Inside Tecovas, the 'Warby Parker of cowboy boots' that just raised $15 million as its $300 boots continue to take the multibillion-dollar boot industry by its horns

·12 min read
tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 56
The Tecovas retail store in Austin, Texas.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

  • Tecovas is a direct-to-consumer cowboy boot retailer that also has brick-and-mortar stores in Austin, Texas.

  • The startup has earned comparisons to direct brands like Warby Parker and Glossier for its lower price points and online offerings.

  • It just raised $15 million in new equity funding as the company continues to open stores across Texas.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

There's a reason cowboy boot retailer Tecovas has been dubbed the "Warby Parker of cowboy boots."

The Western-wear company started out selling high-quality cowboy boots online directly to consumers, earning itself comparisons to other direct brands like Warby Parker, Glossier, and Everlane.

And like those brands, Tecovas is able to sell its products at a lower price point than its traditional retail competitors. Tecovas' most popular men's boots sell for around $225, and the average price point is about $300, founder Paul Hedrick told Loose Threads.

The company was founded in 2015 and began expansion into the brick-and-mortar landscape in 2019, opening its first retail store in Austin, Texas. That's also when the startup raised $30 million in Series A funding led by Elephant, a venture capital firm founded in part by Warby Parker co-founder Andy Hunt. And just this month, the company raised $15 million in new equity funding.

The funding round comes as Tecovas continues to open more brick-and-mortar stores across Texas, like in Houston and Plano, but these boots aren't just for cowboys.

Hedrick told Business Insider in 2019 that he envisions his boots dressing many a person from New York to Chicago to Texas and beyond. With 70% of the company's sales coming from outside of Texas, he may be on to something.

"My goal for the boots has always been for them to be equally fitting in the boardroom as they are in the bar as they are in the wedding as they are at a concert," Hedrick said.

We visited the Tecovas retail store in Austin, Texas, in 2019. Here's what it's like.

In today's burgeoning direct-to-consumer retail arena, Tecovas isn't the first to strike gold.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 26

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

But it is the first to zero in on one particular untapped product and market: Western footwear.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 48

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Founder Paul Hedrick, a native Texan and subsequent avid boot-wearer, told Business Insider in 2019 that he saw an opportunity to disrupt the $3 billion Western boot industry.

tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 56
The Tecovas retail store in Austin, Texas.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Boot Barn

"It didn't feel like anyone was trying to start the Warby Parker for cowboy boots," Hedrick said. And so Tecovas, named after a rock formation in the Texas Panhandle, was born.

Paul hedrick tecovas
Paul hedrick tecovas

Courtesy of Tecovas

Hedrick said he knew what kinds of problems he had to eliminate. For starters, he wanted to demystify the current boot-buying experience, since the vast selection of boots can be overwhelming for consumers.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 4

Katie Canales/Business Insider

And by taking a direct-to-consumer approach, the company could expand its reach outside of Texas, making it easier for customers anywhere to get their hands on authentic cowboy boots.

tecovas
tecovas

The Tecovas website.

Tecovas

Source: Business Insider

So Tecovas focused on streamlining the buying process.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 27

Katie Canales/Business Insider

There aren't skyscraping walls of hundreds of options.

allen's boots austin
allen's boots austin

Julia Robinson/Reuters

Instead, the company carries 15 men's styles and six women's styles in varying colors and materials.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 31

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Tecovas and Tecovas

And whereas boots can be fairly pricey at traditional retailers — a scroll through veteran bootmaker Lucchese's inventory includes a slew of price tags north of $500 — the price range at Tecovas sits at $195 to $695.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 49

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Lucchese

When Hedrick started the company, he said the only thing he knew about cowboy boots was from the perspective of a customer. He turned to boot experts for guidance on the ins and outs of the industry.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 15

Katie Canales/Business Insider

"I wasn't going to try to build a boot from scratch on my own," Hedrick said. "I was going to go to the best place in the world to make the product and have them teach me how the best products are made."

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 65

Katie Canales/Business Insider

That place ended up being Leon, Mexico, a town known for producing footwear for veteran boot companies for the past 80-odd years, said Hedrick.

tecovas leon
tecovas leon

Google Maps/Business Insider

Source: LA Times

"It was one of those obvious places," Hedrick said. "Our factory at one point had pretty much every brand that I know in the business."

tecovas
tecovas

Footage from the Tecovas bootmaking process in a Leon, Mexico, factory.

Tecovas Fine Bootmakers/Vimeo

So he worked with designers in Austin and with factory producers in Mexico.

tecovas
tecovas

Footage from the Tecovas bootmaking process in a Leon, Mexico, factory.

Tecovas Fine Bootmakers/Vimeo

According to the Tecovas website, there are over 200 steps involved in making a single boot by hand.

tecovas
tecovas

Footage from the Tecovas bootmaking process in a Leon, Mexico, factory.

Tecovas Fine Bootmakers/Vimeo

Source: Tecovas

That includes the cutting of leathers, laying the cording on by hand, hand-stitching on the shaft — or the top part of a cowboy boot — and painting.

Tecovas
Tecovas

Footage from the Tecovas bootmaking process in a Leon, Mexico, factory.

Tecovas Fine Bootmakers/Vimeo

Hedrick said the company's direct-to-consumer strategy translated to a different approach with the factory partners in Leon.

tecovas
tecovas

Footage from the Tecovas bootmaking process in a Leon, Mexico, factory.

Tecovas Fine Bootmakers/Vimeo

Normally, brands might take an ideal cost to the factories and then build the product out within those confines.

tecovas
tecovas

Footage from the Tecovas bootmaking process in a Leon, Mexico, factory.

Tecovas Fine Bootmakers/Vimeo

But Hedrick said he did the opposite since the company wasn't bound by costs demanded by retailers.

tecovas
tecovas

Footage from the Tecovas bootmaking process in a Leon, Mexico, factory.

Tecovas Fine Bootmakers/Vimeo

He took the product he had in mind to the company's factory partner and then settled on whatever cost it would require. And since the company was following a direct-to-consumer model that eliminated middleman costs, Hedrick said the price wouldn't end up being too high.

tecovas
tecovas

Footage from the Tecovas bootmaking process in a Leon, Mexico, factory.

Tecovas Fine Bootmakers/Vimeo

Turning in-house to create products is another money saver in general for Tecovas and other direct-to-consumer disrupters like it, and it lowers the price for consumers considerably.

tecovas
tecovas

Footage from the Tecovas bootmaking process in a Leon, Mexico, factory.

Tecovas Fine Bootmakers/Vimeo

The factory partners also helped the company decide which materials were best to craft with, Hedrick said. Calfskin and suede were no-brainers since calfskin is one of the most common animal hides used in the industry. The more exotic — though still traditional — leathers came later.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 6

Katie Canales/Business Insider

The 14 men's and five women's styles Tecovas offers each highlight the different hides. The Jessie line, for example, features ostrich leather. "In order of popularity, ostrich has always been a pretty common cowboy boot leather," Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 62

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Tecovas

A pair of boots from The Wyatt ostrich-made Tecovas line cost $355. Hedrick said competitor brands price their ostrich leather equivalents around $600 to $700.

tecovas
tecovas

The Tecovas website.

Tecovas

Source: Tecovas

Hedrick said the alligator family is a close second in popularity.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 12

Katie Canales/Business Insider

And the lizard leather is particularly fun. It's also durable and comfortable, according to Hedrick.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 21

Katie Canales/Business Insider

There's also caiman belly, a crocodile leather, featured in the Dillon line, which Hedrick said might be his personal favorite.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 20

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Like Warby Parker, Everlane, and Casper — fellow direct-to-consumer companies specializing in eyewear, clothing, and mattresses, respectively — Tecovas has recently moved into the brick-and-mortar landscape.

tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 1
tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 1

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

And since Tecovas lives at the intersection of country-western culture, fashion, and tech, Austin seemed like the perfect home for it.

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austin texas tech scooters 130

Katie Canales/Business Insider

In March, on the first weekend of this year's SXSW — Austin's annual festival that draws in thousands of visitors from around the world — the company opened the doors to its first retail store. The company only had showrooms previously.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 60

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Austin-American Statesman

Hedrick said they had their hands full with foot traffic.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 13

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Now, hundreds of people pass through the retail location's doors each day, Hedrick said, and the company is enjoying a nice spike in sales.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 63

Katie Canales/Business Insider

It doesn't hurt that Tecovas jumped on a piece of prime real estate along Austin's South Congress drag.

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austin texas tech scooters 138

Katie Canales/Business Insider

The stretch is one of the city's biggest tourist draws. It's where the iconic and Instagram-friendly "i love you so much" mural is located, to paint a better picture.

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austin texas tech scooters 120

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: TripAdvisor

It's also where the city's longtime boot supplier, Allen's Boots, has hung its hat since 1977.

allens boots austin
allens boots austin

Google Street View/Business Insider

Source: Visit Austin

Hedrick said tourism is a good source of foot traffic for the store.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 42

Katie Canales/Business Insider

"I think a lot of people come to Austin and just get it in their head that they need to leave Austin with a pair of cowboy boots," Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 61

Katie Canales/Business Insider

As far as the clientele goes, Hedrick said he launched Tecovas in Texas for a reason.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 37

Katie Canales/Business Insider

"Initially it was a lot easier to tell the story to people who were already wearing and buying cowboy boots," Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 36

Katie Canales/Business Insider

But they also have a modern sleekness to them, which Hedrick says could make it easier on novice boot wearers who are traipsing into the boot-buying experience for the first time.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 64

Katie Canales/Business Insider

"You don't need to be an expert about boots to be able to wear them," Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 51

Katie Canales/Business Insider

So Hedrick said the company sees a good mix of both seasoned boot owners and newbies coming through the store.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 43

Katie Canales/Business Insider

And that customer diversity is nothing new. Even before Tecovas ventured into brick-and-mortar, Hedrick said online sales came from some of the biggest cities across the country, like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 55

Katie Canales/Business Insider

In fact, Hedrick said that only 28% of sales in 2018 came from within the state of Texas.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 33

Katie Canales/Business Insider

But still, that many sales coming out of just one state was deemed enough to invest further in Texas.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 3

Katie Canales/Business Insider

In 2018, Tecovas raised $30 million in a Series A funding round led by venture capital firm Elephant, which was founded in part by Warby Parker cofounder Andy Hunt.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 38

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Hedrick said the extra capital is fueling new hires within the company and also the expansion of more brick-and-mortar stores throughout Texas, though he said there isn't an exact estimate of how many yet.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 35

Katie Canales/Business Insider

This isn't the company's first funding round, either. Shortly after the 2015 launch, Tecovas took some $4 million in venture capital, but that only came after Hedrick worked to get the company off the ground the hard way.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 11

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Hedrick said that he "took the term bootstrap seriously" and maxed out his credit cards and retirement account to fund the company in its very earliest days.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 30

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Now, with the additional $30 million raised, Tecovas is poised to continue with its growth, which includes introducing new product categories to its offering, Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 29

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Duffle bags, belts, t-shirts, hats, and jeans have been added to the mix.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 53

Katie Canales/Business Insider

For Tecovas and other direct-to-consumer brands, Hedrick said product expansion seems to be a natural move.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 52

Katie Canales/Business Insider

But he said going forward, he thinks each digitally native brand will decide how they evolve.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 25

Katie Canales/Business Insider

"At the early stage a lot of brands are trying to become the 'Warby Parker of X,' and in the early stages, they seem similar," Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 40

Katie Canales/Business Insider

But the successful ones that end up making a name for themselves are the companies that build a solid customer base, he said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 39

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Having that direct line to people digitally is a trend that Hedrick said is not slowing down. But, these brands are starting to realize that they could extend their reach if they expand outside of the internet.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 8

Katie Canales/Business Insider

"It's funny — a lot of the digital brands are starting to look a little more traditional," Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 57

Katie Canales/Business Insider

And there may be some truth to that. Warby Parker, one of the earliest direct-to-consumer success tales, now has 60 retail stores in the US. Men's clothing line Bonobos has more than 30, and mattress seller Casper opened its first permanent brick-and-mortar in New York in 2018.

warby parker
warby parker

Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

With more Tecovas retail stores planned for the Lone Star State, the company is on-trend in that regard.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 2

Katie Canales/Business Insider

And because it's a direct retail brand, each employee hired is educated on Tecovas and nothing else, Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 32

Katie Canales/Business Insider

"They don't need to memorize the price points and profiles and stories and histories of 10 brands — just one," Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 54

Katie Canales/Business Insider

And at the end of the day, there's something about cowboy boots — a symbol of pride that some people have deep cultural ties to — that is likely to keep customers coming back, Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 66

Katie Canales/Business Insider

"It's a market filled with people who love the product," Hedrick said.

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tecovas cowboy boot startup austin texas 14

Katie Canales/Business Insider

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