5 Questions for Crocs’ Dale Bathum

For most of a decade, Crocs Inc. built its business largely on the look of a single style. Now executives believe the firm has the right mix of product and strategies for new categories and licensing deals to grow further.

After hitting some bumps along the way, the Niwot, Colo.-based firm hit $1 billion in sales in 2011. Crocs now features a year-round collection of more than 300 looks for men, women and kids that includes canvas sneakers, leather boots, heels and sandals sold in 90 countries. (Accounts include Nordstrom and Zappos.com, and Crocs operates 500 of its own stores worldwide.)

“We appeal to people around the world because it’s a comfortable shoe,” said Dale Bathum, chief product officer. “The shoes are on-trend with [current] colors and styles. And there’s [now] a certain cachet about the brand, that people want to be a part of the Crocs movement.”

While Crocs continues to add new categories such as golf, duty and prescriptive footwear, Bathum said comfort will always be part of the brand’s DNA with the Croslite proprietary lightweight material in everything from footbeds to uppers. “There is a certain [design] freedom knowing the constraints of [such] a material, so you become more innovative and creative,” said Bathum. “It’s a fun challenge.”

With sales of more than 200 million pairs over its 10 years, Crocs is now venturing into new categories by licensing products including hats, bags, socks, sunglasses and scrubs.

Here, Bathum talks about the importance of innovation while remaining true to Crocs’ signature style.

Over the years, Crocs has seen its share of copycats. How have you managed to stay ahead?
DB:
First, people want the original and authentic brand for [molded footwear]. Two, it’s about staying true to who we are. We’re not trying to extend too [far], but continue to innovate with our injection story. [However], from a product perspective we can only go so far. We are set up for [category] platforms — active, golf, work and more stylish products such as wedges and heels with our [signature Croslite] material.

Crocs’ quirky looks have left the brand open to negative comments. What do you say to skeptics?
DB:
Any press is good press. If people are talking about the shoes, great. It’s our job to slowly convert some of those Crocs haters. They may be our consumers someday due to our new styles. If you talk about the classic clogs, they’re not the most beautiful product, but they’re the most utilitarian. They’re incredibly comfortable, easy on and off, and lightweight. They’re colorful and bold. For whatever reasons, the product drives emotion for people who love or hate us.

What have you done to convince retailers to carry the more fashion-driven Crocs styles?
DB:
Retailers have their space mapped out. We’re asking them to take someone off their shelf and give us a shot. In the past, they haven’t thought of us as a complete brand, which is what we’re striving to be. It takes persistence. You have to keep knocking on doors, giving retailers the features and benefits, the marketing we’re doing to support the brand. You have to tell them a brand as well as product story.

As Crocs begins its next decade, what new products are on the drawing board?
DB:
Retro looks from the 1970s are bold and fresh. We’ve been kind of conservative over the past years. Boat shoes are a new market for us, both molded and leather. There’s also the [women’s] huarache, [made with] a new injection molding [process] that’s never been done before. We can do up to six colors in one tool.

What does Crocs envision as its biggest growth opportunities?
DB:
Our CEO, John McCarvel, has laid out a plan for more balanced growth. One [initiative is] geographic expansion. South America is still a big opportunity, then Russia and Poland. Store expansion is another avenue for us. Our own stores are essential to us telling the whole brand story. It’s a chance to tell consumers what our collection stands for and what Crocs stands for as a company. [There’s also] pricing and taking our prices up — not a big jump — to increase sales. New styles are going up in price [due to] the features, [so we won’t] necessarily take old styles and up the price.