By Michael D. Towle
N.Y. Times News Service
FORT WORTH _ Garth Brooks, Randy Travis and Vince Gill have
all kicked some life into a country music craze that has helped
John Justin Jr. sell boots.
But never underestimate the value of a former astronaut named
Maurice Minnifield of Cicely, Alaska.
The fictional backwater town _ the setting for TV's "Northern
Exposure" and home to Minnifield (played by actor-cowboy Barry
Corbin) _ sells Justin boots in its general store.
Corbin is in Fort Worth often to visit relatives and do things
like drive a herd of cattle from the Stockyards down the Trinity
River to the Will Rogers Memorial Complex to kick off the
National Cutting Horse Association World Championship Futurity.
One of the other things he does is stop by Justin Boot Co.'s
Fort Worth factory to pick up a new pair of boots.
J.T. Dickenson, Justin Industries' president and chief
operating officer, said Corbin helped arrange for the company's
wares to be displayed on the CBS show in the store and on the
feet of cast members.
In itself, that exposure probably sells few pairs of boots,
but it is indicative of the northern boom Justin is experiencing
in boot sales.
In such places as New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere,
western boots have become a fashion favorite, Dickenson said.
"Watch the `Tonight Show' or `David Letterman,' the guests
that come on are wearing boots in a lot of instances," he said.
"I think there's a more laid-back lifestyle in the U.S. today,
and it's been good for us. This footwear is comfortable and it's
easy to wear, particularly on the weekend. People can jump into
their jeans and boots on Friday night and be comfortable and
fashionable all at the same time," Dickenson said.
Although southern states such as Texas and Oklahoma are still
the company's bread and butter, the nationwide surge in sales of
western wear has helped push Justin Industries' revenues to
record levels, said John Justin Jr., the firm's chairman and
chief executive officer.
The company is producing 15,000 pairs a day and expects to end
1992 having made between 3.5 million and 4 million pairs of
Justin, Nocona and Tony Lama boots.
Analysts estimate that Justin Industries' footwear segment
will end the year with a 22 percent boost in footwear sales and a
26 percent growth in operating profits.
"We're way ahead, and we hope to end the year way ahead,"
Justin said. "This should be a record year for us.
"A lot of it is tied to the growing popularity of country
music, which, of course, has led to the opening of clubs that
play country music.
"Obviously, any time that situation occurs, western wear will
also grow in popularity, which is good for all three of our main
brands. Every western wear store has to have at least two of
those three brands to remain competitive in the market today."
Wall Street is kicking up its heels over the company's success
in boots and with its Acme Brick subsidiary, which has
capitalized on a recovering Southwest home construction market.
Acme's plants are running near 100 percent capacity, compared
with about 80 percent in 1991.
"In the last five years, there have been between 110,000 and
115,000 houses built in the seven-state region we call our core
market," said Ed Stout, Acme Brick president. "That's a 75
percent decline from 1983 and 1984, when sales were over 400,000.
In 1992, we will wind up at 135,000 in our area, which is an
"It's not the recovery that is all that great. It's other
things, like increased brick usage, greater market penetration
and a larger customer base. …