John Montville wants Old Friend Footwear to make new friends.
The Chanhassen-based moccasin and slipper company he’s owned since 2011 has been a familiar brand on Amazon and Zappos, but relatively unknown in the Twin Cities.
“We want to get the word out locally of who we are,” said Montville, the chief executive of a company that doesn’t like to use titles. “I tried to stay under the radar and now we want more people to know about it.”
To spread the word about a company that sells hundreds of thousands of pairs of moccasins and slippers lined in sheepskin, the company is holding the first of what will likely become an annual warehouse sale on Saturday.
It features all of its 100 styles for men, women and kids. One feature that makes the Old Friend product unique, Montville said, is the 100 percent sheepskin lining. “Even Ugg has started to get away from 100 percent sheepskin,” he said. “A lot of others do a 50-50 blend of acrylic fleece and sheepskin.”
Sheepskin naturally wicks moisture away from the feet and stays warm in the winter. Old Friend’s niche is that they’re also available in three widths for men and two widths for women. Men’s sizes go up to 16 and women’s to 12. “Hardly anyone else makes that kind of size range in slippers,” Montville said.
After being a sales rep for such companies as Kangaroo tennis shoes, Eastland Shoes and Old Friend, Montville bought the company from founder Jim Klavano in Seattle and moved the headquarters to Chanhassen. Montville kept the company logo — an illustration of a golden retriever carrying a pair of sheepskin-lined slippers. “That was the founder’s dog named Bo, and we’ve carried it all the way through,” he said.
Old Friend President Allan Fishel said that the majority of sales come from mom-and pop-shoe stores across the country, not online retailers. “We don’t want to be the maidservant of Amazon or Zappos. Volume is not our focus. Quality is,” he said.
Models reviewed online receive 4- or 4.5-star ratings at Amazon and Zappos. The brand, although pricey at $50 to $80 for slippers, is one of the few that has removable inserts, which can be replaced for $25 per pair. The shoes are assembled at a plant in China, but all orders are shipped from the Chanhassen warehouse.
Anne Caincross of Eden Prairie shopped the sale on Friday. She and her daughter have worn the brand for years, especially the scuffs. “People stop all the time and say, ‘Those look like Uggs but more comfortable. What are they?’ ”
The brand is carried in retail stores in smaller towns such as Nisswa, International Falls, and Hayward, Wis. Only a few in the Twin Cities, such as Nokomis Shoes in Minneapolis, offer it. Chet’s Shoes will soon.
“We’ve been more focused in other states,” Fishel said. “We need to change that.”
The sale is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 18812 Lake Drive E. in Chanhassen. All styles and sizes are discounted between 30 to 80 percent.
While Saturday’s event is one step to boosting the company’s local presence, Fishel said there are some other simple steps it can take. “We don’t even have our name on the building yet,” he said.