CEO Summit: FitFlops Banking on Buzz

Marcia Kilgore knows what women want.

The FitFlop Inc. founder and creative director has a history of translating small ideas into runaway successes. And on the summit’s opening day, she shared her secret: Find a good angle and run with it.

“[Women will go for] a fantastic marketing story … because we all hope a product is going to make us a little bit better,” Kilgore said. “[That’s] one thing to remember. Hope goes shopping.”

In the two years since she launched her wellness flip-flop brand, Kilgore has grown FitFlop into a company with its toes in 28 countries and nearly $80 million in annual sales. She’s done it, she said, by tapping into the common female desire for lean legs, through a sandal designed to give women a lower-body workout while walking.

“What I’ve found, with both footwear and face cream, is that women are always on a quest for self-improvement,” said Kilgore, who made a name for herself as the founder of Bliss Spa before selling the final shares of the company in 2004. “Women will try anything, [and] I knew a flip-flop would be a great item to throw out there.”

While having a great product is the first hurdle in building a successful business, Kilgore said creating a savvy marketing plan goes a long way.

One ad for FitFlop, for example, is shot from the ground up and shows three pairs of the sandal in varying colors attached to three sets of long, toned legs and shapely buttocks. Another billboard advertisement simply features a pair of the sandals below giant letters reading, “Does my bottom look smaller in these?”

Kilgore also stressed that getting people talking about what’s being sold is the No. 1 way to save on traditional advertising mediums. At Bliss Spa, for instance, she developed such unique names as the Triple Thighpass cellulite treatment and the bronzing cream Glow Job.

“We know women love to be connected through brands and products,” Kilgore said. “They love to have something to talk about by the water cooler and at the pub.”

As a result, FitFlop has amassed more than 100,000 testimonials from wearers of the flip-flops and has yet to unveil an extensive advertising campaign. Much of the attention to the brand, Kilgore said, has been driven through newspaper articles e-mailed repeatedly, online accolades and FitFlop consumers telling their friends about the shoes and the results they’ve seen.

“If the benefit is actually there, people will talk about it,” Kilgore said.

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