Two years after Bearpaw Holdings LLC surprised the industry by acquiring the Flip Flop Shops retail chain, company leaders say they have developed their ideal formula for the specialty franchise stores — and that includes adding a new concept to the business to expand its geographic reach.
Tom Romeo, CEO and founder of Bearpaw, describes the new motto for the chain as: “Light, bright, loud, proud and we let the superstars be the shoes.”
He also emphasized that his team is taking a hyper-local approach in terms of store design and merchandising. “For Flip Flop Shops, we are a boutique. We want a feel of the local community,” said Romeo. “Because what’s happening right now with COVID-19 is people want to go back to buying locally and being a part of the community. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Flip Flop Shops refresh starts with an updated brand identity created by artist and surfer Michael Tilden, who Romeo met on a trip to Hawaii. Tilden crafted a new logo for the chain, and his paintings will appear throughout the franchise network, to reinforce the company’s beach lifestyle ethos. And in some cases, Tilden is creating custom murals and paintings for stores, to reflect their local flavor.
Romeo said that’s in keeping with his philosophy to give franchise owners more freedom. “We’re not going to be the franchise that’s dictating to people,” he said. “We do not force the system into you. We look at the system and your local community and we fit it together.”
To that end, franchise owners now can choose from more than 80 brands to stock in their stores, compared to the previously approved list of 30 labels — the norm when the retail chain was under previous parent, Cherokee Global Brands.
However, the Bearpaw team is helping to guide storeowners in updating their spaces. That effort is being led by Steve Schultz, director of franchise operations, who spent 20 years with Famous Footwear. Among his prescribed changes: Cash wraps are now smaller, shoe displays are mounted on the wall to maximize space, and the color scheme is brighter. Stores are also being equipped with a suite of technology tools by RICS, to more-seamlessly handle transactions and manage inventory.
That functionality will be crucial this winter, as consumers continue to lean on contactless payments and curbside pickup services amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Romeo has ambitious plans when it comes to store count as well. “When we took over, we had about 48 or 50 shops. Now we’re up to 60,” he said. “Our plan by the end of the year is to be at 75 shops. Our goal by 2021 is 125 and then 75 shops each year until we get to the magic number of 500.”
And those stores won’t just be in warmer climates. Flip Flop Shops traditionally have been located in southern and coastal cities, but this month, the new parent company is introducing a new concept, called Flip Flop Shops & Shoes, which will stock more closed-toe and cold-weather footwear for northern markets.
“With the northern shop, you’re going to see a different mix of brands,” said Romeo. “Yes, the iconic flip-flop brands will be there — because that’s our DNA — but you’re also going to see Bearpaw, Minnetonka, Born and Merrell and more.”
The first location for the new concept debuted last week in the Old Sacramento Waterfront, a historic district in Sacramento, Calif., that’s still populated by Gold Rush-era buildings. The multibrand store features classic flip-flop product in the front, displayed on colorful branded wall nooks. Meanwhile the back of the space has been stocked with shearling boots and slippers, arranged on wood shelving and tables that give a nod to the area’s logging history. Other details pay homage to the local culture, such as paintings by Tilden of the Tower Bridge.