Lakeshore Weekly News: "Bokos Sandals Gets its Foot in the Door"

The story:

On a 2010 trip to China, James McManus brought home much more than memories and experiences - he brought back a business opportunity. While traveling, McManus had picked up several pairs of one piece, cross-strap sandals. He distributed them to his friends and family, and they loved them. The only problem was that there was not anything similar in the U.S. market.

McManus and his younger brother, Matt, decided to produce similar sandals, and Plymouth-based sandal start-up, Bokos, was born. "We had never seen anything like [those sandals]," Matt said.

They spent more than a year doing their research on the competition, sandal design, manufacturing options, price points, designing a website, and coming up with a name, among other things. The brothers spent a great deal of time finding a manufacturer in China who was already producing a similar sandal that the McManus' were able to customize to the product they wanted to sell: A durable, rubber one-piece sandal that was easy to clean, and available in several color options.

The sandals came in January, and the brothers debuted their online shop in April. James, who majored in Chinese at the University of Wisconsin, is currently living in China, and oversees the manufacturing process. Matt added that it will be a huge asset to have James acting as a foreign liaison for the company as it expands, since he can visit potential manufacturers and communicate with them in person.

The brothers aren't new to running a business either; they owned a t-shirt company for four years while Matt, 23, was in college studying business and marketing. Matt and James both work full-time jobs, while running their business on the side.

"One of my greatest challenges is balancing my time," Matt said. "When you first start a business, you kind of feel like it's always an uphill battle."

The brothers started with a limited run of 2,000 pairs of sandals last year. When website traffic increased by 700 percent in two months, many sizes and colors had to be back-ordered, which Matt guessed caused them to miss out on thousands of dollars in sales.

The next time around, they knew what they were doing - they expanded their color and size options, ordering a run of 12,000 pairs of sandals. Perhaps the key to their overnight success is that the brothers haven't made a specific niche group their target market. They could have easily chosen to target runners who could use Bokos as a post-run shoe, but they didn't.

Matt said that they have received feedback from those involved with various athletic activities, including running, hiking and cycling, but that stay at home mothers, gardeners and even elderly women have given testimonials.

Bokos are currently sold primarily online, with a presence in approximately 50 retailers throughout the country, though the owners hope to cultivate a presence in larger retailers, while potentially branching out to become a footwear or athletic brand, instead of just a sandal company.

Matt said that sales remained relatively steady throughout the winter, but they did have to run discounts to keep their numbers up. They hope sales will increase as the temperatures continue to rise throughout the spring and summer.

The brothers have opted against traditional advertising, and it seems to have worked for them. Matt said he hopes to participate in more business-to-consumer events this summer, working a booth at the Minneapolis Marathon and other sporting and athletic events.

To see the story online: Bokos Sandals in Lakeshore Weekly News