Some businesses find their inception with a stroke of luck—being at the right place at the right time. For Peter Nichols’ company, Wilcox Boots, it took two of these moments spanned several years apart.
In May 2014, after several years of working a comfortable and stable job in health care consulting in Salt Lake City, Nichols, Marshall ’07, decided to quit. It was time to take a leap of faith. With only a tentative plan to enroll in business school the following year, Nichols left “with no idea what I was going to do.” With time to kill, he spent the summer traveling throughout Southeast Asia before a fateful visit to Guatemala.
On the second day of a motorcycle tour through Central American forests, a brief spell of rainy weather halted the trip in a leatherworking town—just enough time for Nichols to decide on a whim to buy a pair of leather boots. Soon after, the skies cleared and Nichols left the small city. “That night I started thinking, the town had some really talented individuals. I wonder if they’d be open to me placing a custom order,” Nichols says. “And at this point my mind started racing.” Within a couple months, Nichols was building what would become Wilcox Boots. But this spur-of-the-moment idea would only work with the help of a second unknowingly fortuitous situation from years earlier.
Back in 2007, while participating in an immigration research program with UC San Diego, Nichols found his way to Guanajuato, Mexico, where he learned about the region’s long history as a world leader in the leather and footwear industry. In 2014, while searching for a location for larger production capabilities for his boot startup, this historic fact discovered seven years earlier became alarmingly relevant. Currently, Wilcox Boots are made in a family-owned factory in Leon, Guanajuato. In the past year, Nichols has crowdfunded more than $140,000 on Kickstarter and put Wilcox Boots in full production, with an online offering of his shoes.
In a whirlwind year, Nichols, who is working a second full-time job building an app startup, has built a successful brand from the ground up, all with determination, business savvy, and a couple of chance encounters. “I never thought of myself as entrepreneurial,” Nichols says. “I feel like to some extent it was bound to happen even though I may not have realized it.”
In the long term, he hopes Wilcox Boots, while remaining true to its roots, will become a recognizable name in the market. But in the meantime, Nichols, who names the boot designs after streets he grew up on, will be thinking of a San Diego avenue to title a future design. “It’s been a complete blast the entire time,” he says.