Update, September 24, 2012: I changed the title to better reflect what is now going on with this article. The original title was “Built To Last? What In The World Has Happened To Red Wing Boots?”
Update, March 14, 2012: I have completely changed my tune about Red Wing: as the comments below indicate, Red Wing immediately reached out to me and resoled my boots absolutely free of charge (even shipping). The customer service rep explained that there was a recall on the particular sole due to a defect issue (that I never found out about) and I sort of fell through the cracks. But Red Wing ultimately took care of me.
To thank Red Wing for the customer service that I had always counted on, I also purchased a brand new pair of Red Wing boots (style #2233). As I have stated: when it comes to my feet, I want the best boots I can afford. I learned when I was in the Army that if you can have quality anything, get a quality weapon and then get yourself some quality boots.
I will be editing this article substantially in the near future: but I wanted to immediately acknowledge Red Wing’s excellent treatment of one customer.
I’ve had a long relationship with Red Wing Boots. Other than when I served in the military, I have had a pair of Red Wings in my closet since I was in high school. I actually own three pairs of Red Wings as I speak:
But I’m not real happy about Red Wing these days.
The latest addition to my Red Wing flock was a complete fiasco.
I’ve been happy with the low quarters shoes on the right side of the picture; I’ve had them since 2006/07 and they’ve been great.
The pair in the middle are positively ancient; I bought them when I lived in Oregon in the 1980s and had them resoled this year (I have a complaint about that, too, and will talk about it later; but it’s minor compared to the remaining pair of Red Wing boots on the left side of the above picture).
There is no question that Red Wing used to be a shoe and boot company of premium quality.
The nutmeg boots that utterly failed about as much as a pair of boots could fail are Style #2406 (Nutmeg). I note that they are still for sale at outlets such as CityShoesOnline as of February 13 – though I was told when I called customer service that they were NOT sold online. He wasn’t interested in looking at my link to demonstrate otherwise. I bought these boots in late 2006/early 07 as well because they were on sale and I thought steel toed boots might come in handy. But I barely wore them and ended up storing them the exact same way and in the exact same place I’ve stored my other boots.
When it came time to have the black boots – again, that I’d had since the 1980s – re-soled – I dug out the Nutmeg Red Wings to wear on my hikes.
I wore them about a month. And then one day I noticed this had happened:
Here’s a close-up:
I could provide more pictures, but I think it is rather obvious from these that the tread is virtually new. They had very little wear on them. But the soles just little fell apart. It’s like they still looked brand new other than the fact that they were disintergrating.
When I picked up the boots I had resoled, I brought these Nutmegs with me (the Euclid store in Anaheim, California was also the store of purchse of the Nutmegs) and asked what Red Wing would do about it. He said he couldn’t do anything about it but told me to contact Red Wing customer service. He also said they could not be re-soled.
So I called customer service. They told me only the stores could do anything. But that they could be re-soled. This frustrating exhange occurred following my sending three different emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and receiving not so much as a “go to hell” back from them.
Red Wing “customer service” used to be a lot better; and the deterioration of their customer service has matched the deterioration of the quality of their products.
The boots are obviously “out of warranty.” I understand that. Legally, Red Wing does not have to do anything.
But here’s the thing: I’ve got three other pair of shoes/boots that are FAR older than the Red Wings that fell apart – and which were stored FAR longer under identical conditions (in boxes which were in totes in an air-conditioned closet) – and have held up fine. Here they are:
A little history on these:
The pair on the left is the oldest; they are Corcoran “jump boots” that I was authorized to wear with my dress greens as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army. I bought them in 1983. Unfortunately, I scuffed the toe of one boot badly enough that they were no longer dress uniform “worthy.” And the sole of Corcoran jump boots is rather smooth and slick. So I had an additional sole added in 1984. And I have had them ever since. They are still fine; the soles are still fine.
The pair in the middle are also rather ancient. They are Browning insulated and waterpoof boots. I bought them about 1988. I wore those on all kinds of hiking/backpacking expeditions. They are also still fine. And the soles – while worn now – are still in decent shape.
The third pair on the right is a surprise. They are Rockports, and I have had them since the late 1980s. As ugly as the things are, they have lasted and lasted, and they are quite comfortable with my medical insole that doesn’t fit in most of my other footwear.
When I was at the Red Wing store, the manager felt bad enough about the boots to offer me free plastic heel clips that prolong heel life (they cost about a buck). He put them in a bag that had this logo:
The serious question is: How “built to last”?
Do they last anywhere near as long as Corcoran? As long as Browning? As long as Rockport? Not anymore, apparently.
Does Red Wing stand behind their products? Not anymore, they don’t. Are they “built to last?” Nope.
If you want “built to last,” you’d better look somewhere else.
Am I going to be investing any more of my money on top-dollar Red Wing products that are no longer anywhere NEAR the level of quality they need to be to justify their prices? No.
It’s amazing. I am seeing a marked deterioration in quality in nearly everything I buy these days. Practically nothing is “built to last” anymore.
Btw, I mentioned I had a pair of Red Wing boots re-soled. Guess what? They had a one year warranty (which means you figure that’s the absolute minimum length of time they should last), and they managed to peter out just short of that period. But having already had my previous experience with Red Wing “customer service,” I didn’t even bother to complain.