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Monday, February 13, 2017

o-CNN: How to Fill Big Shoes and Take Care of Your Boots at Alberta Boot Company in Calgary, Alberta

Filling Big Shoes

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Most family businesses don't survive generation three.

Forbes states that family businesses generate over fifty percent of the US Gross National Product (GNP). It is no different in Canada, New Zealand or Australia. In fact, it is even more widespread Downunder due to the higher concentration of smaller firms.

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These businesses are significant economic contributors. They create wealth, and scores of people are involved with them in job creation, local employment and support for activities in their communities. It concerns that less than one-third of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generational ownership. Another fifty percent doesn’t survive the transition from second to the third generation.

According to Harvard Business Review, seventy percent of family-owned businesses fail or are sold before the second generation gets a chance to take over. Just ten percent remain active, privately held companies for the third generation to lead. Why is this?

The reality is that family businesses only change when the pain is so great that they can’t stay where they are. There are many challenges subsequent generations face such as coping with shifts in technology, changing business models and consumer behaviour. Family firms in developing markets also face new threats from globalisation. Products are made cheaper overseas and shipped all over the world. It threatens smaller local operators. In many ways, leading a family-owned business has never been harder.

Ben Gerwing is the third generation in charge of Alberta Boot Company Co. He has big shoes to fill because his legacy is integrally part of the western identity of the Province and the city's character thanks to the annual Calgary Stampede event. This comes with opportunity. He also has to battle a substantial amount of inertia as a young proprietor of an iconic brand and the last remaining - only western boot manufacturer left in Western Canada.

Alberta Boot Co. was an idea that came from Ben's grandfather, Clement Gerwing in the mid-1970's. He was selling western boots from Mexico and Quebec out of his wholesale footwear store. The demand for well made western boots was high, and he didn't like the quality and products coming in from out of Province and out of Country. This was when he decided to start a new venture at an age many were considering retirement. Alberta Boot Co. was founded as premium western boot manufacturer.

Thirty-nine years later they still make all their boots the same way they did at the beginning, even using quite a few of the original machines to add to the allure and individuality of every pair of boots produced.

Alberta Boot Co. has outfitted Royalty, movie stars, entertainers, celebrities, athletes, public figures, religious leaders, and most importantly - ordinary people from all over the world who are intrigued by the mystique of the Wild West! "There is no greater compliment that we could receive," Ben says, "than when a customer comes into our store and lays down their hard earned money for a pair of Alberta Boots. People still appreciate quality hand-made boots.


I admire Ben for his continued commitment to the foundational values of the business he inherited. He remains dedicated to his heritage and to the community that trusts him to continue the legacy. Alberta Boot Co. was founded on hand-crafted quality custom boots and personal service.

With these values firmly ingrained, Ben is now taking cautious steps towards moving Alberta Boot Co. into the new millennium, with newer products for a younger, urban and more contemporary consumer. The good news is that it is made with the same uncompromising commitment because the core values of his business don't go out of fashion. Ever!

We checked in with Ben to get instructions on how to take care of our Alberta Boots during the cold, dry Canadian winter months.

If you don't yet have a pair of boots, you can order a pair online. No, it is not the "one-click" order variety that so many online stores offer nowadays. Fortunately, you will still have to talk to a real person. The good news is that once they have your size, it is easy to order another pair or a different style. Ask for Ben. Tell him the Two Cowboys sent you.

Remember that you better like and look after your boots. You are going to have them for a very long time.

Hendrik van Wyk
Alberta Cowboy

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