OHS Canada Magazine

Technology, changing customer habits evolving way PPE is sold


October 5, 2022
By Todd Humber

Health & Safety National Safety Council NSC PPE Red Wing Shoes Safety Boots Technology Work boots

Tito Warren (left), president of global industrial sales and operations at Red Wing Shoe Company, and Christine Herman, the company’s global marketing manager, on the tradeshow floor at NSC. Photo: Todd Humber

Editor’s Note: This is part of our continuing coverage from the National Safety Council’s 2022 conference and tradeshow, which took place in San Diego in September. 

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Buying a work boot or safety shoe isn’t revolutionary. You walk into your favourite brick-and-mortar store, pick out the footwear of choice — and either hand in a voucher from your company or expense the purchase.

And away you go with your new workplace kicks.

At the National Safety Council conference and tradeshow in San Diego, a visit to the Red Wing Shoe Company’s booth seemed to reinforce that notion — as a good chunk of it was taken up by a mobile trailer filled with footwear and PPE. While it comes to your worksite, the actual purchasing process is really no different.

Touchscreens everywhere

But there were an unusual number of touchscreens in the booth, which points to a small evolution in the way PPE is being sold and distributed. A good reason for that is changing habits and preferences by consumers, according to Tito Warren president of global industrial sales and operations at Red Wing Shoe Company. The company has more than 500 stores across North America, servicing customers on both sides of the border.

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“It’s the Amazon world, right? Everything is easy, I can find everything online,” he said.

Conversations with customers led the company to invest heavily in technology to ensure it can provide its products to workers in the way they choose.

Digital vouchers

A big part of the change was the creation of digital vouchers, said Christine Herman, global marketing manager at Red Wing.

“Whoever is administering the program can push out the vouchers to all their employees and they can be used in whatever distribution channel they want,” she said.

Those vouchers can be displayed on smartphones, eliminating the need to print them out.

Another advantage of a digital voucher is the control management has over its use, she said. For example, if an employee leaves the company it can immediately cancel that voucher so it can’t be redeemed.

It can also ensure that only products that qualify can be purchased.

“We can customize a program. If we only want our people to have access to, say, puncture resistance with certain specifications, we can tailor it that way,” said Herman.

Ensuring proper fit

One challenge with online shopping is ensuring the proper fit, which is critical when it comes to safety gear such as footwear.

“There’s going to be a lot of questions to answer – like what do you do? How long are you on your feet? How do you work?” said Warren. “You’re not going to wear cowboy boots to do welding.”

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to ensuring the perfect product when ordering online, he said. Customers who have purchased products in the past will know their sizing, which helps. For those that order a product that doesn’t quite fit, it’s a matter of returning it and reactivating the voucher so they can get another product.

For Herman, it comes down to ensuring that customers have the same experience — whether they walk into one of the company’s 500 plus stores across North America; visit a mobile trailer at their worksite; or order online.

Another change on the horizon is the creation of microsites for specific employers.

“Say you’re an offshore oil platform. We can create a catalogue for you, and your employees can go in and shop and see exactly what you have available to them,” he said.

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