Kickin' Up Success

Posted on Nov 1, 2009 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

JGear co-owner Shane Baganz stands outside the company’s Fond du Lac store Bootbiz.

In the midst of a recession, when most businesses are laying off workers, it’s rare to find a company that is not only hiring but planning an expansion as well.

But boot and work shoe retailer JGear of Fond du Lac – recently named to Inc. magazine’s 5000 list – is doing just that. “We’re still growing very, very strongly, even in this recession,” says Barry Braganza, who co-owns JGear with his brother, Shane Baganz. (Shane uses an Anglicized version of their Portuguese name.)

The Inc. 5000 ranks U.S. firms according to percentage of growth from 2005 to 2008. JGear, ranked 1,597, was one of the top 15 of 82 Wisconsin companies to make the list. The company’s 2008 revenue was $3.4 million, up from $1.1 million in 2006 – an increase of more than 200 percent.

Joe Reitemeier, president/CEO of the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce, is pleased to hear that two local businesses made the list. (Huberty & Associates, a certified public accounting firm, was ranked 3,237.) “Even in the down economy, there are opportunities,” he says.

Braganza credits JGear’s 11 employees with steering the company and its bricks-and-mortar entity Bootbiz to success.

Now, just 12 years after the company launched in the family garage, JGear hopes to build a new storefront and warehouse next year.

Three Braganza brothers started JGear in 1997 in their garage in Plymouth, Sheboygan County. (Two of the brothers have since moved on to other companies; Barry joined the company in 2003). As a small mail-order firm – and an early Internet retailer – the trio envisioned selling 100 pairs of boots a month. Now, Braganza says, JGear and Bootbiz might sell that by noon on any given day.

The company, which offers about 40 brands, sells an average of 200 pairs per day, both online and at the store. Braganza estimates that about 80 percent of the company’s sales are online, with 20 percent from the retail store.

“We were an Internet company first and a bricks-and-mortar store second,” says Braganza, who manages the company’s Internet sales from his home in Texas. “We’ve always just grown organically.”

After opening a smaller store in Plymouth in 2001, the brothers realized they needed more retail and inventory space. In 2004, they moved to a 3,000-square-foot store in Fond du Lac.

“We looked hard at a lot of things,” Braganza says, but notes that the “talent pool” in Fond du Lac was superior. “I have to stress that. We have the right people in the right community.”

Those staff members have honed the JGear machine to make it run more efficiently – both online and in person – even in a down economy.

“With smart people, you have some great ideas,” he says. Those ideas have included refining marketing and customer service, as well as cost-cutting measures in packaging, shipping and order processing.

“Now when everyone is downsizing, we’re expanding,” says Braganza. “Everything runs in cycles. When the market does pick up, we’re going to be in prime position to grow even further.

“We’re investing in technology, we’re investing in training, we’re investing in people.

“We’re a small company thinking like a big company.”