Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vere Holiday Pseudo-Bash 2010

A big thanks to everyone who came out on Saturday night for the first ever Vere Holiday Pseudo-Bash Extravaganza. Local friends dropped in before and after (and during) previous engagements to check out the progress, ring the bell, and share some holiday spirit(s).

(c) Doug Reilly

(c) Doug Reilly

(c) Doug Reilly

Everyone who came by brought lightly worn shoes and/or jackets in exchange for raffle tickets. We raffled off some great prizes, including a sweet '70's era satin jacket complete with Vere logo, that were donated by local businesses. Joe's Hots, Red Jacket Orchards, The Captain's Room, , OPUS Coffee and Espresso Bar, First Base Line, and Earthly Possessions came through with great gifts, and we fired up the embroidery machines to raffle off a few Vere beanies and jackets too. Caroline was the big winner for the night, taking home that royal blue satin beauty of a jacket.

More importantly, we collected boxes full of warm jackets and shoes which were delivered to the Family Soup Kitchen here in town. The Soup Kitchen is a great organization that provides a hot meal and warm clothing to those in need.

Check out the flickr feed with even more photos from our friend Doug Reilly (and check out his blog at punkastronomy.com), who has made our facility look much cooler than it is. Note the basin full of PBR, which was supplied by our friends at Pabst for the event. Much thanks.

(c) Doug Reilly

We were thankful for the turnout and support of our local friends, and it provided us a great dry-run for our official launch party later in the spring. Stay tuned for details and we'll hope to see you up here in Geneva before too long.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's Been Awhile

It's been a while since we last updated you, let's recap, shall we? We've begun transformation of our factory space to a production facility, found and secured independent sales representatives, traveled the country with our reps selling our Spring 2011 line, been interviewed and highlighted in large industry publications, secured the services of a social media expert, attended our first trade show, and gave a keynote address at an entrepreneurial symposium.

Equipment arrives daily and we have been busy setting up the various machines including a computer guided stitching machine, a double needle sewing machine, an automatic angle cut hot knife, two embroidery heads, a laser etch machine, and a really cool, big air compressor. More equipment arrives later this month and in the beginning of November. We plan to be operational by the middle of next month.

Since August, we've been on the road showing our independent sales representatives how to best position and sell our product line. We've worked with our representatives in the Mid-Atlantic region, Florida, Texas, Southern California, and the Northwest on the finer points of positioning our product and telling the story behind the product, with several sales orders entered by our October 15 prebook deadline. In all, the reception at retail has been slightly stronger than anticipated within our target distribution channels. We're proud to have placed orders in some of the country's most respected surf shops, such as Surfside in Costa Mesa, CA, Whalebone in Nags Head, NC, Mad Dogs Surf Shop in Daytona Beach, FL, Wave Riding Vehicles in the Outer Banks and Virginia Beach, VA, Surf & Adventure Co. in Virginia Beach, VA, Wind and Wave Water Sports in Corpus Christi, TX, PB Surf Shop in Pacific Beach, CA, and Outer Banks Boarding Company in NC.

In August, thanks to our friends at Turner Public Relations, we were interviewed for a piece in Footwear News, which is the largest industry publication in the footwear industry. We were featured in an article in this weekly publication on July 12, and quickly became the #1 most emailed article of the week on their website. The full article can be found here. On August 30, Shop-Eat-Surf.com, the most widely read industry website in the surf industry, ran a feature on us as well. The full interview and story can be found here.

We’re also happy to have secured the services of Mary Buckley to manage all of our social media communications. Mary manages our Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as our blog and a few things we don't fully understand. Mary works closely with Turner PR and our management team to coordinate our messaging across all channels.

Surf Expo in Orlando, FL, from September 8th-10th, marked our first public outing at a trade show, as we manned a 10' x 20' booth. We were able to get our brand name in front of more than 2,300 retailers in attendance at the show, including many from our target, core surf distribution channel. We had samples and full size displays in our booth, and were able to speak to many buyers from across the East Coast and beyond. Feedback was very positive to the product and the story, and all agreed that we've created a solid niche for ourselves in the surf sandal market. Most commented that it was about time somebody made a good, American-made sandal. Many buyers commented that they'd read about us in either Footwear News or Shop-Eat-Surf.com, and were looking forward to seeing the product first hand. Overall, it was a positive show and will translate into sales we may not have had as we moved closer to our October 15 prebook deadline.

On Saturday, September 18, we gave the keynote address at Finger Lakes Community College's Entrepreneur Symposium. The full press release for the event can be found here. We spoke to a group of about 25 potential entrepreneurs, told our story with a focus on what we'd learned over the past year and a half, and took part in a panel discussion. In all, it was a rewarding and educational experience. We will forward any follow-up releases if and when they become available.

Well, that’s our last six months in a nutshell. We look forward to the next steps in our progress, and rolling fresh sandals off the production line later this year.


John and Mike

Monday, August 30, 2010

Time to get greasy.

We finally got the keys to our factory space a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, it coincided with our scheduled trip to Texas and California to work with our sales reps, so we really couldn't get too much done before we left.

We scheduled estimates from painters, cleaners, electricians, roofers, and contractors, then we went on our way south and west to get some orders. When we got back late last week, we jumped right in and started to get our hands dirty.

This facility was last used in the early '90's by a company that stamped metal badges and pins - police badges, commemorative pins, etc. It has been used in different capacities over the years for different industrial uses--dating back to its original use as the American Can Company facility sometime in the '30's. Inside, there was a maze of electrical and communications wiring, and fluorescent and incandescent lighting, dating from different eras, decades, and companies--some working, some not. Our first order of business is to sort out the mess and take down the non-working items from the rafters and get the ceiling ready to paint. We hired an electrician to identify what can stay and what can go. Beyond taking down all the old wiring, they are taking down 64 8-foot sections of old, heavy, inefficient fluorescent lighting fixtures and hauling it away for recycling.

This was built before some of the modern conveniences we take advantage of today were available, and as such was built to be energy eficient in its own right. The roof on the building is a "saw-tooth" roof, with windows facing north to allow in natural light, and a south facing roof sloping away from the top of the windows toward the bottom of another set. Repeated, this creates a saw-tooth profile. Not only does this provide rows of windows for natural light, but the windows are designed along a massive chain driven system to allow them to slide open, providing for air flow and hot air release during the warmer months.

The problem with all that clever engineering is that sometime a few decades ago, the previous building owners decided that all that efficiency was just too much, so they painted the windows over in black and covered the whole thing in corrugated metal. When we looked at the building last November for the first time, we immediately noticed how dark it was, and how much it would take to light the 13,000 ft. industrial space, compared to the warm natural light that was coming in the office side thanks to the great skylights they had rescued. We called in a roofer to take down a test section of the corrugated metal and scrape off the black paint. We only took down 20 ft., but the difference is amazing! The entire facility is flooded with warm, natural light in the area where we took it down. The best news is that the windows are structurally sound, and seem to be well sealed.

This week, we'll be masking off the sections of the windows that we'll be uncovering, so that when the painters come to clean and spray the ceiling next week, our windows will be clear and ready to let in all that light. Later this week we're planning to have a representative from NYSERDA come in and give us an audit to see what our lighting needs are, and what they can do to help. We anticipate a huge reduction in energy usage by allowing the natural light to come in, and as such we're hoping they will have a program to assist us in the cost of removing the metal coverings from the windows. It's not cheap.

On the office side of the facility, we got to work ourselves. We got up in the rafters and took down the decades worth of dead wiring, again leaving us with a cleaner ceiling space and an easier job for the painting contractors as they come in to spray. It's amazing how much of the conduit that was up there was dead. Probably 60-70% came down.

Conduit and wiring piled up to be recycled.

We've only just begun the demo work, and that all has to be done by the end of the week so we can paint the ceilings and walls. Look for more pics once we get to that stage and the transformation really starts to be visible.

The clock is ticking. Our equipment starts showing up on September 29th, and we'll start rolling the first sandals off the line sometime in October. In between, we have to clean, paint, open, close, tear down, build up, install, and adjust. There will be plenty of pictures to follow the action.

Beyond all that, the first is in place and full of liquid refreshment, so anyone who is in the area and doesn't mind getting a little dirty, you know where we'll be...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Phase Three

Back in our first blog post, we shared with you our belief that sandals shouldn’t be hard. We definitely believe that. Apparently, however, starting a sandal company should be.

It’s taken longer than we hoped, but after finding investors who believed in us and our vision, bankers willing to work with us, and a city management with vision and some
cajones, we got the keys to our facility and our equipment is finally on the way. The next few months are going to be absolutely crazy as we clean and build-out our nearly 100 year old facility, install our equipment, hire our workforce, and start to build some sandals. Fortunately, we’ve been preparing for this day for over a year so, we’re ready to go.

You can see in the pictures that we have quite a bit of work ahead of us to get the place cleaned up--and that doesn’t begin to address the aesthetic challenges (really, bright blue walls?). The good news is that the building has great bones, and a rich manufacturing history. It has a rich family history too, as my great-grandfather worked the line in this building when it was the American Can Company in the ’30’s and ’40’s.

We have the opportunity to make some positive changes to the space by enhancing the appearance, creating more natural light, and decreasing our energy consumption. Stay tuned for updates on that front - it’s amazing how energy efficient buildings were when they didn’t have the option of air conditioning and fluorescent lighting...

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve been on the road pre-booking some sandals and have had some good success on our trips to Virginia and North Carolina, and again in Florida. The early results have the Al and Josie showing the best results, with the Louie and Angie close behind - although we’re placing all seven styles with some consistency (sneak-peeks coming soon).

We’re off for Texas for a couple days with our sales rep, hitting Houston and Corpus Christi beginning Wednesday. From there, Southern California for a few more days to catch up with old friends, get in the water, and sell some sandals with our rep there.

We have plenty more going on, including our first booth at a trade show. Stay tuned.


Monday, June 14, 2010

What a difference a year makes

A year ago today, June 15, I got laid off.

A little more than a year later, we’re moving into our production facility in Geneva, NY.

It’s funny where life takes you. Seven years ago, I didn’t know how making sandals would impact me. Three years ago, the idea of building them in the USA was a “someday” proposition. One year ago, we decided to work on someday.

We had no idea how much work was involved, or how much we didn’t know - although we knew it was a large amount in both cases. The past year has been filled with incredible highs and lows, optimism and determination, failures and, finally, enough successes to move forward.

Vere Sandal Company, USA is our new reality. By now you know the deal: high quality, domestically manufactured, environmentally sound sandals. It’s been our quest, and now it’s happening.

Thanks for following along, and make sure to stay tuned, as it’s about to get interesting. In the next month we’ll have photos of the buildout in the production facility, as well as announcements about events, where we’ll be as we’re on the road selling our wares, and even information about launch parties. Also, you know we’ll be posting any press we get along the way...

What a difference a year makes.



Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Power of Free Sandals

For those of you who may have missed it, on the day before St. Patrick’s Day we posted a link to our veretester program (http://www.veresandals.com/veretester) on our Facebook page.

The skinny on the deal is this: sign up, and when we start production we’ll send you a pair of our sandals. Pretty sweet, huh? Of course, we’ll ask you to fill out a form and send us feedback, but that shouldn’t be too much in trade to be the first on your block to own Vere sandals. Once we’re sweeping the nation and Oprah’s telling everyone about the virtues of Vere, you can tell all your friends “yeah - I helped them launch way back when.”

When we asked you to sign up (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?), one of the requirements was that you tell us why you’d make a good veretester. Creativity, as always, was encouraged.

We learned a few things about some of you:

“I do have very cute feet...”

Most of you think you have really, really good looking feet (One of you said something about someone offering you money to do something with your toes, but that seemed a little personal so we just skimmed that part). Some of you admit that your feet aren’t exactly catalog-ready, but think we should send you some free sandals anyway.

“I have a big mouth and would tell everyone about them.” “I will tell all that I see how great my sandals are...”

A vast majority of respondents have big mouths.

We have a couple applicants to be the official Vere Poet Laureate:

“Barefoot I am so nimble and light; uncomfortable shoes are such a plight! still, it is always such a bummer to lack cool footwear for the summer. although bare feet are hard to beat methinks it would be such a treat to wear vere sandals on my feet!”

“I have two kids under four
who run, slide, jump and more
the rest of the details I shall not bore...”

Some of you have kids, and chasing kids is a good test of sandals for a variety of reasons. Most of you wear sandals when there’s no snow on the ground, or whenever you think it’s warm enough. For one guy, that meant 60°. Wimp.

In all, most of you who responded were excited about the opportunity to get a pair of sandals that was well made, had good arch support, would fit right, and you could feel good about. Being made in the USA, and being made in a manner that is easier on the environment registered with almost everyone - which seems about right.

Some of our favorites that fit no particular category:

“As someone who doesn’t like to wear shoes, sandals are a great alternative to tissue boxes.”

“I’m considering running for mayor of Jersey City. Looking for comfort as I walk the campaign trail. Just think of the photo op: Me, Cory Booker, and Mike Bloomberg - all in Vere.”

“I have feet. My feet like to walk, and like to look good while they walk. Sometimes my feet wear shoes. But, sometimes they don’t. Up until now, my feet have always been a fan of sandals that have been made there and made worse. I’ve never understood why? It doesn’t make sense. I think Vere can help change that mentality. Even if it’s one foot at a time.”

“Barefoot I am so nimble and light; uncomfortable shoes are such a plight! still, it is always such a bummer to lack cool footwear for the summer. although bare feet are hard to beat methinks it would be such a treat to wear vere sandals on my feet!”

“I know who Betty was. I used to go to her house on Halloween all dressed up and Uncle Don would take a picture of me and my siblings. Then, he would give you a whole, large sized candy bar... they were the coolest people on William Street.” (note: the above is true. They gave out full sized candy bars on Halloween to grandchildren and nieces and nephews. This must have been expensive, as we were a large family. Also note the excellent grammar, as this was submitted by a teacher. We fear for our youth.)

In all, we’re pleased to have so many responses, and so many people interested in helping out to make our sandals the best on the market. We’re planning to start making our samples in early summer, so stay tuned and wish us luck.


John, Jeff, and Mike

Friday, February 19, 2010

Busy Times at the Ranch

It's been an eventful last few weeks as things are progressing quickly on all fronts. Last week we met with an impressive Public Relations firm in Manhattan with extensive experience in the outdoor/surf industries. We presented our business plan and much of our current branding and marketing concepts to them, and are awaiting their proposal. They've done some excellent work for REI, KSwiss, Tom's Shoes, among other clients. We've spent some critical time trying to assess our needs from that end, and how we should approach it. It was a big help to sit down with them and hear the types of benefits their work would offer us.

The following day we headed out to the facility that's creating our Point of Placement materials. Traditionally, sandals are held on hangers, which are placed on wireframe metal racks. This is what consumers see upon entering most surf and outdoor shops. As we've mentioned before, we're using this facility to explore the option of using corrugated cardboard to create our "rack".

They presented us with a very rough model of the actual structure. Although there were clearly some serious initial problems from an engineering standpoint, we were encouraged by the progress and the designers have come around from their initial thoughts that a corrugated piece wouldn't be able to support the weight of an entire line of sandals. We analyzed each area of the structure, marked up the prototype, and will head back in another week or two to view all these changes. Looking forward to that. This initial concept was pretty rough and this next round should start to give us a much better idea of the potential finished product.

We've been in meetings all week here in Geneva and this has been our first opportunity to be in the same room together and sort through some of the business-oriented details we hadn't yet addressed. We got back into the proposed site for our factory and were able to get some real measurements and assess where we are with the building. We've met with the majority of the local banks to present our business plan and get as much feedback as possible. It's clearly a difficult time to be out seeking financing, but the local banks had strong interest. We were also able to meet with a grant-writer and some of the other members of Geneva's business development team to continue to discuss our proposals and gain further feedback. In all, some very encouraging prospects on that front.

Busy times here at the ranch.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Snow, Ice, Sandals

After a bright and sunny first 13 days on the road, Mother Nature determined we’d had too easy of a time so far and decided to make things interesting. Torrential wind and rains met us in New Mexico and Arizona on our way west, along with flash floods and black ice. After having some fun driving in 4-wheel through the mud, we navigated through the obstacles and arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday night, in time to connect with old friends and make some new acquaintances and contacts.

The beginning of the week brought a return to business, with visits scheduled to more prominent surf and outdoor shops on Monday and Tuesday. Our confidence buoyed by the success of the past two weeks, we excitedly met with owners and buyers in the San Diego and North County areas to discuss our product, marketing, terms, pricing, and all sandal related topics. Visits with three very well-respected shops resulted in three more important letters of intent, and a happy and successful end to our schedule.

With the retail portion of our trip wrapped up, we started the long drive back to our homes on Wednesday. With families and kids’ hockey lessons waiting for us, two well-rested drivers ready to split the driving duties, and a makeshift bed in the back of the truck, there was nothing standing in our way. Except, of course, Mother Nature. The first day went smoothly enough, but nightfall in Northern Arizona brought the first snow, and it kept on through the night and into the next day. Thursday during the day brought us through the Texas Panhandle and into driving winds and heavy snowfall. Visibility near zero reduced our speed to around 25 mph, and the threat of closure on I-40 kept us moving for fear of getting stuck and unable to get back on our way.

Once the snow cleared, we could see the half-inch of ice that covered everything from our headlights, surfboard bag on the roof, and windshield, to the road itself. Another few hours of 25 mph driving on the interstate ahead of us, we kept moving and finally outran the storm somewhere in Oklahoma. Once ahead of it, we dared not stop, and so we kept moving until we hit home late on Friday night.

Tired and road weary, we’re able to look back on a successful trip and prepare ourselves for the next steps. Having proven the market for our product on a consumer level through our focus groups, and then proven the retail market for high quality, domestically manufactured sandals made with an eye to the environment through our recent retail visits, we turn with optimism toward securing the financing necessary to get our production facility up and running.

We genuinely look forward to getting those first sandals rolling off the line, and taking the next step on the journey we set off on last year. As we said in our first post – we’re a long way from our goal, but now we’re a lot closer to that starting line.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

California Here We Come

After three days of circling Texas, it's off to the left coast, the tornadoes and the torrential rains.

The main purpose behind this trip was to gain as much feedback from top surf and outdoor retailers as we could, and we've been very pleased with the response. We've had some speed bumps along the way - cold-calling a retailer, as someone they've never heard of from a brand they've never heard of, doesn't result in a lot of immediate call backs — but once we've gotten the appointment the result has often been above expectation.

We figured the biggest challenge we'd face would be retailers saying "Why would I bring in your unproven brand, when I have popular brands in here that I know will sell?"

We've heard that from a couple locations, who'd rather wait for consumer demand before they bring in our line, but happily that's been the exception rather than the rule. Retailers have been very responsive to the fact that the sandals are made in the USA, and they like the fact that they're made with an eye to the environment, but the best response has come in regards to the quality of the sandals themselves. Once retailers have the sandals in their hands, once they feel the quality of the materials and construction for themselves, they're sold. And when they slide one on, the fit and comfort often lend to a quick smile. It's a tremendous compliment coming from experienced retailers who specialize in selling the top brands. As we've said before, it doesn't matter how or where a sandal is made if it gives you blisters on vacation...

Overwhelmingly, the majority of shop owners and buyers we've spoken to have happily written letters of intent indicating a willingness to bring our line into their stores when we deliver next year. We expected more pushback and fewer shops anxious to bring in our unproven brand, and we're excited about the anticipation and support we've heard and seen. In all, it's been a very successful trip thus far — better than even we expected.

Now it's on to Southern California to meet with another round of shop owners and to see if it was worth strapping those surfboards to the top of the truck 10 days and 4,000 miles ago (in 12 degree north country weather). According to Al Roker, it's not looking good... Either way, we know the burritos will be good.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Road Trip

We're in the middle of a national tour, visiting some of the country's best surf and outdoor retailers as we introduce Vere Sandals to buyers and shop owners. We started in Virginia Beach, VA on Monday morning, and moved on to the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Tuesday. After two very successful days filled with positive retail feedback, we made our way south to Florida for the Surf Expo trade show.

Week two begins in Texas, then on to the left coast and some time in Southern California. Follow our journey and route on the map, and let us know if you'll be in any of those locations in the following days:

• Monday 1/18: Houston, TX
• Tuesday 1/19: Corpus Christi, TX
• Wednesday 1/20: Austin, TX
• Friday 1/22: San Diego, CA
• Saturday 1/23: Los Angeles, CA
• Monday/Tuesday 1/24-25: San Diego, CA
• Wednesday/Thursday 1/27-28: Denver, CO

Wish us luck, and we hope to see you on the road.