Stepping Out

Ten years of Oboz footwear. 

In 2007, John Connelly quit his day job to start an outdoor footwear company. Ten years later, locally-based Oboz is a household name, selling quality hiking boots in seven countries. O/B sat down with the founder to learn more.

O/B: What inspired you to start your own business?
JC: Sometimes I’m not sure if it was an accidental dinner or something I’d planned. I’d been in the footwear business a long time and had thought about starting a new brand. Then, one night at a birthday dinner with a friend who was the footwear manager for REI, I mentioned that sometimes I thought about starting my own company. She said that if I did, REI would be the first customer. Well, it can’t get any better than that! So I had to figure out how to actually do it. Fortunately, I had two willing colleagues for partners but between us we didn’t have a dime to finance such a venture. A week later I managed to convince three best friends from high school to invest. They came onboard and we had a very short window of opportunity and had to move quickly. It’s great that we’re still best friends and we’ve created a successful business. 

O/B: For those of us who still don’t know, what’s with the name?
JC: We struggled finding a name we could trademark and needed one quickly. REI wouldn’t buy without a name. I tried but they said, “No name, no order!” Anyway, we wanted to connect the company and brand to Bozeman and the Greater Yellowstone area. We tried all kinds of combinations and finally came up with Oboz from combining the words outdoors or outside with Bozeman—not to be confused with this magazine, which has been around much longer than Oboz. The name Oboz gave us a solid story. We started putting topo maps of this area on the outsoles and named our products after peaks and places near here, like the Bridger, which is our most popular boot. 

Oboz Bridger

O/B: You folks have seen some serious growth over the past ten years. What do you credit to the company’s success?
JC: I think it’s simple, really. Maybe it’s hard to pull off, but the idea is simple. We have a passionate, small team that loves the outdoors and what we do. We are selective about who we do business with and that’s important. We want retailers that appreciate our story and the fact that we are building a community around the brand. It’s a statement, but more than that, it’s those kinds of retailers who have helped build Oboz. They are part of the journey, really. Like Schnee’s, for example, who was one of our early supporters. Sure, it would be easy to sell to the big-box stores, but to me that’s a race to nowhere and it’s not very much fun. We’re still very small compared to our competitors, but we now have 20 employees: 15 in Bozeman, three in Portland, and two in Vietnam. Internationally, we have distributors that sell Oboz in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the U.K., and Israel. 

O/B: How does Oboz keep it green?
JC: Building shoes is really intensive, energy-wise. We travel a lot. The shoes are shipped from Vietnam to Oakland, California and then to retailers all around North America. So we carbon-offset all of our travel, shipments, commuting, and the energy used by our office, which is powered by wind energy. Every little bit helps.

O/B: What’s next for Oboz?
JC: World domination? No, seriously, we’re just going to keep on doing what we’re doing, which is to have fun and try to make the best shoes we can.