By Ylan Q. MuiWashington Post Staff Writer Thursday, July 16, 2009
The colorful foam clogs appeared in 2002, just as the country was recovering from a recession. Brash and bright, they were a cheap investment (about $30) that felt good and promised to last forever. Former president George W. Bush wore them. Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler wore them. Your grandma wore them. They roared along with the economy, mocked by the fashion world but selling 100 million pairs in seven years.
The company had expanded to meet demand, but financially pressed customers cut back. Last year the company lost $185.1 million, slashed roughly 2,000 jobs and scrambled to find money to pay down millions in debt. Now it’s stuck with a surplus of shoes, and its auditors have wondered if it can stay afloat. It has until the end of September to pay off its debt.
“They were their go-to,” Fisher said, “and now they’re just really interested in flip-flops.”
The story of Crocs mirrors the country’s tale of economic expansion and contraction. At the height of the real estate market, in 2006, the company sold shares to the public, raising more than $200 million in the biggest stock offering in shoe history. It ramped up manufacturing to keep up with demand, only to then find that shoppers were snapping their wallets shut.
Rachel Weingarten, a trend and marketing expert, has relegated Crocs to the wasteland of the comfort-shoe aisle. Maybe in a decade nostalgia will set in, said Weingarten, author of “Career and Corporate Cool.” Then a pair of hot-pink Crocs dug from the back of the closet might inspire misty-eyed memories: “Remember when we had ugly, Flintstone-looking feet?”
“They had added a huge amount of infrastructure to meet this demand going forward,” said Jeff Mintz, an analyst with Wedbush. “Demand fell off, and they had way too much capacity and way too much supply of product.”
“The bottom line is, people talk about Crocs,” he said at a conference with analysts. “They either love them or hate them, but it’s in the vernacular.”