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Are Crocs the Shoes of Summer, or an Old Sole?

Crocs in Italy
In a story titled, "Burning Rubber," Denver-based 5280 Magazine sheds some light on Crocs, the Niwot, Colo., company whose colorful rubber shoes were a screaming hit in the mid-2000s. Now diversified into more than 250 designs, the original Beach Crocs still inspire undying love from medics, gardeners, athletes, teachers, parents, and anybody looking for a lightweight, washable shoe that's easy on the feet and the wallet, if not the eye.

5280 staff writer Robert Sanchez describes the Crocs story as "so fantastic, so American, it is almost irresistable: A story of three friends with problems who somehow caught lightning in a bottle."

Crocs were born on a Caribbean booze cruise aboard a 78-foot sailboat owned by Boulder inventor Scott Seamans. Looking for investors, he showed a Canadian boat shoe to George Boedecker and Duke Hanson. Boedecker, a self-made millionaire from Domino's Pizza franchises with a soft heart and a drinking problem, had invited marketing guy Hanson, a childhood friend on a losing streak: he'd lost his job and his mother and his wife had filed for divorce. Hanson moved in with another recently separated guy, electronics exec, Ron Snyder, at what friends called the "Dejected Man House."

Boedecker and Hanson derided the ugly shoe, but Seamans thought it had market potential, and the men agreed once they tried it, Sanchez writes. "The Canadian manufacturer had made its clog from a specialized resin, a closed-cell material that resisted odors and liquids, never lost its grip on wet surfaces, and contoured nicely into a personalized fit when exposed to body heat. To top it off, the shoe could be cleaned easily with a water hose or in the shower."

The Dejected Men did well for themselves as sales climbed to $840 million in 2007. Snyder has been CEO of Crocs since 2005 and shepherded the shoe brand through its IPO. On a May earnings call, he told analysts that sales will keep rising, boosted by new markets in China, Russia, India, and Germany and new shoes including the three-inch-heel Cyprus and the Santa Cruz, which look like Crocs crossed with Topsiders.

But Crocs has had a tough couple of months, including legal problems, an unsuccessful attempt to defend its patent, the closing of its original factory in Quebec, and a precipitous decline in stock price after word that Crocs were selling in Costco caused investors to suspect excess inventory was being dumped at a discount. Seamans and Hanson remain with the company, but Sanchez describes Boedecker, who left the company in 2006, as a man gone off the rails. An attempted interview on Easter Sunday in Boulder gets hijacked as Sanchez discovers why Crocs PR folks have discouraged him from doing an interview.

He was at a sushi restaurant, waiting for his children, he said, and he gave me directions. ("I'm right down the street from you, just a couple of blocks.") I wandered downtown Boulder for 15 minutes, then called him back.
"George, I'm in Boulder, where are you?" I asked.
"I'm in Manhattan Beach," he said.
"We were supposed to meet today."
"Well, if you're going to be lost anywhere in America, " Boedecker said, "I can't imagine a better place than Boulder."
Are the new Croc designs selling? Are the old ones still selling? Do you consider them a hideous fad or a summer perennial? How many pairs do you have? It's OK, I'm not Manolo the Shoeblogger, I won't deride you. (I have three, including the fleecy Mammoth, my favorite winter house shoe.) Hit the comment button and give me some shoe logic.

Image of Crocs display at Pitti Uomo, Florence, by Antonangelo De Martini, via Flickr CC 2.0

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