Rock Fall - the Alfreton footwear firm that has grown from trading at a local market to a global enterprise
PUBLISHED: 16:07 20 April 2015 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 April 2015
Rock Fall’s distinctive brand has seen their fortunes grow from small beginnings to a multi-million pound business
In the last quarter of a century the Noon family has taken giant strides to transform the market of safety boots. Stephen Noon established his footwear business back in 1987, selling slippers at car boot sales and on a Derbyshire market stall. This soon expanded into commissioning manufacturers in China to manufacture his own designs, followed by the creation of a line of boots and safety shoes.
Then in 1997 the trademark Rock Fall brand was created. The name was conceived on a weekend walk to a quarry in Crich where Stephen took a photograph that is used to this day as a logo on boxes of Rock Fall products and labelling.
Stephen has now taken a back seat while his sons Richard (25) and Matthew (22) are driving the business forward. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their innovative ideas are pure inspiration which have seen the business ride through storms and slumps in the market to become a multi-million pound global enterprise now going from strength to strength.
Based on Wimsey Way at Alfreton Trading Estate, the Rock Fall premises may be familiar to many local residents as the Outdoor Factory Shop selling quality ‘all weather’ walking gear and footwear, perfect for hiking in the Peak District hills and dales as well as abroad. Brands include Jack Wolfskin, SealSkinz, Scarpa and Teva. They also stock a range of industrial clothing made from Nanotex performance fabric. However, few customers are likely to be aware of the scale of business that runs from here – half a million pairs of safety boots are sold from here to every continent of the world!
With base materials sourced from several different countries and using the latest high tech manufacturing facilities, their range of specialist products is dynamic and inventive, a variation on a traditional theme. Eyelets are currently sourced from Taiwan, Vibram soles come from Italy whilst the actual boot may be made in China, Bosnia, Portugal or Italy.
Standard safety boots come in a range of styles and sizes, many having leather uppers, but it is the hidden man-made components and advanced adaptations that make Rock Fall unique.
For example, the non-metallic boots made by Rock Fall are used by workers in the London Underground as they don’t set off metal detectors, whilst their ‘electronics’ trainers have been designed to prevent ESD (electrostatic discharge) and developed for wearers in an environment where there are microchips and electronic equipment.
Through various distributors Rock Fall supply large UK companies such as Carillion and Bowmer & Kirkland with construction boots. Twenty-first century materials such as R-ten® thread are used instead of cotton for stitching seams to make ideal boots to be worn out and about in Derbyshire’s quarries as it is resistant to corrosive alkalines such as concrete and limestone.
Whilst the sales team are excited to receive any new orders from abroad, selling cold storage boots with fur linings to Mauritius and Chile certainly made them smile!
In October 2014 the Rock Fall ‘Chatsworth’ boot hit the market for the first time. Made in Portugal using Italian leather, this specialist boot with Sympatex membrane is resistant to chainsaws. Having Class 3 status it is one of the highest standard safety boots in the world!
But Matthew, Richard and their 16 employees are probably most proud of their Metatarsal Boot. In recent years its unique design has taken the safety footwear market by storm. Previously the old style of ‘complete foot’ protection with its large external guard was big, heavy, clumpy, ugly and uncomfortable to wear. Redesigned using 21st century ingenuity and internal reinforcement has transformed it into a lightweight and flexible boot.
Also unique to Rock Fall are work boots with solid TPU scuff caps.
Rock Fall is also the only British company to have designed a range of women’s safety footwear. Made especially on narrow lasts, the uppers come in a range of feminine colours including purple and are called the Vixen range – named of course by Stephen!
Matthew and Richard regularly travel the world. They attend exhibitions and visit suppliers to research the latest and most advanced materials, components and manufacturing processes.
Having listened to customers’ demands and requirements, they then use external designers to create new ideas and products. It’s big business with stiff competition – although most manufacturers know each other and might meet occasionally at trade exhibitions and fairs, behind the scenes they are chasing a challenging market where commercial espionage exists to steal or copy ideas. Secrecy is paramount as Rock Fall strives to step there first!
As fast as their boots are launched into the market place, designs may be copied. Ever resourceful and up for a challenge, Richard, Matthew and the team think up new ideas to move forward. However, the process from drawing board and prototype to production is lengthy and can take from two to three years to complete – they are currently working on a ‘top secret’ new boot that should be on sale in 2017 and fill a niche that no other firm in the world currently supplies.
Many businesses these days feel pressurised by the constantly changing and upgrading of health and safety demands and requirements. ‘We love health and safety legislation,’ said Matthew. ‘It’s what we’re best at!’
Rock Fall do not sell online, their sales are through a chain of distributors and the Alfreton Factory Shop.
Although some components are sourced from Europe and some boots are manufactured there, sales to Europe are a bit slow. It appears that fashion and looks are important there, sometimes with specific tastes. Holland for example likes to jazz up its Rock Fall boots with an orange stripe and trim! But a stylish red and black heavy duty sandal with protective toecap has proved extremely popular in hot Mediterranean countries. On the other hand, or should that be foot, the UK market appears far more serious and traditional, happy to stay all black or brown.
Ex-Commonwealth countries still hold with tradition and seem to consider British is still best, meaning that exports to Nigeria, Kenya and New Zealand are currently doing well.
A market that Richard is keen to expand on is for ‘private label’ boots offering a company name or logo on the tongues. For a minimum order of 1,000 pairs boots can be tailor-made and designed to the company’s individual requirements and specifications.
Rock Fall is happy to remain based at Alfreton in the industrial heartland of the UK but close to the arterial M1 and the Derbyshire roots of the Noon family.
Matthew confirmed that both he and Richard are pleased with what they have achieved so far but are eager to move the firm forward with their boots reaching far flung places and with even more revolutionary designs. As for Stephen, there can be no doubt that he is immensely proud to have his sons working side by side and dedicated to taking their family business step-by-step into the future!