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Franchise Pros Fill a Niche in Flip-Flops

After conquering gourmet ice cream and Southwestern cuisine, three franchise veterans kick off their shoes and get into sandals.
Franchise Pros Fill a Niche in Flip-Flops
Image credit: Photo© Jeff Clark
Flip-Flop Fervor: Brian Curin (left) and Darin Kraetsch.

Flip-Flop Fervor: Brian Curin (left) and Darin Kraetsch.
Photo© Jeff Clark

Finish this list: Ice cream, burritos …

If you said flip-flops, you've got a mind like those of Brian Curin, Darin Kraetsch and Alan Woods, three franchise executives who helped Cold Stone Creamery grow to more than 1,000 units and whose Raving Brands Holdings company launched Moe's Southwest Grill.

After cashing out of the food business in the mid 1990s, the three took off a decade to enjoy their success before a small chain of sandals-only boutiques named Flip Flop Shops lured them back into the franchise game. Curin discovered the brand in an Arizona mall, and the concept resonated with him at once.

"We had been looking for a franchise for the last three or four years, and when I stumbled upon it, I thought ‘Why didn't I think of that?'" Curin says. "Sandals are a $20 billion industry that even outsells athletic footwear. And there was no retail space dedicated to just flip-flops and sandals. It was a multibillion-dollar business with zero direct competition."

Curin, Kraetsch and Woods partnered with Flip Flop Shops founders Sarah Towne and Todd Giatrelis, refining the concept before offering franchises in 2008. The company has 98 stores throughout North America, including locations in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Guam. Most are 500- to 900-square-foot boutiques in shopping malls. The partners recently signed a deal to open 30 more shops in Canada, and they plan to have 236 units up and running systemwide by 2013.

We caught up with Curin and Kraetsch (both size 10) to find out how Flip Flop Shops franchises are freeing toes, even in the most unlikely places.

Do you really sell sandals year-round in the snow belt?
Curin: This is the No. 1 question we get. Some of our best-performing stores are in Edmonton, Alberta and Denver. Before Flip Flop Shops, if you were looking for sandals, you had to go to department stores that didn't merchandise them properly during the fall and holiday seasons. There's a huge pent-up demand in markets in the Midwest and Northeast, and there's no supply during most of the year, especially when people take warm-weather trips in the winter.

Do you sell anything besides sandals?
Curin: Selling the hottest brands of flip-flops and sandals is our core and soul. That's 98 percent of what we have in the shop. We do have a line of polarized, scratch-resistant sunglasses called Filtrate, and a private-label lip balm. But we don't lose sight of what we do. We focus on selling the most popular styles from top brands like Flojos, Sanuk, OluKai, Cobian, Reef and Havaianas.

What's that smell inside the shops?
Kraetsch: It's a proprietary scent that we felt best represented our brand. People instantly associate it with vacation, the beach and suntan lotion.

Why franchise instead of opening company stores?
Curin: There's nothing more exciting than taking someone who has never owned a business and putting them in a franchise that is fun and makes money. We have a franchisee in Las Vegas. He was a young guy working hourly at a Best Buy in Wisconsin. He begged and borrowed to open his shop. Now he has the No. 1 unit in the system. His life changed so much he tattooed our logo on his foot. Franchisees have a passion you just don't get from store managers.

Are you wearing sandals now?
Curin: Yes. It's been four years since I laced up a pair of shoes. Luckily, the business community has embraced us. We were at a legal symposium recently wearing black tie and flip-flops.

Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.

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This article was originally published in the July 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Toe to Toe.

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