- 5 Mushroom Heads
A Closer Look At Magnum
It's tough being in the business of making military kit. Regardless if your specialty is patrol sacks, webbing or god forbid, boots; it's hard to win a reputation and it's even harder to keep it. What makes it so difficult? It's because everyone has their own opinion on boots; what's good, what's crap, what could be better and what their individual preference is.
As time moves on more and more manufacturers' spring into the military boot industry with little or no previous experience, it's always reassuring therefore to know that your purchase comes from a company with history.
Magnum originated in 1982 as part of the Hi-Tec brand which had become famous with its range of squash shoes back in 1974. The creation of the brand stemmed from requests from the FBI training centre in the US for lightweight and athletically built tactical boots as the officers had previously been wearing the Hi-Tec Sierra Lite Hiking boot before deciding to opt for a customised, tailor-made solution. There are plenty of companies that can claim to have longer lineages or more pedigree but having your first tactical boot come around as a request by the FBI is certainly an acclaim anyone can be proud of!
The first retail version of the tactical boot hit the shelves in 1983 after word spread about the quality of the product and other law enforcement groups wanted to be a part of the party, ensuring that the Hi-Tec brand grew in both strength and expertise in a quick fashion.
It's interesting to note that whilst Hi-Tec was begun in an English village in 1974, Magnum started its life in America and it wasn't until 1990 that Magnum went truly global and again until 2002 that Magnum cut the apron strings of its mother company, Hi-Tec, and became independent, enabling the company to truly focus its aims and objectives whilst ensuring the product they developed remained one of the most popular in the market.
The company has two main offices, one in the UK and their main HQ in Amsterdam with the UK offices sharing the same site as their warehouses and are one of the rare facilities in the UK boot industry which maintains a 'Live stock'. This means that apart from their transit warehouse which holds stock before it goes on to its distributors or retail outlets, they also have the second live stock warehouse which means they can supply anyone, anywhere in the UK, with whatever they may require. This ultimately means the consumer wins out due to the minimal wait time should a retailer run out of stock unexpectedly.
Tie this into the standard one year guarantee on all Magnum boots and it means that should you receive a pair of boots that develop a factory fault you can return them to Magnum and be assured of a new pair hitting your doorstep fairly swiftly.
So when did Magnum really begin to be talked about in the British Army?
In early 2000 the UK emergency services were abuzz with people talking about the comfortable ride that is the Magnum CEN - their original patrol boot. Slowly but surely the boot started to appear in military circles and slowly but surely things started to go wrong. Lots of people bought the CEN and lots of people suffered sprained ankles or found that the boot fell apart after serious use. Up went the cry of 'Magnums are crap!' rapidly followed by the issue of admin instructions stating Magnums were not to be worn out of camp due to lack of ankle support. Most courses of a physical and arduous nature banned them and you'd find yourself RTU'd (Returned to Unit) if you turned up with a pair on.
This had a hard impact on the Magnum reputation and the harm from that still reverberates around the company today.
Sitting down with Magnum and trying to piece the picture together from their point of view, Magnum put forward their argument in defence of this hammering to their reputation.
If you buy a police patrol boot (The Magnum CEN) which was designed for Urban Patrolling (by that read 'walking on tarmac surfaces') and then wear them repeatedly in some of the harsh and demanding environments we find ourselves in, what are the chances of them lasting longer than a few weeks or months?
The short version, summed up by Magnum themselves is simply that people were and still are buying the wrong boot for the job.
A brave statement.
You could say that the company is just defending themselves with an obvious get-out claim that places the blame on the soldier but this doesn’t come across as a knee-jerk reaction, more a statement of fact.
The evidence to defend their claims could be found in the way the MOD classifies their categories of boots. With categories such as: Combat High Liability, Lightweight Patrol Desert, Combat High Liability Desert and Jungle we can see that there’s an accepted limit for boots and in what style or environment they can be used. Therefore if people are buying boots that are classed as Lightweight Patrol and using them in Afghan then failings are inevitable.
This also supports the claims by Magnum that their boots were being incorrectly issued in theatre with the desert Scorpions being used by frontline troops under contact when they are in fact classed as Lightweight Patrol Desert and more suited to support roles.
It's undeniable there's been a mix-up somewhere, and it's something that no doubt will continue to occur and ultimately it's only the end-user, the soldier, who will suffer because of it.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Since the days of the CEN, Magnum have invested heavily in developing new methods of boot manufacturing and development. One result has been Ion mask technology which is an advanced system which results in the boot material becoming waterproof and chemically resistant.
Magnum, understanding that the military is a peculiarly demanding customer, are one of the few boot manufacturers to hire ex-military personnel to gain insight into the true military requirement and lead product development. Called 'Tactical Advisors' these highly experienced ex-military personnel from the US give their feedback, their opinions and their experiences to the Magnum R&D team to ensure that what's created is what's needed. The end result in this is that Magnum has a varied and robust range of products capable, if employed correctly, of meeting the needs of the individual regardless of the situation.
Tie this invaluable feedback in with the Magnum Field Tester project and the company has a wealth of knowledge and R&D that most companies would turn green for.
The Field Tester project is a unique and inventive system that allows members of the armed forces or emergency services to register with Magnum and if accepted, find themselves in the position to review and submit feedback on Magnum products, both existing and new or in development models.
Compared to several other big-name brands in the military footwear market Magnum are leaps ahead of the competition in this respect and is one of the few companies that can be believed when they stand up and say they are thinking of the soldiers needs before the company profits. It's a laughable statement but it's one that holds firm with the simple fact being if they don't put the soldier first with their product the soldier won't buy their product and Magnum therefore won't have any profits.
It's interesting to talk to the people at Magnum and to see the resigned shakes of heads when the past is mentioned and the way the brand name took a beating over the issues highlighted above. The one thing that comes through clearly is the hell-bent determination never to let that happen again. The current team at Magnum seems driven to ensure that the boot becomes a part of the British soldiers working life and don't seem ready to accept any failings on their part in the fight for this objective.
With 2012 sales levels predicted at 60% military and with advertising in publications such as Combat & Survival, Soldier and Raider as well as a slow emergence into the use of social media and event sponsorship the marketing department certainly has its hands full but also realises it's an area that was lacking focus and drive previously.
Plans to further increase the Magnum range by the cross-over of some of the apparel from the US range ensures that the company will have plenty to offer the ever-growing number of UK security contractors or private agency personnel that was previously the sole domain of the US and considering most of these people will be ex-military it's a market that Magnum hope to already have won by proving themselves on active service.
Magnum also have contracts with other national agencies elsewhere in the world such as the New Zealand army and the French Gendarmerie showing that as the MOD ponders over the tender process, other countries seem to have already made their minds up some time ago and are more than happy with the results.
Add to that the fact that the Magnum US operation is absolutely huge and now exists in a dimension of its own, separate from the UK front, and you have a fairly solidly established company that doesn't look like it will be going anywhere soon.
With Magnum already being a name well known in the British army, sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes for the wrong reasons, it's a name that we can safely say we'll be hearing for decades to come.
Editors Note: This was the first ever 'A Closer Look At' article written, back in 2011, and is much lighter on the details than subsequent ACLAs. Since this was written, Magnum boots have become decidedly dogshit, with the last two pairs falling to pieces in my hands after some tough wear. If I could go back, I'd be asking far tougher questions. Lessons learned!
It's also worth noting that Magnum now appear to have dropped military boots from their range, so to speak. Whereas back when this article was written, the military aspect was a key branding on their website, there is now no mention at all of military boots. Under 'Uniform' which has vague links to military, there are only the standard black boots. Magnum either didn't tender or didn't follow on to the change in brown and it would appear they have in that respect, flung the towel in when it comes to military footwear.