5 Questions for Flip Flop Shops’ President

Brian Curin owes his life to an astonishing chain of events, and now he’s out to spread the word about the consequences of stress.

Last year, the fit 38-year-old president and co-founder of the 80-store Flip Flop Shops chain decided to add the Insanity home workout DVD program to his regular routine of paddle boarding, surfing and motocross racing. But by September, the heart-pumping workout left Curin feeling unwell.

“I knew that something just wasn’t right,” he said. “My doctor said, ‘You are one of the healthiest patients I have, but let’s get a bunch of tests going so we can rule out anything with the heart or lungs.’”

While preliminary exams showed Curin was in fine health, a stress test revealed some shocking results. “I failed it,” he said. “They found out my heart was basically starving for oxygen. They admitted me into critical care, and I had emergency open-heart surgery. When they went in, they found I had 100 percent blockage in my main artery. I had 80 to 90 percent blockage in my other three arteries. They ended up doing a quadruple bypass.”

The surgery not only saved Curin’s life but gave him a new mission, to educate people about heart health and the effects of stress, even for those who are young and in good health. He’s using the stores as a platform to raise awareness.

In June, the retailer will launch Stress Free America Month as part of its larger Heart to Sole initiative (it’s also a partnership with Sanuk). Other programs are already underway with Quiksilver and Roxy. “Our long-term goal is for us to be the No. 1 contributor and partner to the American Heart Association,” he said.

Here, Curin shares the details of his close call, how the shoe industry may have saved his life and why everyone should get a stress test.

How do you deal with the irony of selling the image of a carefree beach lifestyle and then developing a stress-related disease?
Actually, Flip Flop Shops and the [footwear] industry probably helped to save my life because we have this laid-back, free-your-toes mentality. Had I still been building the restaurant chains [my business partners and I] were building [in the past] or doing something else, it may have sped up my heart disease. Being in this industry helps me relax a lot. It’s hard to be stressed out when you’re wearing flip-flops and your biggest decision is what brand or style you’re going to carry.

Has your experience led to changes within the company culture?
Yeah, we’ve hung our hat on it. We’ve just launched the Heart to Sole campaign and all the [franchised] shop owners are behind it, as well as the staffs and the brands that we carry. We are now making stress tests mandatory not only for [my business] partners but all our staff members, too. My goal is to figure out how stress tests can be more accessible to the average person. If you wait, it can be too late. In my case, it almost was. In the industry, every president and CEO from every brand we deal with has called me to share their thoughts and support, and also to ask how they can help [to raise awareness].

How will the Heart to Sole campaign play out in stores?
We’ve got graphics in all the shops that talk about the program. During the month of June, with Sanuk, we’re doing a big promotion and customers will be able to donate money at the point of sale to the American Heart Association or the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada. Sanuk is going to work with us on the Beer Cozy and Yoga Mat [flip-flop styles]. And they’ll donate a dollar for every pair sold during the month of June. The shops are also taking part in a “Life’s Too Short to Wear Shoes” protest [as in-store events], and we’re looking for “Chill” ambassadors, people who really embrace the same lifestyle that we promote.

How have you managed to balance work and rest?
I’m taking a lot of my own advice, that I used to believe but didn’t necessarily follow. Life is pretty fragile. Because I’m so excited about Flip Flop Shops and what we do, it’s really easy to burn through eight-, nine- or 10-hour days and not even take a break. But that doesn’t mean stress isn’t building. I don’t do that anymore. I take a lot of little breaks throughout the day. I spend a lot more time with friends and family, and I laugh a lot. It’s easy to go through a day and not laugh, so you have to find things that make you laugh, whether it’s people or a silly video that you find on the Internet.

What’s next for Flip Flop Shops?
We have 188 shops in [operation or in development in] our system in three areas — the Caribbean, the U.S. and Canada. Out of those, 80 are open and we’re opening 35 this year. In May, we’ll have a big announcement about the Australian and New Zealand markets.

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