Shoes For Crews CEO Plots the Slip-Resistant Shoe Company’s Next Move Under New Ownership

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After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, Shoes For Crews is officially under new ownership.

The slip resistant footwear company announced Monday that is has undergone a sale of its assets to first lien secured lenders via a stalking horse credit bid, thus emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and eliminating more than $300 million of debt. Under the new deal, a group of top-tier global investment firms — who had previously invested in the company — will now own Shoes For Crews and its international entities. Shoes For Crews said it will not make any changes to its management team or employee base.

According to Shoes For Crews president and chief executive officer Donald Watros, the transaction will put the company in a better position to expand into new product categories and markets as well as explore potential acquisition targets in the long term. Shoes for Crews, which owns proprietary brands like Shoes For Crews, Ace Work Boots, Mozo and Lila, faced challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic when demand for safety footwear declined during lockdowns. As such, the company took on debt and then struggled when interest rates soared.

“Since I came on board a little over six years ago, we’ve had a tremendous amount of debt,” Watros told FN in an interview. “[Now] we’re freeing up over $300 million and the balance sheet is going to be extremely healthy and position us for growth going forward.”

Looking ahead, Watros said the company will invest in business development opportunities by identifying and onboarding new customers and will aim to carry out an expansion in the European market and in the industrial footwear category.

“We’re known for slip resistance for restaurants, but we’re making best-in-class — or as good as anybody’s — safety footwear,” Watros said. “That’s a market that we can compete in because our platform as well as our technology and outsole is just an added benefit for our offering. And we can do it at a price that’s more competitive than the branded product.”

In addition to its own brands, Shoes For Crews also partners with footwear brands that employ its slip-resistant outsole technology, such as New Balance, Dockers, Dansko, DeWalt, Cole Haan, Puma and Carolina Boots. Recently, the Shoes for Crews has launched new outsole technology that works in year-round environments such as oil, water and ice.

When it comes to acquisitions, Watros said the company is open to the right opportunity after not being in a position to make deals throughout the last several years.

“We’re a much healthier company,” Watros said. “And it’ll afford us the opportunity to go out and talk to other brands and customers and look at potential acquisitions.”

Shoes For Crews begins its new life as the workplace safety footwear market heats up. Just last month, insoles maker Superfeet partnered with workplace injury prevention solutions provider Work Right NW to help improve employee safety in the industrial workplace. And in April, healthcare shoe brand Gales rebranded as Stand+ and launched a new line of workplace safety shoes designed for people in standing-heavy industries.

“It’s extremely competitive and that’s why we have to view ourselves not as a retailer,” Watros said of the safety shoe market. “We offer a safety solution. So that’s what we have to focus on: our business-to-business customers. They’re our bread and butter.”

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