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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.