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These boots were made for walking

ANNE GROGAN, Sierra Sun

Rich Bruener was living in the Bay Area, unhappily plodding away at his job when he came up with the idea for the business he now owns: Trukke Winter Sports Products Inc.

“It was an act of desperation,” Bruener said. “I was in real estate and finance and I was miserable. The more miserable I became, the more the crazy idea to create a better boot seemed like a good idea.”

Bruener started his business in 1995 through an affiliation with the makers of Teva sandals and Ugg shearling boots. The large, established shoe company helped Bruener bring his winter boot from the design stages to the manufacturing process. Bruener maintained his affiliation with the large company for three years until he found a financial backer and established his independence in 1998.

“As a small piece of a large company, it’s hard to have the freedom to go far,” Trukke National Sales Manager Linda Curry said.

Keeping track of just how far Trukke boots go may be one of the biggest problems this growing company faces now. Patty Jo Struve, the Truckee resident who competed earlier this year in the IditaSport Extreme Alaska, a 350-mile mountain bike race across snow, said she wore Trukke boots throughout the race and reported to Curry that her feet were warm the entire time she competed. Pictures of a climber trekking the Himalayas while wearing Trukke boots are included in an expansive photo album Curry keeps in the business office. And Trukke boots are now regularly shipped to the northernmost regions of Canada and as far away as Germany. Getting them there, however, has required imagination and perseverance.

“Rich is always working on new, innovative footwear,” Curry said. “I look over at his desk and he’s always doodling something, sketching out a new idea or new product.”

Creating a product from a sketch, however, involves many stages of development, Curry said, and the process, if all goes well, can take a year to complete.

Currently, Trukke Winter Sports Products, Inc. markets three different styles of “serious” winter boots and has other products in the development process. As with the three previous styles, which Bruener said have continually benefited from incremental improvements, the new products were initially sketched in pen on whatever sheets of paper happened to be handy at the time. The sketches were sent to a footwear engineer in Boston who then entered data and the designs, including fabrics and materials suggested by Bruener and Curry, into a computer. A printout of each product was sent back to the Trukke office for preliminary approval and the engineer’s specifications were then sent to a manufacturer in Taiwan. When the prototypes are sent to Truckee for inspection later this year, Bruener and Curry will approve or improve the designs.

Trukke’s three winter boot models now marketed, which Curry refers to as sport-utility shoes, were first tested by ski lift operators throughout the Truckee area and across the United States. In all types of snow and temperature extremes, the boots were overwhelmingly approved for comfort and performance, Bruener said. The new products, which have competitors curious and have even attracted trade-show spies from within the industry, Curry said, will more than likely be test-marketed in a similar manner. They are expected to be available for sale to the general public in 2000. An entire new line of Trukke footwear designed by Bruener is scheduled to hit the market the following year.

In a town where the word “boot” has practically become synonymous with the brand name of another winter footwear manufacturer, Trukke Winter Sports Products Inc. continues to gain ground.

Together, Bruener and Curry have aggressively expanded their marketing efforts through advertising, first by becoming familiar with the options available to them. Volumes of outdoor magazines rest beside a chair in the office and each has been evaluated for its potential audience.

And through each design phase, Bruener has been careful to maintain the earmarks unique to Trukke footwear, qualities which he and Curry believe set the Trukke products above all others.

A brochure describes the three products currently available as follows: The walking, working, hunting, camping, fishing, snowshoeing, playing, climbing and generally goofing-off-in-the-snow boot.

Curry uses more specifics. The boots are rated from minus 40 degrees to minus 10 degrees, depending on the style. Each boot weighs about 16 ounces and is built in a triple-layered system to ensure weather-proof insulation. Velcro-style Achilles straps ensure each foot receives an individual fit, remaining firmly on the footbed with no lateral or vertical movement or loss of warmth due to air circulation. The PowerSport is designed for rugged outdoor use, such as snowmobiling, and is reinforced to withstand the wear-and-tear of such activities while maintaining light weight performance.

The WinterSport II and the SnowMotion each come with a gaiter ring for deep snow performance and all Trukke boots are equipped with the non-marking all terrain traction system sole.

“It’s just a great product,” Curry said. “It’s so easy for me to sell this product because it works. People have fun in this product. We believe in fun. And if there’s snow, we go.”

Operating an expanding business can be stressful at times, Curry admits, and learning about international trade regulations has been just one of many aspects of the business which has proven demanding.

“If we get too stressed, we take out our frisbees and go play disc golf,” she said.

Trukke Winter Sports Products, Inc. will sponsor a disc golf tournament this winter, in part so that Bruener and Curry may show their appreciation for the sport which gets them through their tougher days.

“And we want to see our association with the town grow,” Bruener said. “Trukke: it’s a good word, born of the town. And Truckee’s a good place.”

For more information about Trukke Winter Sports Products Inc. go online to (www.trukke.com).


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