Shoe firm Sanuk to open first company-owned store, in Santa Monica

Shoe firm Sanuk to open first company-owned store, in Santa Monica

April 11–Sanuk, the Irvine footwear firm known for selling its quirky sandals in surf specialty shops, is coming to beachy Santa Monica this week with its first-ever company-owned store.

The flagship shop on the Santa Monica Promenade opens Friday. The lo-fi design is meant to evoke a garage — inspired in part by the space out of which Sanuk founder Jeff Kelley first started crafting shoes in 1998.

Jake Brandman, Sanuk’s president, said in an interview that he considers the store “a place to play.” The 1,000-square-foot location features a wall display crammed with a hodgepodge of yard-sale and thrift-store finds, including a guitar, a surfboard, a Buddha statue in a fish tank and a pile of videotapes such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Free Willy.”

“Consumers are looking for a diversion from all the serious brands they see in a marketplace,” Brandman said. “We’re offering them an escape to a fun, irreverent place.”

For years, Sidewalk Surfers and other Sanuk shoes were sold via other retailers, such as Jack’s Surfboards, REI and Zappos.

Some 65 shops dedicated to Sanuk products — most of them in Asia — are owned and operated by licensees. Three of them are located in the U.S., including one at Downtown Disney in Anaheim.

But after the brand was acquired in 2011 by Deckers Outdoor Corp., executives began brainstorming how to leverage the larger company’s retail know-how to launch Sanuk-owned stores.

Deckers, based in Goleta, owns shoe brands such as Ugg and Simple.

“We’re evolving a new mind set from a domestic wholesale brand to a global omnichannel brand,” Brandman said.

Santa Monica beckoned because the area draws tourists as well as locals who fit Sanuk’s customer profile of athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. The store sits on the shopping strip next to Rip Curl and near Pac Sun and Converse — brands targeting a similar consumer.

The Sanuk shop is covered with hidden notes and slogans, such as a handwritten memo that reads “don’t grow up, it’s a trap.” In the back, a cushy couch patched with duct tape and a double-wide lawn chair sitting on an AstroTurf rug make up a casual lounge area.

The Santa Monica location features the largest collection of Sanuk products anywhere, executives said, along with exclusive items.

The U.S. footwear market grew 3% last year, with $54 billion in sales, according to the NPD Group research firm. Revenue from women’s shoes grew the most, with a 4% increase, followed by men’s shoes and then children’s.

Sanuk had $71.5 million in domestic sales at the end of 2012, according to Brandman. He thinks that, by the end of 2016, Sanuk could be a $200 million brand.

He envisions stores in other tourist hot-spots as well as in urban centers. By the end of the year, two or three more concept stores could open; ten more could launch in 2014, he said.

“This is a test kitchen for us,” Brandman said.