Wisconsin State Journal: "Brothers hope to gain business traction with Bokos sandals"

The story:

In his wildest dreams, Matt McManus envisions a day when Bokos sandals have a place alongside Crocs on the nation’s footwear shelves. “It’s fun to dream,” said McManus, a Minneapolis native who graduated this week from UW-Madison. “Everyone has that dream. Whether or not that happens … it would be a dream come true. But you can only do so much and you just do that day’s tasks.

“I’m sure the Crocs founders had a lot of people doubting them. For three years they just sold them at county fairs and they said ‘a lot of people told us how awful they were.’ So who would’ve thought, 10 years later they’re a billion-dollar company. They’re huge.” Bokos is not. At least not yet. Bokos is the product of the entrepreneurial spirit of McManus, 22, and his brother James, 27, a 2010 UW-Madison graduate.

James returned from a trip to China in 2011 with a handful of one-piece rubber sandals, which quickly became a hit among friends and family members. “People would always say, ‘These are really cool, can we get a pair in the States?’ ” Matt said. “We didn’t really think anything of it. Then we started doing some research to see if there were any around and kind of to our surprise, there weren’t.”

That was enough to inspire the brothers to attempt to fill the void. They already had some experience from having started Check Your Six, a line of edgy streetwear aimed at young men. The first big challenge was to find a manufacturer that could produce sandals that would be durable, come in a full range of sizes and colors and still be affordable.

Their first efforts were to find a domestic company that could do the job, but they eventually realized that wouldn’t be practical because of the expense. “Just for one size we would have a $5,000 mold fee,” McManus said. “So that would be $5,000 for every men’s size and every women’s size. We just couldn’t afford that, especially when the manufacturers in China don’t have those fees.”

So taking advantage of James’ experience in China — he studied political science and Chinese at UW and currently is teaching English in China — the brothers researched manufacturers in China and settled on Waya Bloom, a company in Xiamen. “It’s tough because there’s such a stigma with production overseas,” McManus said. “James went there and it was very clear that they’re totally reputable. Surprisingly, you could tell pretty quickly which manufacturers you had to steer clear of. I think we landed one that’s a diamond in the rough.”

With the help of their parents and the profits from their clothing business, the brothers came up with enough money — less than $10,000 — to pay for the minimum order of 2,000 pairs of sandals. Next up, the brothers created a website to sell the sandals online. “We’re amateurs, at best,” McManus said. “But I think we did an OK job of putting together a website that people perceive as pretty professional.”

So far they’ve sold about 100 pairs of sandals online at $16. McManus also is pitching the sandals to retailers big and small. “There are a few retailers that have expressed interest in stocking them this summer,” he said. Retailers would pay $8 for the sandals and charge $16. That price point is the key to Bokos’ prospects, McManus said.

“One of the biggest selling points is that they’re affordable,” he said. “A pair of Crocs is $35 and I can assure you they’re making them for way cheaper than we are. So we’re sacrificing a little on how much we make per pair, but that’s the differentiator. If you lose them or just want another pair, they’re $16.” Asked about the name “Bokos,” McManus said it doesn’t mean anything in particular.

“We brainstormed about 50 names,” McManus said. “We wanted something catchy and we liked that it was almost symmetrical. We just liked the way it looked. We narrowed it down to five or six and ‘Bokos’ was just the one that stuck.” Now that his college days are over — his degree is in marketing and management — McManus is determined to stick with Bokos.

“I know there’s an entrepreneurial theory that if it doesn’t catch on right away, just switch to another thing … hop around,” he said. “I don’t know about that. Having launched one brand and now launching this, I know how much goes into it.” But whether it’s selling Bokos sandals or some other product he and his brother might concoct, McManus’ track record indicates a preference for finding his own way in the business world. “I’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur,” he said. “You get to do a lot of cool things and meet great people. That’s what my passion is.”

To see the story online: Bokos Sandals in the Wisconsin State Journal