9/15/22 - Gales Wants to Become Nike for People Who Stand for a Living

Gales is carving out a niche in the footwear industry by doubling down on the service-shoe sector.

  • Gales makes footwear for nurses and doctors.
  • Its CEO, Rob Gregg, wants to expand to others who stand for a living, such as construction workers.
  • Gales will soon close a nearly $4 million round. It's already done $1 million in sales, Gregg said.

The company's sneakers, which cost about $90, are designed with healthcare professionals who stand on the job — including nurses and doctors — in mind.

The startup, launched in September 2021, has already done $1 million in sales, said Rob Gregg, its CEO.

"What Nike has built for the athlete we're looking to build for the standing professional," he told Insider.

Gales now wants to expand its customer base to include other professionals who stand for a living, including bartenders, waiters, and construction workers.

"Shoes to date have been designed for motion," Gregg said. "The challenge for standing professionals is you're putting steady weight and pressure on your shoes, and they're not designed for that load over time."

Gales is about to close a $3.9 million seed round. It raised a $2.1 million round in September 2021.

With venture funding slowing down, Gales is among the few footwear companies that have raised funds in recent months. Kizik, which makes slip-on sneakers and is backed by Nike, raised a $20 million round, and Hilma, which makes running shoes for women, raised a $3 million round.

Gales' latest round includes investments from Springdale Ventures, Hannah Grey, N+1 Ventures, Break Trail Ventures, The Family Fund VC, Aquarius Capital Partners, Longley Capital, Kokopelli Capital, and a handful of angel investors. Techstars, which invested in the company's previous financing round, wrote another check. Gregg is a Techstars mentor.

Gregg said the company will use the influx of cash for hiring, scaling up production, increasing inventory, expanding its product line, and investing in research and development. It recently added Mark Beran, formerly the chief marketing officer for Encompass Group, as its chief commercial officer, and Raquél Pérez, a nurse and past TEDx speaker, as its chief nursing officer.

Genevieve Gilbreath, a Springdale Ventures cofounder and general partner, said she thinks Gales can be "Figs for feet." Figs, which offered a twist on medical scrubs, went public in May 2021.

"What we see is very special about Gales is how focused they are on their target market, people who stand on their feet eight-plus hours a day, starting with healthcare workers," she said in an email. "There are running shoes for running, hiking shoes for hiking, but what about shoes for standing for eight hours plus?"

A $434 million market rife with opportunity

According to NPD Group, the market for "occupational footwear" increased by 28% in 2021, to $434.4 million.

Beth Goldstein, an NPD Group industry analyst for footwear, said she thinks the category reflects the overall job market. She said that something like the Biden administration's $1 trillion infrastructure bill could give it another boost.

"The work-safety market as a whole has done very well aside from a little bit of a blip early in the pandemic," she added.

Among the challenges for Gales is convincing standing professionals to ditch standbys like Nikes, Hokas, and clogs and try a new shoe.

Gregg's background could help. He previously worked for a marketing company and helped direct-to-consumer brands with customer acquisition. He also founded and exited the footwear brand Rob McAllan, which sold dress shoes designed to perform more like sneakers.

The idea for Gales came after Gregg started volunteering in healthcare during the pandemic, including for SONSIEL, an organization that helps nurses invent products and services. Through that work, Gregg learned about the need for better shoes for healthcare workers.

Gales are injection-molded, a relatively simple manufacturing process that scales easily. The shoes are made in North America, which makes logistics more manageable compared with relying on Asian factories.

They're lightweight and designed for people who stand 12 hours a day, Gregg said. They're also designed to be bleachable and easy to clean, something Gregg said is critical for people around infectious diseases.

"If you can't bleach it or burn it, you can't take it home," he said. "The majority of nurses are wearing mesh athletic shoes. Infectious fluids can go through a pair of Nikes. And if you have a scrape or a blister, it's an easy pathway for infection."

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