In March, we are celebrating our third anniversary of starting Grant Stone. Three exhilarating and exploratory years of building and releasing our core collection, as well as servicing our growing customer base. Customers, partners and analysts alike ask what our growth plan looks like, as well as our marketing strategy. The answer to those questions have become clearer now than ever before, and we are keen to share it with you our readers for the first time.
As a team, our experience leans towards footwear development and manufacturing, versus e-commerce and marketing. This is one of the many reasons we have decided to start on a smaller, focused scale. Our strategy is simple: “Build the best product.” Placing the product as the backbone of the business, then relying on growth through word-of-mouth, means the process will take years.
The upside is the ability to focus on the product we deliver, making fewer compromises along the way with the understanding that quality comes first. We set deadlines, of course, but would rather adjust those targets than knowingly ship a faulty pair to a trusting buyer.
As a factory and brand, how do we actually monitor quality? Communication and consistency are key. This starts with our production line in Xiamen, China. Since the beginning of Grant Stone, we have been working hands on at each stage to create a higher standard for each pair. This is a constant battle. The art is making one sample and thereafter making twenty more pairs with equal standards. Too often as customers we’ve seen a perfect sample with subpar production units shipping from the line. We must maintain the same consistency from sampling to shipment — this takes clarity in direction, patience, and partnering only with the best suppliers and producers in the business.
It was a great day when the first batch of Grant Stones were finished and boxed in January 2016. We were all very happy (and relieved) with the make and finished product, then I remembered we would need to start this process all over again in a month or two for a subsequent order. Setting a standard for making it once doesn’t mean the next pairs will be made the same way. There needs to be an understanding that everyone has to be vigilant and each pair needs to be held to that standard. Otherwise, things can go downhill quickly.
We never liked the idea of creating black and white standards either, such as following one specific swatch as a reference. Is the variance a hindrance to the product (in style or durability), or does it add character and value without straying too far from the make we promised? We enjoy finding that fine line to straddle and collaborating with our production team to decide firmly where to draw the line. When you are working with aniline leathers and a construction consisting mainly of hand work, there will always be inconsistencies or variances and they are not always a bad thing. The key is understanding how it affects the look, and whether it negatively affects fit or performance. Our QC in Xiamen has a very good understanding of this. It is then our job to set expectations for the market and share how and why these inconsistencies indicate a better built product.
Once the pairs land in our warehouse in Michigan, it is then our job to inspect each pair, again.
Due to the intricacies of the materials used and the design, it’s quite easy to pull apart a shoe, pointing out differences between pairs or imperfections here and there. I have found that through the inspection of thousands of pairs, this only strengthens my interest or passion for leather and shoes in general. Even the most classic, standard style can have a uniqueness, an individuality to it that could not be replicated.
Given the size of Grant Stone, Josh or I have the luxury of inspecting each pair (for a third time) when fulfilling the final order.
This not only helps avoid QC oversights, it keeps us in tune with the product now that we are no longer spending our days in the Xiamen factory.
In the beginning, we didn't realize how doubly beneficial it would be to have access to the inventory throughout the day. This has given us tremendous flexibility when communicating with customers and a sense of familiarity with the product that informs all future development.
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I sat down with our Founder & Director Wyatt Gilmore's grandfather, Floyd Gilmore, to hear why after sixty two years, he's still dreaming of shoes.