Interview with Brad Day, CEO of HELM Boots

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by  William Barton | Last Updated: 

Not too long ago, literally every single person left California to live in Austin, Texas.

That’s a fact.

I was at the forefront of the exodus and missed the note that we were all supposed to meet in Texas (I overshot it and landed in North Carolina).

But one of my buddies (who got the memo) told me all about HELM, and I tried their Hollis boot. Spoiler: I love it.

I wanted to learn more about the brand, so I reached out and their CEO sat down to answer a few questions.

What is HELM Boots?

Helm Boots hollis profile view on model
Helm Hollis

HELM is an Austin, Texas based boot brand that blends traditional and contemporary boot-making skills to make high quality footwear.

I picked up their Hollis about a year ago and have been enjoying it ever since.

The signature look of a HELM boot is the white mid-sole—it’s distinctive but not distracting. I found their silhouettes to be slim and modern, but still drawing a lot from bulkier American heritage styles. Overall, they offer a great balance between the old and new.

Helm Hollis
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Interview with the CEO of HELM

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Q: What inspired you to start HELM Boots? 

HELM was started by Joshua Bingaman back in 2009 and I took over in 2016, originally brought in to help him operate the business. 

After spending 16 years with Adidas working all over the world, I had always been drawn to the energy of small businesses and the challenge of whether I had what it takes to turn-around one in a tough competitive market without the security you have in a larger business. 

Q: What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve faced?

Feel like this deserves two answers because the impact of Covid on our business was greatly felt.  When you make products for people to wear for occasions (jobs, weddings, travel, dinner out), and no one can go anywhere, it makes it challenging to say the least. 

No one had ever been through anything like this, so we went from 1-3 year plans to day to day survival.  Someone put it best when they said, “you’re no longer navigating the boat port to port, rather wave to wave.”

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Pre-Covid, one of our biggest hurdles was balancing growth while trying to take the business from a small operation to a much larger one. Everything you do has to have a positive impact, but at the same time we have to take risks and learn as we grow.  When we fail, we have to pivot quickly.  

For example, 6 months after joining HELM it became apparent that our business couldn’t scale based on the way it was structured.  Margins were too low to be sustainable, distribution was focused on the wrong channels such as wholesale, product development needed to be re-energized and we needed to build a profitable way to find new customers. 

So, we changed the operating model after 7 years in the game and decided to approach things in a new way.  It was a huge undertaking but we would not be here today if we had kept doing what we were doing before.

Helm Marion
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Q: What makes HELM different than other boot brands in the space? 

Our commitment to our customers and our passion for our products.  We have a desire to serve, and if you’ve ever interacted with us, we do everything we can to make sure that comes across. 

Whether it’s helping someone get the right fit, expediting an order so they can wear them for the upcoming weekend, or most importantly addressing any issues that might arise. 

We have extremely high standards for our products—never cutting any corners.

We are so proud of our materials and construction that we even cut boots in half to show customers what’s inside of our footwear.  If something happens that doesn’t live up to those standards, we take care of it.  

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Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?  

You can’t control what others say about you.  You can only control what you do, what you say, and how you treat other people.  Also, it’s important to say I don’t know..

Q: What’s your favorite thing about HELM boots? 

The team hands down.  We are extremely close, especially after navigating the last few years.  Second is the energy and freedom that comes with running a small business. 

It’s kind of like being a parent, you don’t really know what it’s like until you’ve experienced it, and it’s amazing 51% of the time.  Every day is different and everyone gets to have a real impact on the biggest decisions that affect our future.

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Q: How have you fared through supply chain issues in the last two years? 

Compared to a lot of companies, we’ve been relatively ok.  Capacity at the factory has filled up and increased lead times as a result of a large number of brands looking for alternatives to Asia production.

We are glad we found our trusted team in Brazil several years ago and have been able to navigate almost any problem that has come our way.

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Q: Anything exciting about HELM boots coming down the pipeline?

There are 3-4 models and collaborations that we are working on which I’m so excited about, in addition to some subtle upgrades to our core products.  An updated Chukka, a brand new Chelsea and derby shoe, and a 10-year relaunch of one of the first boots HELM made back in 2012.  It’s so hard to be patient once you’ve seen the samples.

At the HELM

I was super excited to hear from the HELM CEO himself—thank you again, Brad and the HELM team for the interview.

If you’re in Austin, you can visit the HELM store in person, or you can order online. My personal favorite HELM is the Hollis. I’ve had mine for about a year and they’re still going strong.

Helm Hollis
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