What Can Merchandisers Learn from Croctober?

That’s right, Croctober. If you missed the hottest holiday of the season, a harvest of the rubber souls by footwear brand Crocs, you’d be forgiven. After all, we’re in the midst of an engrossing election and a boom in tackle sales. But there’s a business lesson buried beneath the squishy bottoms of the world’s most comfortable—and formerly least stylish—shoes.

First, let’s take a look at the overall U.S. footwear market this year. Turns out, footwear sales are down about 20% across the board. That shouldn’t be too shocking, really, since most people aren’t leaving the house as much as they normally do. But Crocs, the Colorado-based footwear brand that last peaked in the late 2000s, is bucking that trend. Their sales are up 48% in 2020.

For perspective, consider the overall growth of Crocs. The brand went public in 2006 and performed well until the entire market took a dive in 2008. It enjoyed a brief bounce back from 2010-2013, and then began to tank hard, posting negative sales from Q3 of 2013. Crocs wouldn’t enjoy any sustained quarter-by-quarter growth until the beginning of 2018.

So what changed?

Crocs rode a fashion craze to their initial IPO before slowly descending down the well of being “uncool.” Frankly, many of the people who seemed to be buying Crocs during their down years were outdoorsmen who recognized the benefits of the ultra-comfortable, stain-resistant, buoyant shoes onboard boats and at marinas. But that market wasn’t enough to keep Crocs afloat, and in 2018 they began creating exclusive collaborations with pop culture icons in an attempt to revive their brand.

Those collaborations began with rapper Post Malone before branching out to country music artist Luke Combs and onto a rogue’s gallery of brands like KFC and Justin Bieber.

Each collaboration consists of a signature style of Crocs that typically become highly collectable. Though a typical pair of Crocs runs for about $50, collaborations can sell for $350 through secondary sales websites.

The collaborations have been popular enough to launch Crocs into its best quarter ever, with $1.2 billion in sales. Though Q1 and Q2 suffered at the onset of the pandemic, a rising trend that began two years ago is once again on track. And for tackle stores, that performance may suggest you should be doing more than simply stocking Crocs in your footwear department—it may suggest that there’s money to be made in promoting collaborations.

Fortunately, tackle dealers don’t need to pay a celebrity to collaborate with them. Manufacturers have already done that in the form of signature series baits available from saltwater captains to professional bass anglers to crappie tournament gurus and mad men on the hunt for muskie. In fact, signature baits are so commonplace in our industry that they’re almost forgotten about. Store pegs are filled with signature baits from enough names to print a small phone book with. They’re ubiquitous.

But then again, so were Crocs.

Like a new signature bait, Crocs burst onto the scene with a sizzle. Then, they slowly faded into the background for half a decade. All it took to revive them was someone shining the right spotlight at the right time.