Dunlop Protective Footwear
Although they’re not the high-heeled leather fashion boots that were “made for walkin,’” as described in the 1966 hit song that’s been reinvented many times over, they do perform as billed: they protect and comfort.
Dunlop Protective Footwear, a leader in the global protective boot industry, manufactures and ships over 1.4 million pairs of boots annually from its U.S. manufacturing headquarters in Havre de Grace, Md.
The company’s specialty: utility boots made from PVC and Purofort® material – Dunlop’s proprietary technology – which makes the boots both thermally insulated and extremely lightweight.
The company’s primary customers: workers in industries like food processing, oil, gas and mining, heavy industry, and agriculture. Dunlop recognizes that every sector requires different safety features for its footwear, so the company designs and manufactures individualized styles for each industry, including a line of consumer boots for all age groups in a variety of bright colors.
The company’s leader: an unexpected, unpretentious and extremely strategic Mary Steinebrunner, who, at age 44, has worked her way through the ranks from sales and marketing associate to General Manager of U.S. Operations. In a male-dominated industry, Steinebrunner’s innovative thinking and disarming manner have propelled her to the forefront, with the Dunlop management team promoting her in 2016 to their top U.S. position.
“I am so proud that I can tell people that I run a U.S. manufacturing facility with 100 U.S. employees,” Steinebrunner says. “We are a dedicated team that works together toward manufacturing and supplying the best product out there. We are making a product that makes a difference.”
The company has stepped up its production this fall to meet demand for boots for hurricane-ravaged Texas and Florida. It has added a manufacturing line so that the facility is running 24 hours a day, six days a week, instead of its normal 24/5 shifts.
Rescue workers in those southern states are wearing boots affectionately known in the industry as waders and wellies. The Purofort boot, Dunlop’s claim to fame, was developed in 1980. The material has millions of evenly distributed air pockets that are cross-linked for flexibility and strength. Each boot that comes off the line earns the Dunlop Purofort Ring, guaranteeing its authenticity. The company’s website describes the ring as, “not just a distinguishing brand feature, but also a useful feature for hanging boots to dry or binding them together after your shift.”
The 78-year old company has had generations of families working there, Steinebrunner says. The employee retention rate at the facility is close to lifetime, with the average tenure at about 25-30 years. Steinebrunner is well aware of the staffing concerns the company faces as the Baby Boomer generation approaches retirement age. She and Marketing Manager Colin Clark, who has been with the company just under two years, are taking great care to keep the Dunlop legacy alive while they reinvent the brand and the company culture to attract Millennials. “This is an entrepreneurial market,” Steinebrunner explains. “We are creating new processes and we’re in a great product phase.”
Clark adds, “It’s the most exciting time for this business. It’s the first time we’ll be reinventing ourselves. We are building the right plan in the right place and at the right time to help us take the business to new marketplaces.” He notes that some new positions in supervisory roles have been created, and these will give current employees further chances to advance from within. “We want to build an entrepreneurial team that will look for the next way to make boots.”
“Our goal is to foster an environment of creativity and reinvention to allow us to change the line so we can do more, better and faster,” Steinebrunner says. “We want free thinkers. They have so much opportunity in front of them for growth. “
This from the inventor of the Dunlop DuraPro XCP steel-toe boot used throughout the food industry. When Steinebrunner was the company’s marketing director, she presented ideas to improve the look and function of the basic boot, making it both practical and “cool” enough to turn heads. In chocolate brown with a curved, shapely top to prevent chafing while walking and bending, the boot is the company’s better-range product that has all the ergonomic features of the higher-grade boots. “Just because the boots are designed to provide all day protection, doesn’t mean they have to be ugly and uncomfortable,” Steinebrunner says. The design incorporates feedback from customers about boot height, cracking across the top and reinforced toe. Plus, it’s the ultimate in comfort, she says. The style took off, and the company invested in a new set of molds to make boot production more efficient. They are bought by customers like Ace Hardware, Granger, Tyson and Perdue for use in their warehouses and processing facilities.
In fact, Dunlop boasts several boot-making machines in its Havre de Grace facility. The most recent is the first PUr8 manufacturing machine in the United States to make high-pressure polyurethane injected boots. “It makes a much better product,” Clark says. The machine was delivered last December to Dunlop, and management from the Netherlands didn’t expect it to be fully operational and producing boots until third quarter. Steinebrunner says her team had the machine producing pairs of boots by the end of first quarter – six months ahead of schedule.
Dunlop was recently awarded the Bright Lights Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the State of Maryland for its innovative procedures originating at the manufacturing plant. The award recognizes and celebrates innovations that strengthen Maryland’s economy, generate jobs and tax revenue and develop ideas for effective delivery of products and services to the marketplace.
“We are a company with a corporate culture that treats employees like family and is open to new thinking, thus enabling our teams to turn out better quality product,” Steinebrunner says. The current manufacturing line incorporates plenty of personal touches – from hand-cut edges and personally placed inserts to human quality control at the end of the line. The rows of boots in various colors, shapes and sizes are still warm to the touch as they hang on their PVC pipes awaiting inspection. Each boot is examined for all the details that make it Dunlop-quality footwear. Four workers busily supply insoles, run a magnet across the toe to insure the steel piece was inserted, and move the boots along to the boxing section. Any rejected boots are thrown in the nearby dumpster, but that dumpster doesn’t see the light of day on its way to a landfill. The boots and scrap materials in that dumpster are 100 percent recycled and re-used within the manufacturing facility.
Under the same roof in Havre de Grace, Dunlop warehouses its products on floor-to-ceiling palettes, with inventory shipping nationwide every day. The protective footwear is sold through distributors who serve end-user customers in each market segment. Steinebrunner says the company is truly in growth mode and is increasing sales in double digits on both the PVC and Purofort boots. “It’s a matter of having the right product for the right market,” she says.
Clark and Steinebrunner are poised for change. With new products come new distribution and new customers. Their focus on vertical markets is already proving fruitful, and they say they will continue to work with distributors and independent contractors because there is so much growth opportunity in so many market segments.
Clark, himself, is a marketing team of one at Dunlop, but he says the growth potential and the management lured him to the company. Fresh from Ripken Baseball at the height of its popularity, Clark, whose primary business had been sports marketing, joined Dunlop in 2015. “I bought into Mary Steinebrunner,” he says with great respect. He hasn’t looked back. “I have been fortunate enough to join companies as they are ready to evolve and grow,” Clark says.
The culture of respect for each other and for its customers can be felt throughout the Dunlop organization, and it is sure to appeal to future employees and potential customers. The company’s eloquent communication reveres its customers as “the one billion heroes who day-in-day-out provide us with food, shelter and energy. We depend on you. That’s why we reinvented rubber and made a boot out of Purofort, to give you the safety and comfort that you deserve. We salute you.”
It looks like these boots are, in fact, “made for walkin’…” on all kinds of surfaces – comfortably and safely. I95 Content Marketing