The Boot Fits to Share Owner’s Business Success

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Rick’s Ranchwear will be honored Nov. 16 as the Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist at the Association of Fundraising Professionals Mahoning-Shenango Chapter’s National Philanthropy Day Awards event.

It’s a recognition that caught owner Rick Blase off guard.

“I grew up with nothing,” Blase says. “It’s hard for me even to have what I have, and I feel very fortunate.”

Blase is unable to say how much he has donated over the years. When he first went into business, his contributions were “very small.” But as he made money, he believed that he needed to give back.

Rick’s Ranchwear, which has its corporate offices in Canfield, opened its first store in Boardman more than four decades ago. The chain now has eight stores in Ohio, Tennessee, Florida and Nevada that operate primarily under the name Boot Factory Outlet with two Boot Country and Nashville Country stores. The stores are known for their “buy one pair of boots and get two pairs for free” deal.

Blase, who grew up in Willoughby, was long interested in opening his own boot store. He worked at Regal Shoes about 45 years ago and kept the box of every pair he sold. He had friends at other shoe stores do the same.

“I wanted to open a boot store but I didn’t have enough money,” he says. “When I opened the store, I had 75 pairs of boots and 500 empty boxes,” which he stacked up to make it look like he had a huge inventory.

Rebranding from Rick’s Ranchwear in 2018 was necessitated by the rise of online retailers, he says. Consumers would try on an item in a store and then go home and order it online for a lower price and with no tax.

Initially offering jeans, shirts and other items, the company refocused because of market changes. Now, 99% of its business is boots.

“My business was changing drastically,” he says. “We had to really think outside the box and reinvent the business. Just regular brick-and-mortar was not going to be viable anymore the way we were doing it.”

The stores stock major boot brands including Rocky, Justin, Wolverine and Masterson, as well as boots specifically manufactured for his chain, he says.

People can look at merchandise online then call and order what they want.

“But you can’t consummate the deal [online] and it sounds crazy. We’ve been too busy to actually do that,” he admits. “We’ve kind of bucked the trend on brick and mortar.”

Other than the Boardman store, which is across the street from the original location, all the other stores are in tourist locations, he says. Even so, the local store has operated for so long that people will drive from six hours away. On one occasion, he says, he told some customers who were driving to Boardman from Kentucky that they didn’t live far from the Nashville stores.

Nominator Liz McGarry, development director for Hospice of the Valley, says she became acquainted with Blase and his company when she worked for Second harvest Food Bank and approached him for a contribution for a fundraiser.

“He’s never stopped. He’s just been a really good person and a good giver,” she says. Blase has regularly donated to her Mardi Gras fundraiser at the $2,500 level and has donated boots for other local fundraisers.

Other organizations that have benefited from the boot retailer’s generosity include Youngstown State University, the YSU Foundation for the Tressel institute for Leadership and Teamwork, Edward J. DeBartolo Memorial Scholarship Foundation, Boys & Girls Club, Mercy Health Foundation and American Cancer Society.

Cancer and “anything to do with children” are among Blase’s priorities when it comes to giving, he says.

“[Children] are innocent,” he says. “They haven’t had a chance yet in life.”

Pictured at top: Rick Blase sells brand-name and his own line of boots at eight stores and online.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.