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A decade ago, W. Robert Naito was supervising historical restorations of commercial buildings for his family's real estate business. Today, he's the architect of a marketing strategy for Dr. Martens-a footwear brand he's trying to make as classic as Levi's.

"I'm avoiding trying to be consciously hip or really cool-I run from that kind of message," says Mr. Naito, 40, managing director of AirWair USA. AirWair is the U.S. company formed recently by the shoe's British manufacturer, R. Griggs Group, to promote, market and distribute Dr. Martens footwear in the U.S.

Mr. Naito has been building Dr. Martens since 1989, when one of his family's tenants-the owner of a shoe store-asked him for help. The tenant was having difficulty maintaining stock in the sturdy, comfortable shoes that had become de rigueur in Europe.

"They had a terrible time finding product," Mr. Naito says. "The shoes flew out of the store."

The tenant arranged with Griggs to distribute Dr. Martens in the U.S., and then convinced Nordstrom's and other retailers to carry the brand. That's when the Harvard educated Mr. Naito stepped in, dusting off an old college advertising text.

To keep the product from becoming a has-been fad, Mr. Naito hired Cole & Weber, Portland, Ore., to produce an advertising campaign that has since won awards.

For the past two fiscal years, U.S. sales have quadrupled annually, to $20-plus million in the year that ended July 1993.

Print ads run in Details, GQ and Spin, but to broaden the brand's consumer base, Mr. Naito is considering expanding into women's books.

The goal: to make Dr. Martens a mainstream product without alienating trendy youth.

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