Photo by WJFW Newswatch 12
129-year-old Weinbrenner Shoe Company in Merrill is expanding
Story By Morgan Johnson
Local News Published 03/03/2021 4:49PM, Last Updated 03/03/2021 6:02PM
Merrill - Businesses across the country suffered when the pandemic hit.
But not the Weinbrenner Shoe Company in Merrill.
"We make the best boots in the world," said President Jeff Burns.
And those boots are flying off the shelves.
"Demand for the Thorogood brand is greater than it's ever been and we don't see that slowing down anytime soon," said Burns.
With Burns' ten years there, he's never seen anything like 2020.
"When COVID hit, a lot of our competition stopped production and laid people off," said Burns. "Well we didn't do either. We increased our marketing budget and we made as many shoes as we could possibly make. That strategy allowed us to take market share from some of our competitors."
A new strategy for a company with deep roots in the state. Weinbrenner has been making shoes in Wisconsin since 1892, and in Merrill since 1936.
But with increased demand, workers are getting cramped. Workers like Bob Breunig, a floor leader who's been working at Weinbrenner for almost four years.
"Not having enough room to move around--like move racks and stuff around, running into each other when we're trying to walk through the aisle ways and stuff," said Breunig.
This week Weinbrenner purchased an additional facility.
It will add 140,000 square feet to their production with some much needed elbow room for the workers.
The current building houses 130 employees, and Merrill will see an additional 50 jobs in the area once the operations are in full swing by February 2022.
"It's a great atmosphere, it's a great place to work," said Breunig. "The people are awesome and fun, the jobs are fun. It takes skill; it's not just something you can just hop on and go, you have to learn it so it's a challenge."
Despite the hardships of space, Burns knows it's not a bad problem to have.
Burns is excited to carry on the legacy of Weinbrenner and bring more jobs to Merrill.
"We're committed to this community," said Burns. "We want to see this community stay vibrant and we want to continue to grow and provide good jobs for the community."
Weinbrenner is starting renovations on the new building immediately and hopes to have everything in place by October 2021.
After that, Weinbrenner will work on making the same expansion at their location in Marshfield.