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Burning Rubber

A few years ago, three friends from Boulder started a shoe company called Crocs, created a worldwide fashion phenomenon, and made millions of dollars for themselves. Then the trouble began.

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It all started over a couple cases of beer.

One summer morning six years ago, the Hannibal, a 78-foot, dual-mast sailboat owned by a Boulder inventor named Scott Seamans, left Isla Mujeres off the Mexican coast and headed toward the Florida Keys. Aboard were three friends—Seamans, George Boedecker Jr., and Lyndon “Duke” Hanson. All were in their 40s and had met decades earlier as young men in Colorado. Hundreds of square miles of watery nothingness splayed before them like a smooth, shiny foil—water glistening off the boat’s sides, sparkles of light exploding on its white hull. Almost immediately, fishing lines trolled behind the Hannibal, and emptied cardboard cases of Coors Light began to fill a trash bag.

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With the wind on the nose, the boat’s captain, a man named Ron Oliver, switched on the engine. The Hannibal puttered along at six knots. At that rate, the trip would take longer than expected—perhaps an extra day or two. Seamans wasn’t worried. Forty-eight, single, and semiretired from a career developing and patenting products, Seamans was quiet and unassuming, and, unlike his two friends on this trip, his life was a closed book. He had moved between California and Colorado as a child, but beyond that he rarely spoke about his past. Seamans never bragged about his successes, though they were plentiful enough for him to afford the Hannibal and a more-than-comfortable lifestyle.

As the sun rose high on the seascape and cast its warm glow on the deck, George Boedecker stretched himself on a chair, his rumpled shirt untucked. Six-foot-three and just a shade above 200 pounds, Boedecker, 40, was an imposing figure, both physically and mentally. He was the quintessential American success story: In three decades, he had transformed himself from a kid who’d become emancipated from his parents at age 17 to a multimillionaire franchisee of Domino’s and, later, an executive for Quiznos sandwich shops. Boedecker enjoyed three things: drinking alcohol, helping others, and making money.

Duke Hanson sat at the front of the boat, alone, staring out on the Gulf. His life had fallen apart in the previous six months: His wife had filed for divorce, and he’d lost his job marketing computer hardware. His mother had died of breast cancer. Now, without a home of his own, Hanson, 40, had moved in with a friend, a recently separated electronics executive named Ron Snyder. The two lived by a Boulder golf course and drank beer. They named Snyder’s home the “Dejected Man House.” Hanson and Boedecker had attended junior high and high school together in Boulder, and Boedecker sometimes crashed at Hanson’s house when the two were teenagers. Over 25 years, they had formed a bond that only childhood friends could have, and Boedecker had sensed the depression in his buddy’s voice a few weeks before this trip. You need to get away, Boedecker said.

On the first day of their adventure, Seamans went below deck and returned with some rubberlike clogs he’d discovered while on a business trip to Quebec, Canada. In the previous months, back home in Boulder, Seamans had spent his time tinkering with the Canadian clog. Of all the items he’d developed—foot padding, seats, fishing-reel covers—Seamans thought these shoes had the best chance for commercial success. Now he wanted input. Actually, he wanted investors. But it wouldn’t be an easy sell: The shoes were black with Swiss cheese-style holes cut into the top. To cover the back, Seamans punched two holes in the shoes’ sides and attached a strap made of the same material as the rest of the shoe. The strap was roughly the size of a flattened caterpillar and was held in place with metal rivets. Each shoe weighed only six ounces.

Seamans saw something in the shoes—literally: The Canadian manufacturer had made its clog from a specialized resin, a closed-cell material that resisted odors and liquids, never lost its grip on wet surfaces, and contoured nicely into a personalized fit when exposed to body heat. To top it off, the shoe could be cleaned easily with a water hose or in the shower. In Canada, the clog—minus the strap—had sold modestly. Seamans wanted to distribute it in the United States, with his strap attached. He thought the shoe could sell in the United States. But, first, he wanted his friends’ opinions.

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Boedecker and Hanson laughed out loud when Seamans showed them his idea. “Scotty, those are ugly,” Hanson said. “I’m not going to wear those.”

Six years later, on a frigid spring day, Duke Hanson sits in a second-floor conference room at Crocs Inc.’s worldwide headquarters in Niwot. He is surrounded by several dozen styles and colors of rubberlike shoes—the offspring of the “ugly” clogs Seamans introduced to Hanson and Boedecker on their tropical boat trip. A handful of more traditional-looking styles—including the new YOU by Crocs fashion line for women, a pair of soon-to-be-introduced golf shoes, and several flip-flops developed by a newly acquired California company—are also on display. Hanson, whose easygoing countenance belies the challenges he currently faces as an executive at a near-billion-dollar global corporation, is wearing jeans and a wrinkled, burnt-orange shirt from the company’s clothing line. He sets a paper coffee cup on the conference room table.

To say Crocs has come a long way since those lazy days on the boat would be an understatement of monumental proportions. In the weeks after Seamans introduced the clog to his friends—who had tried the shoes on and found them extraordinarily light and comfortable—Hanson set about drawing up a business plan to distribute the Canadian shoe in the United States. The three men had concluded that perhaps the shoe was so novel, so strange looking, so ugly, that people would have to try them on. And once they tried them on, well, they’d fall in love. Boedecker wrote the first big check. Trolling for investors and future employees, the trio brought in family and friends—even Ron Oliver, the Hannibal‘s captain.

With a team of five working out of a small office in Boulder, the company sold the first thousand pair of Crocs—so-named because of the crocodile’s versatility on land and in water—at a 2002 South Florida boat show. Based on the success of its first model, the now-ubiquitous Beach shoe, the company began its meteoric ascent. Crocs transformed into a publicly traded company by 2006, saw its product line grow to roughly 250 models by 2008, and projects combined revenue to exceed $3 billion in the next three years. Today, many of the first investors are millionaires.

The funny-looking shoes, however, have become more than a cash cow to a lucky few: In less than a decade, they have become an international cultural phenomenon. The company has sold more than 50 million pairs worldwide and is among the most profitable shoemakers in U.S. history. Strapped-for-time moms buy the little rubber slip-ons for their children; doctors, nurses, and chefs wear them for comfort and the ability to repel stains and odors. George W. Bush and Rosie O’Donnell have been spotted wearing them. An acting legend (Al Pacino) and a Desperate Housewife (Teri Hatcher) each own a pair.

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While critics branded the shoe a fad, Crocs the company, like Crocs the shoes, has been remarkably slip-resistant. Last year, revenue topped $840 million, up 138 percent compared to 2006 revenue, which was 226 percent higher than 2005. In the past three years, Crocs has vastly expanded its domestic and international markets, developed new manufacturing and distribution centers, diversified its product offerings, and created thousands of new jobs. When the company first moved into the Niwot office park three years ago, it occupied one building. Now it operates in three and a half buildings onsite, with offices from Beijing to the Hague. As of this summer, more than 4,000 people work for the company. In an era in which investors are perpetually looking for the next big thing, the shoe company from a sleepy village north of Denver became a Wall Street darling. When Crocs went public on the NASDAQ in February 2006, it raised $208 million and became the largest shoemaker IPO in market history. But perhaps no two figures in Crocs’ recent run are more impressive than these: In 2003, the company sold 76,000 pairs of shoes. In 2007, Crocs sold more than 30 million.

With the growth, the founders made untold millions from their investments. Boedecker went on to spend more than $20 million of his fortune to start a nonprofit foundation to help children. Hanson donated money to the University of Colorado, where he earned his master’s degree in marketing. Hanson, Boedecker, and Seamans joined private golf clubs, and the friends bought second-floor lofts in the same downtown Boulder building.

Yet where there is massive growth, there are sure to be growing pains. A year before the IPO, in late 2004, Boedecker made the surprising move of quitting as chief executive officer; a year and a half later, he relinquished his seat on Crocs’ board of directors, shortly before he went into semi-seclusion as a series of personal legal problems engulfed him.

Today, Seamans is Crocs’ chief technical officer, though Hanson says his friend is “not as full-time as he once was” and spends much of his time “consulting” and developing Crocs’ products in Asia.

Hanson has held nearly a half-dozen jobs during his tenure at Crocs: He has helped run everything from day-to-day operations, to marketing and advertising, to acquisition integrations. Lately, though, Hanson is the go-to man for media interviews: the polite, funny, good-time guy who has become the face of the product—the Crocs logo, a smiling crocodile, is named “Duke”—as his business partners have quietly moved to the background.

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Back in the conference room at Crocs’ Niwot headquarters, Hanson admits the speed at which the company has grown has been “hard on all of us as founders, because we’re not as much in control as we were four or five years ago.” The massive growth has also been hard on the company itself: Beginning in November 2007, inventory buildup and legal challenges to the shoes’ uniqueness caused the company’s stock to tumble significantly.

The boat trip, which now seems a lifetime away, came at a much simpler time, one in which Hanson, Seamans, and Boedecker all had a grassroots mentality, an excitement borne of the anticipation that they might be on to something really big. That’s all gone. “I’m sure when George, who hasn’t had as much day-to-day work with the company for a couple of years, sees our shoes out there, he’s probably melancholy at times,” Hanson says.

He pauses, then reaches for his paper coffee cup, nervously. His hands are shaking.

On May 26, 2006, at 3:15 in the afternoon, George Boedecker phoned his former brother-in-law, an attorney named David Moorhead.

“Do you have any idea how much money I have?” Boedecker asked, according to Moorhead’s statement to Boulder police. “I’m going to bury you so deep that no one will ever find you.” Boedecker, drunk and slurring his words, called again 30 seconds later. “I’m going to slit your motherfucking throat, you stupid shit.”

Twenty-five minutes after the first call, Boedecker, with a friend named John Fish, showed up at Moorhead’s Boulder office building. The two headed to the eighth floor and stormed past Moorhead’s 105-pound secretary.

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Boedecker made a gesture indicating he wanted to fight Moorhead. “I’m going to kick your ass,” Boedecker screamed, “and I brought a witness!”

Before any punches were thrown, Boedecker left the building. Police arrested him the next day. When a Boulder police officer asked Moorhead the reason for the altercation, Moorhead said, “He’s just psychotic.” But Moorhead went on to give an intriguing additional explanation for his former brother-in-law’s explosion: “Boedecker recently got removed from the board of directors from the shoe company ‘CROCS,'” Moorhead said, according to the Boulder police report. “This removal was not voluntary, and Boedecker has been very angry.” (Interestingly, the report on the incident has been expunged from the Boulder police files; however, its contents are contained in an application for a restraining order later filed by Moorhead in Boulder court.)

Since he and his two buddies founded Crocs, Boedecker’s personal foibles have turned him from the man Seamans affectionately calls “The Rainmaker” to persona non grata in the office and a punchline around Boulder. Today, most tales about Boedecker center not on his business acumen or myriad philanthropic efforts, but on his alcohol-fueled arguments, empty threats, and near-brawls.

In 2004, while still Crocs’ CEO, Boedecker got into a midday argument with a former family chauffeur. Boedecker claimed the man had tried to blackmail Boedecker, threatening to tell his wife that he was “sleeping with other women,” according to a Boulder police report. Boedecker allegedly responded by calling the former employee, who is African-American, a “nigger” and a “monkey.” He told police that the man was carrying a gun, but no weapon was found, and neither Boedecker nor his former employee filed charges.

Boedecker had also threatened Moorhead in two separate incidents—one of which took place at the Boulder Country Club. Boedecker was “thrown out” of the club, according to an application for a restraining order filed by Moorhead in a Boulder court.

While the most tawdry details of those confrontations didn’t make it into local media reports, Boedecker’s increasingly erratic behavior had become an inside joke at the company. “Let’s put it this way,” says one former Crocs employee. “You don’t want to mention the name ‘Boedecker’ in the office. It’s a bad word now at Crocs.”

Never mind that Crocs wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for George Boedecker. The child of a broken family, Boedecker’s personal tale is a local legend. He started a lawn-mowing business at age 10 and employed two brothers. He was a solid student-athlete at Boulder’s Fairview High School, and he earned a basketball scholarship to Eastern Montana College. Eventually, he transferred to the University of Colorado.

A decade later, Boedecker owned more than 100 Domino’s Pizza franchises in the United States. By 1996, he had become an executive at Quiznos. During Boedecker’s tenure at the sandwich chain, the number of sub shops increased 3,600 percent in North America. “People don’t get the whole picture on George because he’s unconventional,” says Brenda Lyle, the senior public relations consultant at Boedecker’s Anthony H. Kruse Foundation, who befriended Boedecker eight years ago when he mentored her son. “George is a person who marches to his own drummer, who has a deep passion for people.”

Part of the reason no one in the media has been able to create a complete portrait of Boedecker is his reticence to talk to the press. Even Crocs preferred that I not speak with him. At one point while I was researching this story, a Crocs spokesperson contacted me and said, “You know Mr. Boedecker is no longer with the company, right?” After several days of trying to reach Boedecker, I finally found his e-mail address. His response to my interview request, pecked out on his BlackBerry, was quick: “Robert. I am [in] India having fun and researching poverty and clean water solutions. I will be in L.A. on the 21st [of March] and would love to talk about that. GBB.”

Boedecker’s message didn’t track with the characterizations I’d heard from former Crocs employees and gleaned from police reports, which portrayed Boedecker as volatile and unreliable—as someone who had, on occasion, arrived intoxicated to work and to company functions. As a chief executive, Boedecker was viewed skeptically. At times, he appeared disinterested in the company and in streamlining growing shipping problems, which by then had become widely known in the industry. “People were starting to think he was kind of a crazy guy,” a former employee says. “They weren’t sure that he knew what he was doing—whether he was in over his head.”

In late 2004—not long after the incident in which he allegedly used racial slurs to refer to his former chauffeur—Boedecker stepped down as Crocs’ CEO. In his place, the company promoted Ron Snyder, Duke Hanson’s former roommate at the Dejected Man House; the longtime golfing buddy of all three founders had served as a company consultant and was already Crocs’ president. If Boedecker was viewed as a powder keg whose impulsive personality would make it difficult for future investors to buy into the company’s groovy image, Snyder was the buttoned-down, conservative-looking alternative, a businessman with an exemplary past and a vision for the shoemaker’s future.

The company has depicted Boedecker’s resignation as his idea, but his separation agreement from Crocs suggests the parting was less than amicable. While Boedecker would receive $600,000, in installments, through October of this year, and sole distributorship of Crocs in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Mexico, and at airport kiosks, he was prohibited from having an office at the company’s headquarters. The separation agreement also prevents him from making disparaging public comments about the company.

A year and a half after he resigned as CEO, in May 2006, Boedecker abruptly quit the board of directors. Crocs lauded Boedecker’s vision and said in a statement that the cofounder left the company “for personal reasons and did not resign because of a disagreement with our management or on any matter relating to our operations, policies, or practices.” Today, when asked directly about Boedecker’s departure, close friends and business associates adopt a surprisingly passive tone. “As I was told, it was his decision,” Seamans says. “It is my understanding that George engineered that.”

It was two days after his resignation from the board that Boedecker threatened to kill his former brother-in-law, Moorhead, who in turn told police that Boedecker had been forced from the company he’d cofounded.

Boedecker disappeared from public view—at least for a time—but he didn’t stay out of trouble for long. In February 2007, during an evening downing Otokoyama Sake at Hapa Sushi Grill & Sake Bar on Pearl Street, Boedecker started an argument with a patron at the bar, and then accused the man of stealing his $85,000 platinum-lined watch. According to the Boulder Police report, Boedecker was slurring his words, his eyes were bloodshot, and his breath smelled of alcohol. He told police that if he “did not have so much to lose,” he would “beat the fuck” out of the man at the bar. “I will make sure he pays,” Boedecker said. Then, in a rambling statement to officers, Boedecker said his uncle “Bobby” was an FBI agent who told him long ago that the man at the bar was a grifter. Police determined that the man had not stolen the watch. No charges were filed.

Boedecker’s friends, while disturbed by his outbursts, nonetheless continue to defend him. “A lot of things get pushed out of proportion because of who he is and what he’s done in the town,” Hanson says. “George is an entrepreneurial free spirit. He’s one of those guys who has a lot of charisma. We all know people like that who burn very bright. And I think he’s probably made some decisions he regrets.”

This spring, it appeared I’d finally get to meet Boedecker. Boedecker had written me and said he’d be in Boulder and available to talk on a Sunday in late March. Though that particular Sunday happened to be Easter, I agreed to meet him. We arranged to get together at 1 p.m. in downtown Boulder. He was noncommittal on a site. “Park and we will figure it out.”

On Sunday, I drove to Boulder, parked on 14th Street, and called Boedecker. He answered after the third ring. He was at a sushi restaurant, waiting for his children, he said, and he gave me directions. (“I’m right down the street from you, just a couple of blocks.”) I wandered downtown Boulder for 15 minutes, then called him back.

“George, I’m in Boulder, where are you?” I asked.

“I’m in Manhattan Beach,” he said.

“We were supposed to meet today.”

“Well, if you’re going to be lost anywhere in America,” Boedecker said, “I can’t imagine a better place than Boulder.”

Boedecker didn’t give an excuse for why he was in California, and he didn’t explain why he’d just told me he was down the street. He said he’d arrive in Boulder later that night. “I’ll call you when I get in,” he said. He didn’t. Two days later, I phoned him. He answered in a deep, gravelly voice.

“I’m in Cabo, sick,” he said. “I’ll call you later.” He hung up.

I never heard from George Boedecker Jr. again.

At 11:30 a.m. on a Thursday in March, Ron Snyder enters a conference room at the Crocs headquarters, furiously scrawling on his PDA. A look of frustration is etched on the CEO’s round face. He doesn’t look up. “I’m sorry—I’ll be with you in a moment,” he says before walking right back out of the room. A few minutes later, Snyder returns and finally takes a seat at the table. At 51 years old, he is of average build and today is wearing a form-fitting black sweater, jeans, and black-rimmed, chunky glasses. His lips are thin and his hair—with some pepper sprinkled in his salt—is short-cropped and lies flat on his head. He’s wearing a new Crocs shoe model, a canvas number called the Santa Cruz. He stares at the handheld device again. “Excuse me,” he says, standing up. “I need to take care of something. A distributor problem.”

That was an understatement. A day earlier, Costco had announced that it was now carrying Crocs, a revelation that would send Wall Street into a tizzy amid growing concerns that Crocs’ sales had slowed extensively and excess inventory needed to be dumped in the discount market. Snyder’s concern was not without merit. In a few short months, the company had been turned upside down.

Last fall, Crocs announced that it accumulated more than $50 million in inventory during one quarter (more than $195 million overall), a problem Snyder repeatedly dismissed in conference calls with investors and analysts as nothing more than the company’s thoughtful buildup of shoes for the spring and summer months in 2008—not, as widely believed, attributed to a lessening of demand. Within two weeks of the news, by early November of 2007, the stock plunged from its $74 high to $35 a share. On the heels of the stock dive, a handful of investors filed lawsuits against Crocs, alleging that the company made false and misleading statements and violated securities laws.

A few months later, the company forced its employees to take mandatory vacation time to “right-size” the business. Throughout the winter, there were more troublesome developments: Crocs laid off 17 employees from its Jibbitz shoe-charm division (about 20 percent of that workforce) and lost an international patent dispute that could eventually allow hundreds of thousands of rivals’ knockoffs to flood the market. In February, the company reported its 2007 inventory had soared to $248 million while year-end revenues fell $2 million short of analysts’ expectations.

If Boedecker’s departure had eliminated one set of problems, it appeared that Ron Snyder was presiding over an entirely new set of messy issues. While Snyder was credited with the company’s dramatic expansion amid his goal to become a global presence—international sales skyrocketed to more than $400 million last year, from virtually nothing when he arrived—the utter collapse of Crocs’ stock has critics calling for his head.

It certainly wasn’t supposed to go down like this. In fact, Crocs’ founders had taken painstaking steps to ensure this would never happen. From its inception, the company’s executives thought they had 18 months to develop a recognized brand. Then they’d have to diversify their product offerings before knockoffs hit the market.

And that’s where Snyder came in. As the new CEO in 2005, Snyder had both the pedigree (finance and accounting degrees from the University of Colorado) and the practical experience to lead the company. In the late ’80s, barely after his 30th birthday, Snyder had developed the Dii Group, a private, $10-million-a-year manufacturing firm. He took Dii public, then merged the company with Flextronics International, an electronics manufacturing giant that now has contracts to build everything from high-end servers to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game console.

By the time he assumed the top spot at Crocs, Snyder’s work already was well-known around the company. As a consultant, and then as CEO, Snyder convinced Crocs’ management to look at markets in Asia and Europe, with an eye toward expanding into the Middle East, Russia, and beyond. Snyder pushed to open manufacturing sites in China, Mexico, and Bosnia. The company eventually would grow from its two original shoe models to around 250. “From Ron’s start, he challenged the company to become more than what it was,” says Tom Doran, one of Crocs’ first employees and a close friend of the three founders. “He took it to the next level.”

Snyder’s vision seemed to work. By the summer of 2007, Crocs had outperformed the company’s quarterly revenue projections without fail, seemingly pushing the bounds of reality with each public report. Snyder saw the rest of the world as an untapped market: The company opened dozens of Crocs-specific stores from Dubai to London, and purchased Jibbitz and several smaller shoemakers along the West Coast. In the meantime, the company developed licensing agreements with Disney, Nickelodeon, the NBA, the NHL, and several universities; Crocs sponsored a professional volleyball tour; and Hanson and Snyder made cameos on The Celebrity Apprentice as the duo kicked off a program that recycled old Crocs and gave them to the needy worldwide.

Crocs stock reached its high of $74.75 last October, and the company was on pace to reach $1 billion in annual revenue in 2008. “It looked like nothing was going to stop them,” says Georges Yared, an author and owner of Yared Investment Research, who at one time called Crocs the next Nike. “You had this great product and huge demand everywhere. It was almost like a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Ron Snyder could do no wrong, and he was rewarded for it: His 2007 compensation totaled $6.97 million.

But by the time I met with him this spring, Snyder was in damage-control mode. With the stock trading near its then-low of around $17 a share, the U.S. economy had significantly cooled just as summer—one of Crocs’ most important seasons—was on the horizon. The company’s first-quarter revenue was $198.5 million, nearly $25 milion less than its original forecast. By then, inventory had climbed to $265.5 million, and observers were wondering if the company would reach its initial $1 billion revenue goal for the year.

And then the rubber met the road. In mid-March, a New York-based foam company called Cellect LLC alleged in court documents that Crocs violated a 1999 patent owned by Sentinel Products Corp.—Cellect’s joint-venture partner at the time—that covered a rubberlike material similar to the one Crocs had dubbed Croslite. (Crocs bought the original Canadian wholesaler in 2004 and acquired the material’s recipe, which it has not patented.)

The New York suit added to the growing list of troubles for Crocs, which by then already was under scrutiny for its patent of the original Beach model—the one Seamans had introduced on the boat in 2002. Although Crocs threatened legal action against companies it thought was infringing on its popular shoe, rival shoemakers have alleged that Seamans’ rubber-strapped clog is nothing more than a copycat itself. In a deposition last year for the International Trade Commission, Seamans acknowledged the existence of an Italian shoe that was sold at least a year before Crocs hit the market, though Seamans said he didn’t notify the Patent and Trademark Office. A judge ruled against Crocs this spring; the company has appealed the ruling.

In the midst of its patent fight, Crocs announced that it would lay off more than 600 employees—15.5 percent of the company’s entire workforce—from its original Quebec plant. (A couple of weeks later, Crocs laid off 27 employees in Niwot.) Snyder also announced that inventory had increased again, this time by 10 percent, amid a “challenging retail market” and colder-than-usual temperatures across the United States. While Crocs would still likely post record yearly revenues, it became obvious the company’s momentum had slowed dramatically. Analysts and financial journalists who once touted the stock turned on it overnight.

“We believe these sales are at risk of significant decline as consumers, especially in the U.S., begin to move away from the style that defined Crocs,” Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Jeff Mintz wrote to investors.

“Today…the worst is still to come,” read a story on the Motley Fool, a financial web site. “No one is saying so, but now that this once-tropic stock is giving arctic guidance—and inventory levels remain in the stratosphere—I wonder if we were crazy to believe that Crocs would successfully extend its brand.”

“Crocs bites the dust,” Robert Samuels, an analyst at J.P. Morgan Securities Inc., wrote. “Revenue guidance will give further fuel to the argument that the brand’s popularity is in sharp decline, and it is tough to argue otherwise…. A miss of this magnitude represents a significant mismanagement of expenses.” Crocs stock dropped again after Snyder’s analyst call, falling 43 percent in 16 hours. By early May, the stock had lost almost 90 percent off its high value six months earlier. At press time, CROX was trading at $11.39.

This past spring, Crocs began running a television ad that featured the infamous boxing promoter Don King. If the phrase “Only in America” had any wonder left in it at all, if it still retained the head-shaking undertone of those convinced that—despite it all—some people just get lucky in life, it certainly applied in this case. Only in America could a jarring, incongruous man pitch such a jarring, incongruous product. The advertisement is pithy, a 30-second stake of ethereal real estate, packed with bloviated Kingisms, shining teeth, American flags, and, of course, rubber shoes, which King says are comprised of “materialithic fantastitude.”

But the ad, as brief and innocuous as it might seem, is a sharp and poignant turn in the company’s existence, yet another move that proves this is no longer the grassroots business run by three Boulder buddies. Yes, Crocs may still be goofy and quirky and offbeat—an image the ad takes great pains to convey—but Crocs has also become a Company, with a capital “C,” with quarterly revenue targets and public financial filings and options and margins and criticisms.

The story behind Crocs is so fantastic, so American, it is almost irresistible: A story of three friends with problems who somehow caught lightning in a bottle and harnessed it into an unimaginable power. It is the American Dream writ large. But if Americans enjoy one thing more than a success tale, it is the tragic, precipitous decline, the fall from grace. If the events of the past year are any indication, the Crocs story, it would seem, has those elements, too: fractured friendships, lawsuits, plummeting stock price, stress and worry and questions. As Don King would say: “Only in America.”

At one point during my conversation with Ron Snyder, I asked how his Crocs would be remembered. I mentioned the word “fad,” and he blanched. The “F-word,” as the company calls it. Snyder sat back in his chair and pointed to the Crocs-lined walls of the conference room. “The first shoes were perceived as a fad,” he said, “but we haven’t found any fad that has such a broad demographic.”

Then he leaned in, and for a moment allowed himself to wonder. “In five or six or seven years from now, if we say, ‘Boy, those Crocs were a fad,’ well, they were a darn good fad. And we built one heck of a company.”

Robert Sanchez is staff writer at 5280. E-mail him at [email protected].

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