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Making Foot Transportation fun Again
Entrepeneur Illustrated - Jan 1, 1970
by Bridget McCrea
TORRANCE, Calif. - According to Chris Morris, few humans can resist the temptation to slide. It's as simple as a patch of ice on a winter day, or sliding into home plate. "Humans love to slide," says Morris, president and CEO of Soap, a Generation "XY" footwear manufacturer. "Our shoes are intended to be nothing more than what they are: fun footwear."
The first of their kind, and the only such product currently on the market, Soap shoes not only perform as stylish and comfortable footwear, but they also convey upon the wearer the gift of invincibility, according to Morris, who spent 16 years working for Rollerblade and introducing inline skates to Southern California. One day, feeling like he had already "been there and done that," Morris started looking for his next challenge, and found it in a pair of shoes. He created a homespun prototype of the Soap shoe out of a pair of Nikes, jumped on a rail, grinded, landed on his rear-end, picked up a phone and called his patent attorney. Soon he had a prototype, a preliminary business plan, a video and an investor.
Founded in early 1997, Soap shipped its first product on October 15 of the same year. Somewhere in-between the two milestones, Morris realized Soap could manufacture shoes in time to get them into stores for the holidays, but he didn't have a single sales rep, any collateral material or even any samples. Morris, an unfinished undergraduate, quickly hired his first Harvard MBA and former vice president of Vans, Jerry Gross, who currently serves as Soap's COO, to round out his senior management team. "Within two and a half-months, we had hired and trained a small-but-committed sales force and had placed an astounding 90 percent of our initial shipment in key specialty shops across the country," says Morris, founder of the Aggressive Skate Association (ASA), the governing body in charge of inline skating and aggressive competition productions for MTV and ESPN.
"Humans love to slide."
Chris Morris, Soap
Soap shoes range in price from $69 to $110, depending on the shoe style. The sole of the shoe is fitted with a concave plastic frame, located under the arch of the foot. The grind (defined as the act of sliding or creating friction on inanimate objects) plate is fastened by screws to the frame. Because it is removable, it can easily be replaced. Memphis, TN-based Journeys is one of the specialty shops where Soaps shoes can be found. "Their product is innovative and the freshest thing that's happened in the alternative category in a long time," says Pete Hicks, athletic buyer for the mall-based chain retailer that sells shoes to Generation XY consumers. "We have a great relationship with Soap, and customer response to their products has been unbelievable."
Soap, a company that grossed $7 million in 1998, is currently expanding their distribution network, and working on a customized distribution strategy. "The footwear business is really a fashion business, so we're also working on the styles and improving the technology to give a better, smoother slide," says Morris, who adds that curbs, ledges, benches and handrails make the best surfaces for his company's shoes. The company's next product will be a practice rail: a 9-foot pipe suspended at a slight angle that serves as a safe place to slide and grind.
"Getting from A to B used to be pedestrian - boring and predictable," says Morris, whose company has been featured on CNBC, FOX News, CNN and in the Wall Street Journal. "But Soap, the shoe with a bonus, releases wearers from the bounds of linear transportation."
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