December 13, 2020 5 min read 22 Comments
Two things Australians love: R.M. Williams boots and not paying full price.
The R.M. Williams boot is one of the very few products sold here that has universal appeal. Worn by politicians and students, the urban elite and the urban fringe, CEOs and farmhands, cowboys on horseback and parents in SUVs; It’s more than just clever marketing, these boots are some of the best-made ready-to-wear footwear that our country produces. But with prices starting at $595, their mythical outback appeal can sometimes be an odd bedfellow with our devotion to the discount.
Enter R.M. Williams Clearance Outlets. The thrifty amongst us can visit one of these stores, dotted around most of our major cities, and pick up a pair of RMs at up to (and sometimes more than) half the RRP. Unfortunately, there isn't much information about these clearance outlets. Not much online. Nothing at all on the R.M. Williams website. So, I decided to find out for myself how it all works and this post gives the low-down.
Boots that have walked the earth but will always be Australian. photo@ R.M. Williams.
I expected to find a bunch of boots that didn’t pass muster. I anticipated deep scratches, missing tugs, cracked heels etc., ‘the fish John West rejected’. I was pleasantly surprised. While the majority of RM boots are factory seconds, their footwear can also find their way to the clearance shelves for a number of reasons:
Factory Seconds: RM seconds are those boots with slight cosmetic defects. I was advised by RM that these defects are never structural. The leather might have a few growth marks. A minor scratch perhaps. Or maybe the heel just wasn't finished to the craftsman’s liking? What constitutes a 'second' is quite subjective, but RM seem to take their quality control seriously and, more often than not, the defect is hardly noticeable to the untrained eye.
End-Of-Season: Pretty simple, styles come and go, boot lines get discontinued. The clearance outlets will be their final resting place.
Made-To-Order: Sometimes customers don’t pick up or the customer changes his or her mind. If you can get your hands on a pair of these unicorns, you’ve done very well.
Old Stock-Near New: Those boots in the far corner of a warehouse, a returned pair unable to be resold as new, items worn lightly for a photo shoot etc.
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The availability of styles and sizes can be a bit of a lucky dip and vary from store to store. However, you will likely find all the popular styles, such as the Craftsman series. I noted many yearling leather Craftsmen in popular black or chestnut colours. I also came across a range of Comfort Turnouts, Suede Craftsman, and older stock in less desirable styles and shape.
PROTIP: If you're looking for something specific, a phone call to your nearest outlet on a Friday or Monday might save you a wasted trip.
The boots were displayed in their respective sizes. Again, my concern was proven wrong. If you’ve ever been to a sale you know how it usually goes, anything half decent will only be available in XXXS or XXXL. What I saw was an even spread of boots across shoe sizes.
They carried some sizes in narrower and wider widths too. I'm on the cusp of a normal (G) and wide (H) RM boot fit. They had both widths in my boot size across the popular styles (although most were in G fitting). Notwithstanding, the availability of sizes can change from week to week.
I ended up purchasing this pair of Comfort Turnouts for $275. Very satisfied.
At the time of writing, the majority of popular boots, such as the Craftsman, in decent nick, cost between $349-$400+. Yet I found some bargains at around the $300 mark. Infact, I picked up a pair of Comfort Turnout's (pictured above) for $275, which normally retail for $545. It should not noted that I found a small price difference between stores when I contacted them for this blog post.
Now then, at this point, I'd like to dispute an oft-heard remark that the quality of R.M. Williams boots has declined since the buy-in from Singapore-based L Catterton Asia, a private equity firm backed by the owners of Louis Vuitton (2014). As far as production goes, it is business as usual for the 300+ strong workforce. And if a company's true health can be gauged by the turnover of its staff, then R.M. Williams is in very good stead, as many of their staff have worked there for decades. Both their 100-year old screw machine and Pfaff sewing machines - labeled 'Made in West Germany'- still make up important steps in the production process. This workforce takes great pride in their work, which is lucky for us penny-pinchers because their rigorous quality control processes turn out some very good quality factory seconds.
But I digress, the boots I inspected all looked fit-for-purpose. As mentioned, and explained to me in some detail, RM has a very stringent and rigorous quality control process. They are hyper-vigilant of defects and tend to err on the side of caution when in doubt.
Structural defects are binned, obvious cosmetic defects don't tend to leave the factory either. I expected to find a ton issues, such as deep scuff marks, chips to the heel, and asymmetry problems. For the most part, I couldn’t really tell if they were seconds or just end-of-season stock. Some pairs did have some obvious issues, but they were the exception. As for my pair of Turnouts, one of the boots was ever-so darker than the other, but, overall, I found the quality to be very good and worth the visit if you're in the market.
R.M.WILLIAMS CLEARANCE DFO CANBERRA
|SA||R.M.WILLIAMS CLEARANCE FROST ROAD
121 Frost Road, Salisbury South Australia 5108
+ 61 8 8259 1090
R.M.WILLIAMS CLEARANCE HOMEBUSH
R.M.WILLIAMS CLEARANCE ESSENDON
R.M.WILLIAMS CLEARANCE HARBOUR TOWN BIGGERA WATERS
At the end of the day, everyone's criteria for shoes are different. Yet if the price is holding you back from purchasing a pair of these heritage boots, then the R.M. Williams clearance outlets are well-worth the visit. The selection and quality was good. There are some real bargains to be found. Ultimately, our love for RMs need not be a strange bedfellow to our aversion of paying full-price.
[Edit: Since writing this blog post, RM has had a general price increase and visitors of this blog have reported to me a commensurate increase in the price of boots at these outlets. I also sold my RM Turnout Seconds, which serviced me very well, and in the scheme of things, only cost me $50. - James 13/12/20]
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