By Clark Turner
How does an ugly boat shoe develop into the fastest growing shoe company in the world? Welcome to the world of Crocs.
The story of Crocs is a remarkable one. Back in 2002, friends Duke Hanson and Scott Seamans, from Boulder, Colorado, went sailing through the Caribbean where they decided they wanted to make a practical boating shoe out of plastic.
A resin material that was lightweight, slip and odour resistant was sourced though a cloth manufacturer in Canada and Crocs were born.
Two years later and the company bought the manufacturer outright in 2004 now owning the exclusive rights to the material Croslite.
The shoe was launched at the 2002 Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in Miami and was an instant hit. Around 5,000 pairs were sold, paving the way for launch proper in the U.S. the following year and in Europe in 2005.
In 2003, sales hit $1.2m, but by 2006, had grown to $355m while profits rose from $300,000 to $200.6m (£100.5m).
The US accounts for one-third of sales but the brand is proving popular overseas too. Some 1.2 million shoes were sold in Israel last year, while 17 per cent of the population of Iceland own Crocs.
Once a three-man operation, the company now has 3200 employees, 17,500 sales outlets in 80 countries. From producing one shoe, it’s developed a whole range of styles and is now positioning itself as a lifestyle brand.
All this has been achieved with minimal advertising. The company has only advertised in trade press to date with word of mouth and celebrity endorsement instead being the key marketing drivers.
Strategic alliances with Disney, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers and various college team have helped to promote brand awareness.
Crocs have also produced shoes for some of the most influential corporates in the world including Google, as well as Tyco, Flexotronics and the L.A.Lakers.
So just what is the secret of the brand’s success? Just how has it become such a global phenomenon in such a short space of time? According to PR Manager for Europe, Liselore Stuut it’s very simple and down to the appeal of the product itself.
“It’s all down to the comfort of the shoes and the range of bright colours,” she said. “When some people see them for the first time, they might consider them ugly shoes, but as soon as they try them on, they feel differently and love them.”
That love and a reasonable price bracket of between £17 and £39 can lead to multiple purchases.
The shoes are beloved by nurses, doctors, waiters and gardeners but it’s celebrity endorsement that has delivered ‘money can’t buy’ PR and played a critical role in driving sales.
Liselore said, “We didn’t target celebrities by providing them with shoes, it just happened naturally by coincidence.”
Famous names spotted wearing the shoes include George Bush, Halle Berry, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino.
Last month the brand opened a flagship store in London’s fashionable Covent Garden. This follows the opening of a franchise store in June 2007 in Sheffield.
The colourful nature of the product has leant itself to innovative visual merchandising displays while sales have been steady. The company is now looking to more stores in key UK cities in 2008.
So when your product is so popular how do you manage to keep a phenomenon fresh?
For Crocs the answer is development. There are now 40 models in the shoe range in different colours and shapes.
A recently released fake-fur lined shoe has been a soaraway success, as has a new high heel model. Another 30 new Crocs designs are set to hit the market in Spring 2008.
The company has also launched a range of accessories with development underway for clothing, underwear, sports equipment and spa products.a
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