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Local shoe startup Floafers seeing jump in demand even as customers aren’t stepping out as much

A local shoe startup that mashes up the durability of vinyl with the style of the classic driving loafer has shifted to increased e-commerce sales and online marketing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company, based 30 miles north of Dallas in Roanoke, got its start because one of its founders was looking for the perfect vacation shoe.

Hayes Brumbeloe, chief executive officer and co-founder of Floafers, grew up in North Carolina wearing driving loafers and boat shoes his entire life. Before a vacation to the Bahamas six years ago, Brumbeloe wanted to find a shoe that he could get wet on the beach, but would look good enough to wear to a bar or restaurant later that night.

“We had about two weeks before the trip, and so I jumped on Google, but I couldn’t find anything,” Brumbeloe said. “And I had always loved the utility of EVA foam, how it was used with other brands, but the style for me wasn’t there.”

EVA foam is used in a variety of consumer products, often as padding in ski boots, bike seats, flip-flops, boxing and martial arts gloves and helmets, and sports shoes. It’s lightweight and waterproof.

At the time, Brumbeloe was a medical sales representative, but he had studied entrepreneurship at Western Carolina University. With the help of Dan Rubertone, current chief operating officer and co-founder of Floafers, they launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in February 2017.

“Hayes and I thought this would be a really good way to not only raise money without having to give away equity early on, but also trying to get validation of our product,” said Rubertone, who has a sales background at several North Texas companies. “And that’s when Hayes and I really realized that we’ve got something here and we’ve got something that consumers want.”

Floafers’ Kickstarter campaign raised about $160,000 in 60 days, Rubertone said. The company also raised $3.1 million from investors according to Crunchbase, which tracks startup funding.

Rubertone wouldn’t disclose revenue figures, though he said it’s closer to five times the $440,479 a year listed by Dun & Bradstreet.

Floafers offers shoes for men, women, and children. Unlike its competitors, Floafers is designed with an upper sole made out of EVA foam and an outer sole with a rubber pod system to make the shoe slip-resistant.

Due to the pandemic, Floafers has shifted to focus on direct to consumer online sales rather than wholesaler sales. However, Floafers will still continue to sell to wholesalers like DSW, Shoe Carnival, West Marine and Macy’s.

Brumbeloe said the enthusiasm behind their product is driven by its versatility for daytime and nighttime.

“We got a guy down in Miami, who runs this very high end car dealership. He lives in his loafers every day. This guy’s wearing Gucci from his ankle, and then he’s got Floafers on, like it’s crazy,” Brumbeloe said. “It’s one of those things where a lot of our growth is truly organic, and that’s what is so special.”

Despite the pandemic, the brand is still seeing growth, tripling its business over 2019 and the first six months of 2020, Rubertone said. Floafers has also increased its advertising spending tenfold.

“We knew that people weren’t going out. They weren’t shopping. So we focused on consumers where they were still buying, it was just online. We had to pivot and focus on our direct to consumer business as it is the driver of our business currently,” Rubertone said.

Floafers manufactures its shoes in Vietnam. Rubertone said Floafers was lucky that its manufacturing wasn’t disrupted as much as for shoe companies that relied on Chinese manufacturers.

“We have made ordering our product a major focus, and even ordering more than we normally would, just in case there is a disruption in the supply chain,” Brumbeloe said. “Let’s say worst-case scenarios, factories start shutting down across the world. We want to make sure that we can still service our customers.”

Brumbeloe and Rubertone don’t consider Floafers a seasonal product, despite it being marketed as a shoe for beach vacations and outdoor activities. Brumbeloe said its two busiest times of the year are the first three months, when wholesalers are buying and the last three months, when consumers are shopping.

As the holiday shopping season nears, the Floafers founders expect the pandemic to continue driving online sales. And they’ve added larger men’s sizes (up to 16) and more toddler sizes.

“We are getting geared up and we are prepared to take full advantage of the holiday season,” Rubertone said.

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