The first week of August, 2017 I found myself in Portland, Oregon. As fate would have it I arrived in the midst of an historic heat spell.
I had been invited to visit the KEEN Utility factory, headquarters and epic KEEN Garage where they have a retail store in downtown Portland’s Pearl district. About ten other hobby bloggers and one or two full-time professional members of the media like myself were part of the tour group.
Best Tour Ever
I hate to admit it, but I’ve been a member of the working media for so long that I’ve lost count of the number of factory tours I’ve attended. The reason is I cover an industry that makes lots of tools and products.
The company owners are always proud of what they make and they invite media to see and share with their audiences how things are done. Some tours have been fascinating as you sometimes don’t realize how many aspects of building a thing are still done by humans. That may change moving forward, but that’s a story for another day.
This KEEN tour was the best ever for a number of reasons. KEEN is a family-owned business. Rory Fuerst, Sr. started the business just a mere fifteen years ago in 2003. Two of his sons work each day in the factory, Rory Jr. and Connor.
I got to spend lots of time with them and they are as friendly and normal as can be. Both were wearing t-shirts and you’d never know they were part of the business if you just happened to see them walking around the factory.
On a selfish note, I felt it was the best tour I’ve ever attended because they allowed me to work on the assembly line! How silly is that, but it meant so much to me.
Three people are going to wear a pair of boots that I helped work on. I was able to fit an upper onto the form before it goes into the assembly line, I got to load two soles into the forms and I got to trim off the urethane flash from one boot.
Connor had to do some extra trimming because my workmanship didn’t meet their standards, but he was very understanding of my first attempt!
Watch this video to get an idea of what it’s like to be in a factory that makes amazing boots and shoes. I could write about it, but it’s better that you just see it.
At the end of the tour everyone gathered in a conference room at the factory. It’s somewhat normal for this to happen. The purpose is for those on the tour to ask follow-up questions.
A few of the hobby bloggers asked some tech questions, but I then jumped in with my over-arching question I always ask. I pointed the question to both Connor and Rory Jr.
“If you could wave a magic wand that would allow you to communicate to all consumers messaging you feel they don’t really know about KEEN Utility and what you do, what would that message be?”
You could hear a pin drop. Connor and Rory, Jr. looked at each other and with their eyes said, “Dude, you go first!”
I think Rory, Jr. finally said, “Boy, that’s a great question.” He shook his head and then said, “Connor, you go first.”
Connor thought for a second and replied, “I really would love consumers to know about the dedication and values of the entire team that assembles here each day to make our boots and shoes. These people love to come here and they work hard. They take real pride in what they do and I feel it shows when you open the box and try on your boots.”
Rory, Jr. then jumped in. Rory runs the Fuerst Innovation Lab where all the conceptual ideas are born about all new products and processes. They often look at failure points of products made by others and try to solve them with a new KEEN product.
“I think that our customers need to know that money doesn’t drive all decisions. We try to remember that all the time. I’d like them to know that we thrive on doing things that are challenging. It’s easy to do easy things.
What’s more, I’d love for them to know that sometimes you have to ignore the experts and consultants who say you’re going to lose money on something. In certain situations you need to do what’s right, not what’s going to make you the most money. Finally, I’d like our consumers to know we have fun here.”
I think Rory Jr.’s comments hit the nail on the head for me. After all, the AsktheBuilder.com motto is:
Do It Right, Not Over!
I could see the workers at the factory trying to do it right. Everyone was diligent that I saw. They want your boots and shoes to fit perfectly, be comfortable and last a long time.
It’s also about fun. What a dream to have a job that’s fun. I’ve got that with my AsktheBuilder.com vocation and it’s obvious Connor, Rory, Jr. and the other dedicated employees at KEEN Utility in Portland have this rare gift where work is fun.
CLICK HERE now to purchase a pair of KEEN shoes or boots and put a similar smile on your face when you insert your foot into the cocoon of pleasure. That’s what I call my KEEN boots!