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Freeing your toes with Flip Flop Shops

crop2By Peter Saunders
In today’s specialized retail world, perhaps it was only a matter of time before a franchise system emerged that was entirely dedicated to flip flops, the plastic and rubber sandals that have become wildly popular around the world.

“When I first read about Flip Flop Shops in the business section of the newspaper three years ago, my first thought was, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’” says Doug Kingston.

At the time, Kingston was managing the Vancouver territory for Lids, a hat retail chain.

“The concept was similar: take one portion of the bigger clothing industry and do it really well,” he says. “By the end of 2010, I decided to leave Lids, as I wanted to own my own business. I spoke to Brian Curin, the president of Flip Flop Shops, who lives in Vancouver. Soon after, I purchased the master franchise for Canada.”

Kingston expanded the business quickly throughout 2011, opening shops in Vancouver, Kelowna, Nanaimo and Coquitlam, B.C., as well as Edmonton. He runs Coquitlam as a corporate-owned training store and next has his sights on Calgary, Saskatchewan and Toronto.

“When you open a new location and watch the reactions, people walk by and are visibly excited to see a store full of flip flops!” says Kingston. “They’ve become a global uniform, especially for women between 18 and 34 years old, and we have all the brands they love in one spot. We’re capitalizing on a trend toward more casual wear. There are tonnes of brands out there and we’re actually very selective.”

Given relative weather conditions for wearing open-toed footwear, it may seem counterintuitive that the West Edmonton Mall shop has become one of the system’s best-performing franchises.

“It’s because Canadian customers enjoy a short summer, but travel to warmer places in the winter,” says Kingston. “In the past, though, they’ve had trouble finding this kind of footwear at any stores during the winter. So, we’re selling beach culture 12 months of the year.”

crop1With its scale of inventory, Flip Flop Shops can also adjust its product mix somewhat on a seasonal basis.

“Of course, flip flops can be worn year-round indoors,” Kingston says. “In fact, the number one selling woman’s sandal in the world is for yoga. And a lot of men, too, want simple rubber flip flops for the gym, to wear while in the change room and showers.”

Kingston says prime real estate for Flip Flop Shops franchises is hard to find in today’s tight market, especially in booming cities like Calgary and Saskatoon, but one advantage is the store does not need much space.

“The flip flops all hang on the wall or sit on merchandising fixtures, out in front,” he says, “so there’s no need to have a storage room in the back.”

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