The story of Cinderella begins with the narrator saying….“Once upon a time in a faraway land, there was a tiny kingdom; peaceful, prosperous, and rich in romance and tradition…” This description of Cinderella’s chateau reminds me of the iconic Birkenstock building in Novato. The building sits on a large piece of land off the beaten track. The mid-century warehouse is a hyperbolic paraboloid. The roof of this warehouse reminds me of ski slope moguls and the eves of the building are pointy triangles. The building itself is like something out of a fairy tale.
I have driven been past this beautiful building countless times and I have always wondered what it was like inside. I even wrote a blog about it. What could be more exciting than going inside a building full of all things Birkenstock?
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would step foot into the Birkenstock building. Then one day something magical happened. The CEO of Birkenstock USA contacted me. He had been made aware of my “I Love Birkenstocks” blog and invited me to tour the Birkenstock USA headquarters in Novato. I gratefully accepted the invitation.
Cinderella says that “a dream is a wish that your heart makes”. My heart made this wish decades ago and now my wish was about to come true. I would get to tour the iconic building and meet the people that help carry on the Birkenstock tradition within the United States.
The day of my tour I was full of mixed emotions. Excitement, nervousness, and curiosity. Just like when Cinderella needed to find something to wear to the ball, I needed to find something suitable to wear to Birkenstock. I did not have a fairy Godmother who could manufacture me a pair of glass slippers with her magical wand. Besides, showing up to Birkenstock in a pair of glass slippers would be a silly idea. I needed to wear Birkenstocks!
I pulled out all my Birkenstocks to decide which would be the most appropriate to wear on this special occasion. I didn’t want to wear my favorite pair because they are well loved and well worn. I didn’t want to wear a brand new pair because then the employees would think I didn’t properly break-in my Birkenstocks before wearing them for the day. I didn’t want to wear my most dressy pair because they are the wrong width. I settled on a fairly new, but properly broken-in, pair of Arizonas that I had purchased directly through Birkenstock USA.
Birkenstock USA is located in Novato, CA. I worked in Novato for several years and am quite familiar with the area. I even worked in a building on Redwood Blvd, the same street where Birkenstock is located. However, my office was at the other end of town.
When I arrived in Novato and approached the street where Birkenstock is located, I started to get butterflies in my stomach. I didn’t know what to expect. I was a Birkenstock wearer that started a Birkenstock blog a few months ago. Would my tour involve questions about my blog? About what I have written? Suggestions for future blogs? How would the Birkenstock employees respond to me?
All my nervousness quickly faded away after I was buzzed into the building. The receptionist’s warm smile and cordial welcome eased my concerns. As I signed myself in, I noticed from the corner of my eye, a framed welcome sign with my name on it. In all my years as a working professional, I have never once attended a meeting that displayed a welcome sign with my name on it. To me, this personalized welcome sign was like Cinderella’s luxurious pumpkin stage coach. It was the beginning of an unforgettable adventure.
I was promptly greeted by the Director of Merchandising, the Director of Marketing, and the Customer Service Manager. My time at Birkenstock started with a guided tour of the campus. There is so much rich history surrounding the Birkenstock USA campus that we spent over an hour just touring the space.
The Birkenstock family owns the buildings and the land on which the buildings sit. Birkenstock likes to keep a low profile and is very happy having their office space off the beaten track. Several times throughout the day I was reminded how rare it was for Birkenstock to allow an outside individual a “behind the curtain” tour. Birkenstock likes its privacy.
One might imagine that because Birkenstock shoes are seen on fashion runways all over the world that this high end theme would carry over into their office setting. That’s not that case at all. The inside office space is down to earth and modest, much like their shoes. Essentially the building remains true to it’s 1960s architecture with just a few upgrades here and there.
We started our tour inside and walked into a meeting room that had rows upon rows of Birkenstock shoes on display. I felt like Cinderella entering the ball. I was overwhelmed with emotion. My first thought was, have I ever been in a room with this many Birkenstocks? It was enchanting. On the far wall I got a sneak peek of the Spring 2017 collection. Sorry, friends, I can’t say much more about this other than 2017 will be an exciting year for Birkenstock lovers.
As we continued our tour through the office space, I noticed cork boards (very apropos) filled with pin ups of celebrities photographed wearing Birkenstocks. These are not paid Birkenstock advertisements, rather they are images caught by the paparazzi. As you may know, Birkenstock does very minimal advertising in the U.S. They have such a great following of wearers that the shoes almost sell themselves.
Walking through the office space, I also noticed that everyone who worked at Birkenstock was actually wearing Birkenstock shoes. Customer service staff members were wearing the shoes for which they were providing assistance. Does customer service get any more personal than that? #1 human beings were answering the phone and #2 they have first hand knowledge about the product because they are wearing Birkenstocks.
We walked out of the office space and into a garden oasis.
The first thing one sees upon exiting the building from the back is a beautiful hand painted mural. Birkenstock had local high school art students paint a mural on the wall. The mural enhances the landscape and brings vibrance into the building for its employees.
As we turned to the right, there was a lovely garden area and a human-made creek bed. Behind this garden is a retaining wall that protects the building from the hillside. Birkenstock commissioned an artist to decorate it to bring beauty to an otherwise dull cement wall. I don’t know how to describe the type of art on the wall other than designs that are embedded into the cement that are reminiscent of hieroglyphics.
There was a small pond covered with lily pads and water lilys. The pond area was lovely and looked like a Monet painting. Birkenstock is a home to a turtle. I did not get to meet this turtle because it was hiding from a dog that was out on a quick walk. Birkenstock is a dog friendly work environment. Birkenstock is visited by other animals as well. The open space around the property brings in many different types of animals, like deer, rabbits, turkeys, lizards, and snakes.
On the northern most side of the building is open space. Part of the land is being used by a beekeeper from Petaluma. Apparently, bees are very happy on the Birkenstock land and produce flavorful honey.
Another section of the land is fenced off and used for an employee garden. Just below the garden are a few oak trees that had been planted to honor Birkenstock employees that have passed on. The oak trees were a lovely tribute to those that have passed away.
Just below the open space and oak trees is the warehouse. This hyperbolic paraboloid building is magnificent up close. John Savage Bolles originally designed the warehouse building for the McGraw-Hill publishing house. This is the same architect that designed the IBM campus and the now demolished Candlestick Park.
Mc-Graw-Hill moved out of the space in 1991 and Birkenstock moved into the space in 1992. This was home to Birkenstock USA for 15 years until Birkenstock moved its distribution center to Kentucky to be close the UPS hub. When Birkenstock downsized, they left the office space and moved to a smaller building on Hamilton Field in south Novato for about 5 years. In late 2012, Birkenstock returned to its office space on Redwood Blvd.
The parking lot and office buildings sit a little higher up on the hill than the warehouse. One can easily see the roof of the warehouse from the parking lot. It was pointed out to me how the lower areas of the eves were fenced off with wire as a safety precaution. Apparently, skateboarders use to climb up onto the roof and used it as a skate park.
I did not get to tour the warehouse because it is empty. All these years I thought it was full of Birkenstocks, but for the past several years all those Birkenstocks have been housed in Kentucky. There are 2 other empty buildings that I did not tour. One is an another office space and the other is a small cafeteria which has been closed since the distribution center relocated out of state. Peeking through the window of the cafeteria everything looks like it is paused in time.
After my tour, I met with two Birkenstock staff members to learn more about the brand. It was clear they were experts in their profession and that they took pride in the brand for which they work. I learned about how the shoes were made, the footbeds, the widths, insoles, sandals, shoes, boots, and many other fun facts. The information that I gathered from them will be shared in upcoming blogs.
There were no attempts to censor what I had written or guide me in any direction regarding future blog topics. The Director of Merchandising, the Director of Marketing, and the Customer Service Manager provided me a wealth of information about the Birkenstock brand and willingly answered all my questions.
I am thankful to the Birkenstock USA CEO for the invitation. I am also extremely thankful for the amount of time that each of three staff members spent with me during my tour. I feel like the Birkenstock USA family opened their doors to me and gave me a glimpse of their private home. For that, I am forever grateful.
Cinderella says that “a pair of shoes can change your life”. A pair of Birkenstocks certainly changed my life. And my tour of the Birkenstock USA headquarters was like a magical fairy tale come true. It is a day in my life that I will never forget.
I Love Birkenstocks….thank you again for this once in a lifetime tour.