Tales from the Trenches: Flip Flop Shops

Some people start businesses because they want to get rich. Some because they need to solve a problem that’s been annoying them for ages. And some just want to be able to wear flip-flops to work.
Several years ago, when Brian Curin and his business partners were busy building up the Cold Stone Creamery franchise, “We built a big office, the Taj Mahal of offices,” he explains. But this group of surfers and outdoor enthusiasts wasn’t particularly taken with the suit and tie lifestyle, so when they moved on to their next venture, they let their lifestyle considerations guide them.
The result is Flip Flop Shops, a quick-growing franchise of more than 45 stores selling beach-ready footwear, that Curin, who serves as president, and four partners run out of home offices spread from Atlanta to Vancouver, British Columbia. “It’s a true lifestyle brand,” says Curin. “Jeans, T-shirts, shorts, flip-flops: that’s what we wear everywhere and what’s nice is it’s sort of expected. So where most people couldn’t get away with dressing like bums, when we go to places everyone goes: ‘Oh, it’s the Flip Flop guys. It’s OK. Let them in.'”


Curin has a simple mantra when it comes to hiring: Attitude first. When adding to their team of support staff (currently five people) or deciding who gets a franchise, experience and qualifications come behind passion. “It’s so critical for us to get the absolute right fit, and that may not be the most qualified all the time. It may just be the person who goes, ‘I used to work in the corporate world and I’d cut off my left arm if I didn’t have to deal with that,'” he says, adding “when you find those people, you just have to set the expectations.”
And a particular location isn’t among his. “Go to Mexico!” he tells his staff. “You’d probably do better if you were just living the life and doing what we need you to do.” Nor are set hours important. “If the waves are good, they’re probably going to be out of their office,” Curin concedes. What is important is that people get work done on time and forge a personal relationship with the team.
To find the right talent for this type of team, Curin is a firm believer in interviewing face to face. “People can sound one way on the phone and interview great and look good on paper, but nothing compares to face to face,” he says, but he’s also a huge fan of a healthy degree of social media snooping to screen candidates before that stage.
“People aren’t smart on Facebook. Most people put everything out there, and so in a matter of a few minutes you get a really good flavor for their vibe. You either like it or you don’t, but it makes you way more prepared when you go meet with them,” he explains. Referrals also help ensure cultural fit: “It’s rare that we get somebody that’s just cold, never met them, out of the blue.”


In collaboration tools, as in footwear, Curin doesn’t get too fancy. “Part of the whole ‘free your toes’ mentality, this lifestyle we lead, is simplicity, so Apple,” (s aapl) he says, giving a one word answer to the tools his team uses to keep in touch. “Apple gives us all the gadgety things we need — iPhone, iPad, iEverything — to make this whole virtual office thing work for us,” he continues, sounding like a contented fanboy. Anything else? Just FaceTime (Apple again) and “no less than 20” calls a day to CEO Darin Kraetsch.
The company is also a fan of social media, as we’ve heard for recruiting, but also for keeping up to date with franchisees. “We set up a closed loop Facebook page for shop owners only. We’re the admins on it so we can accept or deny people. The public can’t view it, and it’s set up as a platform for all of our shop owners to talk and share best practices, complain, share inventory, whatever it is,” he says.


“We respect the fact that we’ve got a really good thing here. We don’t suit-and-tie it. We don’t report to anybody,” says Curin, but he does see one downside to his current setup, and it’s a common one for virtual workers. “The one downfall is you truly never get that total shut off downtime except maybe once, twice a year where we tell each other, ‘hey, I’m going to Hawaii,’ my phone’s done,'” he says.
And while Curin admits that shutting out work stuff at home is a challenge, he’s firmer about shutting out home stuff when he’s working. “Make sure your space is set up the right way, so basically, when you go in there, it’s: ‘I am at work.’ You’ve got to make sure those ground rules are set with your significant other or your roommate, whoever it is.” And this space shouldn’t just be any old desk, chair, computer setup but a place that truly reflects your lifestyle. “To do it successfully, you can still be in your pajamas, but make sure your space fits the vibe of whatever business that you’re in.” Need an example? Check out Curin’s home office to the left.
Image courtesy Flickr user VanDammeMaarten.be.