The march of Crocs

The world's fastest-growing shoe company is to open a store in London
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Crocs, the company that started life with a single ugly boat shoe and has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, continues its expansion with its first stores in the UK this summer.

A shop is scheduled to open in Neal Street, in London's fashionable Covent Garden, in August, which will be the first fully owned UK store. This follows the recent launch of a franchise store in Sheffield.

The company is looking at potential sites in Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham with a view to opening five UK stores by the end of this year.

The story of Crocs, the fastest-growing shoe company in the world, is a remarkable one. Founded in 2002, the idea was born when friends Duke Hanson and Scott Seamans, from Boulder, Colorado, went sailing through the Caribbean and decided they wanted to make a practical boating shoe similar to a pair of running shoes.

They found a cloth manufacturer in Canada that had developed a resin material that was lightweight, slip and odour resistant. After sourcing the material to make Crocs for two years the company bought the manufacturer outright in 2004 and now owns the exclusive rights to the material Croslite.

Despite its unfashionable appearance and bright orange and yellow colours, the original Crocs caught on almost immediately. Sales shot up as news about Crocs spread rapidly, mainly through word of mouth and write-ups on blogs where people either loved them for their apparent comfort and practicality or loathed them for the design.

Crocs quickly became the footwear of choice for nurses, doctors, waiters and gardeners but key to the footwear's success and transition into the fashion stakes, has been celebrity endorsement. The distinctive shoes have been spotted adorning the feet of everyone from Jack Nicholson to Halle Berry. George Bush was photographed heading out of the White House to ride his bike in a black pair, although he make the mistake of wearing them with socks.

Crocs, which retail for between £17 and £39, have morphed into a whole range of shapes and sizes, including the latest sandals and wedge heels for women.

Ron Snyder, the company's chief executive, said Crocs has had a tremendous uptake. "It has just gone crazy," he said. He credits its success in part to the "unique product" but also the way in which the business has developed. The company has direct offices in Europe and Japan with its own warehouses and full infrastructure. "This means you can hit the market at the right price point," he said.

If one particular style is popular in one region, production will be ramped up in that design. "We build the one that is hot," he says.

Crocs floated on the Nasdaq stock exchange in February last year and since then has expanded, acquiring the accessories retailer Jibbitz at the end of last year. Jibbitz was the brainchild of Sheri Schmelzer and her three children who came up with the idea of making accessories for the footwear. Crocs has also acquired a sports sandals maker, an Italian distribution company and a hockey and lacrosse equipment maker.

In 2003, sales hit $1.2m, but by 2006, had grown to $355m while profits rose from $300,000 to $200.6m (£100.5m). Crocs are now on sale in 17,500 sales outlets in 80 countries and are made at six sites in the US, Canada, China, Italy, Mexico and Romania. They have proved more successful overseas than in the US, which accounts for one-third of sales; 1.2 million shoes were sold in Israel last year, while 17 per cent of the population of Iceland own Crocs.