Neil Parker, Senior Vice President and General Manager EMEA, CROCS. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: These days, it’s all too easy to get personal about shoe brands.

You only need to look up social media posts of burnt Nike footwear for confirmation of that.

This comes after the super-brand confirmed American footballer Colin Kaepernick to be the face of its latest “Just Do It” campaign.

It’s the sort of backlash Neil Parker at the clogs and sandals label Crocs knows only too well.

For it was just recently that a section of Crocs followers erupted on social media when the company announced it was shutting down two factories that it owned and would only rely on sourcing for all its merchandise.

“Those two plants only accounted for less than 15 per cent of the overall production,” said Parker, senior vice-president and general manager handling the EMEA territory at Crocs. “So, we were a little taken aback by the response to the closing.”

When they came out with an explanation, he says, sales eventually went up and so did the company’s share price.

“We have gone from $6 to $21 a share in the last 18 months; we have gone turning a $100 million loss into profitability,” he said. “Clearly, the public also want to hear the true stories on social media. I think we handled it in a responsible way. We weathered that storm and moved on. As other brands will.”

(The same could be said of the outcome in Nike-Kaepernick storm as well — latest sales numbers are deemed quite healthy. The share price too is scaling its way back.)

For Crocs too, these are times to turn the corner and take the necessary steps to do so. And that means becoming being known for more than its colourful clogs and as the favoured accessory for a trip to the beach or a run down to the mall.

Crocs has more serious aspirations.

“True, we own 90 per cent global market share in clogs, but in the $23 billion (Dh84 billion) a year sandals market, there’s as yet no clear leader,” said Parker. “Sandals are a market we really believe we will win. Women will remain the core strategy to go after in sandals. The consumer will tell you whether you’re doing a good job or not.”

He said it was four years ago that, under new leadership, Crocs decided to stick with moulded casual footwear “and not try to do everything for everybody”.

“Perhaps we’re a little staid in the past and [have] not moved too fast with the times,” he said. “When brands look to diversify and get seduced into doing other things, they lose the core and consumers becoming a little confused.”

The company did attempt to dabble in things beyond footwear, including children’s wear.

“Now, we are firmly against any such moves,” Parker says. “We have gone back to what we are and what we stand for.”

Would that mean a step into high fashion, as some casual footwear brands such as Birkenstock have done?

“We do a bit of that — last year we were at the Paris Fashion Week with platform embellished clogs that Balenciaga did,” said Parker. “Before that, we had a partnership with Christopher Kane for two years at London Fashion. These represent the pinnacle of the pyramid for us, they make the noise and, most important, they approached us.

“The important thing is if we get more and more people comfortable in their own shoes, we kind of win ... all the time.”

Not playing fast and loose with margins

Crocs’ comeback story is also being built on solid margins. What that means is not resorting to heavy and frequent discounting to move merchandise.

“In the UAE, the Apparel Group, who is our partner, has got the lowest discounting for any footwear brand,” said Neil Parker. “The product is selling at full price.

“We have got our margins right, our product supply right. That’s why we are starting to see the right numbers.”