niche for specialty outdoor boots and trail-running shoes, and he stepped up to take advantage of it.

After a weeklong backpacking trip five years ago that left his feet looking “like hamburger,” van Wyk spotted an ad for boots that promised “Footsore No More.”

A financial analyst for Weyerhaeuser at the time, he ended up not only buying the boots but the whole brand as well.

Brenco Enterprises was going through some reorganization and was looking to sell its One Sport line. Van Wyk put together an investment group and bought it in 1993.

His personal approach to business has helped build a loyal following among mountaineering enthusiasts and trail-runners.

“He’s focused on a few key areas and has been a smart niche player,” said Bob Woodward, president of SNEWS Inc., a company based in Bend, Ore., that tracks trends in the outdoor retail industry. “They have a well-priced, well-designed mountaineering boot, and they’ve also become known for their trail-running shoes.”

Indeed, One Sport was among the first to design a shoe specifically for trail running, a hybrid sport that requires a shoe with the built-in support of a hiking boot and the lightness of a running shoe.

While ultrarunning is a relatively small segment, the overall market for outdoor rugged footwear, including mountaineering boots, is growing steadily.

“The demographics are in favor of it,” said Woodward. Aging baby boomers are increasingly turning to the outdoors for recreation, from mountain-biking to bird-watching, and are looking for good support in their shoes and boots to prevent injuries.

That increased interest has been a boon for companies such as One Sport that have been able to make inroads against major players in the shoe business.

So far, word-of-mouth marketing has helped kick sales from $1.7 million the first year to $5.3 million last year.

“We think we can keep the same pace and should be able to become a $25 (million) to $30 million-a-year company,” said van Wyk, who has about a dozen employees getting shoes out the door of his warehouse just south of Seattle.


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