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Spring 2009 Flip Flops Are Hot!

Not so long ago Todd Giatrelis and Sarah Towne found themselves in Las Vegas on a business trip, searching in vain for a flip flop shop where Towne could find a pair of open-toed sandals to finish out the convention. At the time, they had no idea that less than a year later they would be back in Boston, celebrating the grand opening of the first Flip Flop Shop. The store was a test to see if a flip flops store had the potential they thought it did. Within four months they were in the black. Stores followed in Arizona and California, where Giatrelis and Towne picked up tips from surf shop owners who had a flair for both merchandising and selling to an almost-counter-culture customer base. By 2007, with a half-dozen stores generating solid sales, the partners knew it was time to franchise. They hired Brian Curin, a former executive with some of the most recognizable franchises in the United States, to take the company to the next level.

Curin says he signed on because he loved the company’s “Free Your Toes!” corporate culture and, like Giatrelis and Towne, recognized a huge untapped market when he saw one.

“At¬†the time, [flip flops were] a $20 billion market that outsold athletic shoes for the [previous] two years, and yet there was zero retail space dedicated to the category,” Curin recalls. “Flip flops and sandals have always been an afterthought for retailers.¬† I saw the opportunity to do what Sunglass Hut did with sunglasses, only with flip flops.” His goal as the company’s president is to have 236 stores open by 2013.

A key to the stores’ success, he says, is the company’s corporate culture. “The vibe is one of the most critical factors to what we have created and are going to build” in the years ahead, he says. “This is what has made Flip Flop Shops a true lifestyle brand versus just a store, and what has created the cult-like following we have gained.”

Along with a playful outlook, the corporate culture also includes being an environmentally responsible retailer, he adds. “We use cork floors, bamboo cash wraps, low-energy lighting, water-based glues and paints. The shop itself is designed to appeal to all senses-cork floor, proprietary coconut suntan oil scent that pumps through the shop, active lifestyle video, good vibe music, and backlit lifestyle graphics with the flip flops floating out in front of them. We have really created something that is totally new, unique and poised for breakthrough brand status,” Currin says.


Nancy Tanker

Nancy Tanker is the former managing editor of Specialty Retail Report. She has covered the specialty retail industry for nearly 15 years for a variety of publications and can be reached at srrtanker@mchsi.com.

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