Justin Boots Benefits from Hike in Western Wear Sales Nationwide
Towle, Michael D., THE JOURNAL RECORD
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 improvement.
"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. …