Monday, April 02, 2007

Getting To The Bottom Of Some Defective Boots

Getting To The Bottom Of Some Defective Boots
March 30, 2007

When Greg Dowd was growing up, there were only two brands of work boots he would buy: Timberland and Herman Survivors. Usually he bought the Timberland because they were cheaper, but both were great for hunting, working the farms or building houses.

Last year he went to Wal-Mart in North Windham and bought a pair of the Survivors, expecting to be wearing inexpensive but comfortable, safe and well-made boots.

Despite taking good care of the boots, which cost about $49, Dowd soon started noticing chunks of the soles breaking off. He figured it was simply a defective pair and thought he could just take it back to the store and get another.

Dowd, 49, of Mansfield, was about to learn a little about the largest company in the world and how he is affected by the global economy.

For 122 years, anyone who bought a pair of Herman Survivor boots could be assured of two things: They would pay top dollar, but it would be for a product that would last for years, even under grueling conditions.

All that changed in 2001 when Wal-Mart bought Herman Survivors from a private company. The owners had previously refused Wal-Mart's overtures to let it carry the boots, so Wal-Mart made an offer that Anthony DiPaolo, the CEO of Herman Survivors, couldn't say no to.

Until then, the boots had mostly been made in the U.S. and Poland, sometimes in China, but only with U.S.-made materials, DiPaolo said Thursday in a telephone interview from his offices in Dedham, Mass. He now runs Work 'N Gear, a workers apparel chain.

When his company made the boots, he said, it sold them for $80 to $180 a pair, a lot of money in the 1980s and '90s. Now Wal-Mart sells them for a fraction of that price.

But, he noted, you are not getting the same boot.

"The difference is staggering," he said.

Nor are customers getting the same service. No question about that, said Dowd, who had expected his boots to last at least a year through hard wear on an eastern Connecticut farm where he works.

After noticing the soles falling apart, Dowd went back to Wal-Mart, thinking it was a one-of-a-kind defect. Sorry, he was told, the 30-day warranty was over. So he asked who manufactures the boots, hoping to get redress there. The clerk had no idea.

So Dowd wrote a three-page letter to the Watchdog asking for help. The first thing I did was to go on the Internet and type in "Herman Survivors Reviews." (Here's what I got.) There I learned that Wal-Mart now owns Herman Survivors and that they are made in China.

Although some reviewers were pleased with the boots they bought over the past few years, many others had the same experience as Dowd.

"Thank god for duct tape," wrote one reviewer. Another one said the boots started falling apart 10 days after purchase.

I gave Wal-Mart all week to give a response to this column.

Despite daily phone calls to their "public relations" department, all I got by Thursday's deadline was a lame response.

"We have had no major issue" with the boots, said Tara Raddohl, who suggested that dissatisfied customers should first go back to their local Wal-Mart stores.

If that doesn't help, she said, they should call 800-WAL-MART.

So, I asked naively, does that mean you will do something to improve the boots and give refunds?

"We will listen to our customers," was the reply, as I kept badgering her.

Dowd will be happy to hear that, as he continues to wear his defective boots because he needs to make them last for a year.

"It's a shame" what happened to Herman Survivors, DiPaolo said.

It's also a shame what happened to the hundreds of workers who made those legendary shoes in Massachusetts, Maine and Missouri. But we get what we pay for.


 is Copyright © 2007 by The Hartford Courant


Blogger Lupus Latrocinium said...

Many thanks for doing research on this. Considered buying a pair of Herman Survivors this morning at Wal-Mart, but something told me to hold off...legendary boots at this price? Something seems off... I can now take these boots off my 'thinking about list' and move on. Keep up the good work!

Fri Jun 26, 09:30:00 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home