It was on a winter trip to Denver that Amanda Walker discovered the funky-looking footwear that would boost her body-care business.
The temperature 85 degrees and her feet tired, she was persuaded by locals to try Crocs. She thought the clog-like, rubber-like shoes were hideous but quickly got hooked on their comfort.
And, she decided, she just had to carry them at her store, Heavenly Bath, Body & More.
The bulky clog with a strap along the heel and holes across the top and around the toes is winning consumers over with its versatility and comfort. Food service and factory workers, hair stylists and hospital personnel buy them for comfort. Boaters and swimmers buy them for function. And some just think they’re fun.
“It’s unbelievable how popular they are,” said Walker, who sells an average of 16 pairs of the colorful shoes each week at her store in suburban Cincinnati and said they account for more than half of her business.
“I’ve definitely lived off Crocs for a while,” she said. “You get a shipment in and ‘poof’ they’re gone.”
Crocs, which got its name because the shoes are water-friendly and tough, now lends its cartoon crocodile logo to more than a dozen styles. There are flip flops, slides, a calf-high boot, a hiking shoe and a Mary Jane that’s set to hit stores this fall. They come in 20 colors — from chocolate and sea blue to lime and fuchsia — and prices range from about $30 to $60.
Tim Kaiser, store manager at the Tradehome Shoe Store in Bismarck, N.D., said he sells to many nurses who say Crocs are more comfortable than $100 walking shoes and easy to sanitize.
'Flying off shelves'
The shoes are popular with campers because they’re easy to slip on and off, said Dustin Sabo, a manager at Sabo’s Camping in Columbus. Crocs are “flying off the shelves” there, he said.
At Gem Beach Marina along Lake Erie in Port Clinton, co-owner Megan Lovitt said Crocs are a good seller for the store that doesn’t focus on clothing or shoes. She sold about 150 pairs during last year’s three-month boating season and expects to sell about 235 pairs this season.
Crocs Inc., based in Niwot, Colo., reported $24,000 in revenues and sold 1,500 pairs of clogs in 2002, its first year. Last year, the company sold 6 million pairs of shoes and total revenues, including shoes, accessories and clothing, hit $108.6 million, an amount that spokesman Michael Fox said came almost entirely from shoes.
In May, Crocs said it expected sales for 2006 to reach $200 million to $205 million.
Crocs went public on the Nasdaq Stock Market in February at $21 per share; the stock rose 1.8 percent June 28 to close at $23.69.
“There’s no doubt that they are very, very hot right now,” said Michael Wood, vice president of the marketing firm Teenage Research Unlimited. “The key to it is they’re comfortable, they’re practical and they’re fun ... and they’re also affordable so you can buy into the trend without making a big investment.”
Jen Mosher of Tuscaloosa, Ala., said she got her first pair of Crocs for Christmas in 2002.
“I stuck them on to wear for slippers and haven’t taken them off since,” said Mosher, 39, a University of Alabama microbiology graduate student who’s often on her feet in a lab.
She now has the original Crocs in nine colors — dark blue, royal blue, yellow, orange, red, purple, green, black and the tan ones she wears as dress shoes.
She cleans them by throwing them in the dishwasher.
Dr. Scott Bautch, a chiropractor in Wausau, Wis., who sees Crocs on many patients and medical personnel, said the shoe’s comfort seems to come from its extra width and soft, supportive arch.
Bautch has not done research on the product, but said he’s seen patients suffer less stress or pain in the bottom of the foot with Crocs than with other casual shoes.
“I have to say it surprised me,” said Bautch, a spokesman for the Arlington, Va.-based American Chiropractic Association.
Fox said the key to Crocs is the material. They’re made of a resin that molds to the foot, is scuff and slip resistant, doesn’t absorb odor and can be cleaned with a garden hose.
Bracing for competition, demand
But a challenge for the company is that it has produced a “very one-dimensional product” and must find ways to re-engineer the brand because that product is easily imitated, said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst with The NPD Group Inc., a market research firm.
“Number one, the hard part, is to sustain that momentum,” he said. “Number two is to ward off the competition.”
Cohen said similar shoes have popped up at lower prices in Skechers, Wal-Mart and Target stores. He compared the fad to the UGG sheepskin boots, which were hot for a couple of years but faded away after imitators came along.
Another hurdle is meeting demand.
To fix the problem, the company is increasing production capabilities, Fox said. Crocs recently added a factory in Romania to the six that are in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Italy and China.
Some retailers say it has been difficult to get their orders for shoes filled.
Felix Ponte, owner of Sandals Are Us in Apache Junction, Ariz., said he had so much trouble that he dropped Crocs and switched to Nothinz, one of the other brands vying for the foam sandal market.
Michele Stratton-Barrat waited three months for Crocs to get to The Flaming Ice Cube aromatherapy gift shop and vegan cafe she owns in suburban Youngstown.
They proved worth the wait. Stratton-Barrat sold 17 pairs in two days. A week later, she was still selling multiple pairs each day.
“We’re not a big store so that’s just huge for us,” she said.