Florida's unofficial footwear, the flip-flop sandal, is getting a makeover.
Cheryl Bourque, an artist and mother of four, has created a line of flip-flops with interchangeable accessories called Zooshuu sandals that are aimed at young girls. These decorative elements, such as charms and miniature stuffed animals, snap easily onto specially made sandals.
Bourque, 45, who has owned successful art studios in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, moved to north Fort Myers with her husband and four sons earlier this year for lifestyle reasons but has been tinkering with the Zooshuu idea since 2007.
It started when she took apart a pair of her own flip-flop sandals to figure out how to make her own. She figured she could use snaps both to assemble the sandal and to snap on an ornamental element.
So far, she's spent $75,000 to develop Zooshuu, including paying attorneys to file for patent protections. She has no debt, and to keep expenses down she does her own marketing and design.
To prevent others from copying her idea, she contracts out different parts of the sandals and snaps to separate manufacturers and does the assembly herself with five part-time employees. “I'm not going to have it assembled in China,” she says, noting that the quality also doesn't measure up. “I want to be the quality control.”
Her customers are upscale gift stores and specialty children's stores, to which she sells racks that include everything from sandals to Snappets, tiny stuffed animals girls can snap onto the flip-flop. A rack wholesales for about $700, a 50% discount to retail prices.
“I've pre-priced my product because I don't like price gouging,” Bourque says. A pair of sandals with five snaps costs $16.50, for example.
Bourque recently rented a booth for $1,000 at the upcoming Orlando Gift Show in August, a four-day trade show where she hopes to sell $30,000 worth of Zooshuu racks.
Zooshuu racks are now in five local stores, which are Bourque's test markets. She also sells sandals and snaps online at Zooshuu.com, where one week recently she made $500 in sales.
The challenge is that manufacturers don't make small batches and Bourque has to tie up money in inventory. “I have to order 1,000 sets of each color,” she says. “It costs more to ship than to make.”
What's more, she has to pay for inventory in advance to manufacturers as far away as China that she found on Alibaba.com, a global-trade forum. “You have to pay them by Western Union,” she says. Fortunately, the items she sells are very small and don't require impossibly large sums.
Meanwhile, Bourque is also contemplating a line of bags and belts for adults using the same snap technology she is patenting. “This involves major manufacturing,” she says, estimating it could cost $200,000 to launch. To move ahead, Bourque says the flip-flop sandal project has to be successful.
Ultimately, Bourque has even greater ambitions. “I would love to open stores,” she says.