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Tiffany Montgomery
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Sanuk bookings way up despite economy

By Tiffany Montgomery
October 27, 2008 6:17 AM

In the midst of so much doom and gloom, I had the pleasant experience recently of talking with the folks at Sanuk, a brand that is growing like crazy and thus far untouched by the crumbling economy.

It helps, of course, to have created a whole new category with the Sidewalk Surfer, a combination of sandal and shoe that is a hit with surfers, in addition to rock climbers, celebrities, and people with foot ailments. Distribution ranges from Val Surf and Ron Jon's, to Barneys and Kitson, to REI and Bass Pro shops.

Here are some numbers to chew on: When I stopped by Sanuk a couple weeks ago, bookings for next year at that point were up 248 percent.

"That's within the same distribution," President John Vance said.

Revenues were projected to be up 38 percent for 2008 vs. 2007.

Here are some highlights of my talk with John and Founder and Creative Director Jeff Kelley.

Outdoor: Jeff's friends in the rock climbing community have given Sanuk a great entree into the market. It ends up Sidewalk Surfers work great during approaches and are perfect for wearing around camp.

Now that climbers such as Chris Sharma wear the shoe, orders from outdoor retailers and climbing stores are pouring in.

While Sanuk's roots are in the surf market and that remains its largest distribution channel, the brand's name and tagline - "Smile. ... Pass it on" does not limit it just to the surf market.

"There's a vast landscape of potential consumers that we have because we aren't pigeon holed," John said.

Jeff said he had no idea his friendship with Chris Sharma would open that whole new world for Sanuk. Sanuk's growing visibility in that market was evident at the latest Outdoor Retailers show, Jeff said.

"We're Volcom at OR," he said. "Our booth is packed."

Outdoor retailers that carry Sanuk include REI stores in the west, Eastern Mountain Sports and Bass Pro shops.

Independence: The team at Sanuk loves that they are not part of a "conglomerate," John said. "We are proud we are still independent. It could stifle the creativity that Jeff enjoys today if someone else owned us. It also allows us to be quick on our feet," he said.

Jeff said Sanuk's business arrangement with C & C is the best of both worlds. He still gets his independence but has C & C's infrastructure and financial backing to grow the brand as needed.

The company now has additional designers in addition to Jeff, which has allowed him to step back from some of the nitty gritty design work. Jeff tends to hire people from outside the industry for fresh ideas, and the current design team has worked for companies such as Boeing and BMW in addition to fashion companies.

New markets: Jeff has his eye on the golf and running markets. Sanuk is creating a shoe specifically for the climbing market. And they showed me cool-looking winter boots that look different than Ugg boots, but could be a challenger in that market. The boots will also help Sanuk grow its European business, John said.

"I think it's fair to say we are the fastest growing shoe company in our industry," John said. "Business is good."


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