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 one 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.
You won’t just find factory seconds
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’. While the majority of boots are factory seconds, boots 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? But like any factory second, it is all a matter of degree and a bit of luck for the shopper.
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 change their minds on Made-To-Order boots. If you can get your hands on a pair of these, you’ve done very well for yourself.
A decent range of styles
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 Craftsman in their standard Yearling leathers in either black or chestnut. I also came across a good range of Comfort Turnouts, Suede Craftsman, and older stock in less desirable styles and shape.
If you're looking for a particular style (and size), I was given the tip that most stores get their stock at the end or beginning of each or every other week.
PROTIP: A phone call to your nearest outlet on a Friday or Monday might save you a wasted trip.
They will probably have your size and standard fit
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 all 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). The availability of sizes can change from week to week.
I ended up purchasing this pair of Comfort Turnouts for $275. Very satisfied.
Expect to pay between $275-$400
The majority of popular boots, such as the Craftsman, in decent nick, will be in the $349-$400 range. 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. I noted a small price difference between stores. Personally, I would be more reluctant to purchase a pair off the clearance floor for $400, when for $145 more, I could pick up a perfect, new pair.
The quality is pretty good
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. The leather is still sourced from the same tanneries. 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 pretty good. 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 of boots with deep scuff marks, chips to the heel or issues such as asymmetry problems. For the most part, I couldn’t really tell if they were seconds or just end-of-season stock, but I did find a couple of pairs with light-to-medium scuff marks. I also feel that one of my boots is ever-so-slightly darker than the other (hardly noticeable to be fair), but, overall, I found the quality to be very good and worth the visit if you're in the market.
Where to find RM Williams clearance outlets
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
R.M. Williams clearance boots in summary
At the end of the day, everyone's criteria for shoes are different. But 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. I found a good selection and was surprised by the quality available. I ended up purchasing a fine pair of Comfort Turnouts for $275. It was a factory second, but the defect is so minor as not to be noticeable. The more popular styles tended to be priced at the higher end of the spectrum, north of $400. Personally, I don't think that would appeal to me, as a non-clearance pair is only $150 or thereabouts more. Still, there are some real bargains to be found, and 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 be a commensurate increase in the price of boots at these outlets - James 23/07/20]