A West Coast Outpost
The message of Flip Flop Shops, located in Greenwich Village on 61 E 8th street, is simple: free your toes.
While this can be taken literally, store manager Kyle Bremer likes to take a more philosophical approach: New Yorkers are usually rushing about from place to place, staring at their feet. Flip Flop Shops is there to provide a sort of west coast outpost with a vibe of free-spirited living, free of obligation, where they can let go of their tension and enjoy the atmosphere.
This atmosphere is readily apparent when entering Flip Flop Shops: a coconut machine fills the air with the scent of coconuts all day, the staff is in beach getup, and there are beach balls strewn about.
The point is to transport people from the frozen concrete in the middle of December to an environment where they would actually be using the flip flops.
Expert Service and Selection
Of course, in the summer, Flip Flop Shops gets more foot traffic with beach season and tourists coming in, but the vibe year round is great customer service. This means being attentive and running the business effectively while still being as laid back as possible with customers.
Since Flip Flop Shops sells only one type of footwear, employees need to know the products inside and out. Pick two pairs of flip flops off the shelves and the small, closely-knit team will be able to describe you their function and the differences between the two pairs.
Kyle notes that when your only business is flip flops, your knowledge must dictate this, as well as your inventory.
Flip Flop Shops caters to a wide range of customers, from someone who wants a pair for the gym to someone who’s traveling abroad to someone looking for orthotic-based flip flops. That means carrying everything from your basic rubber Havaianas to brands endorsed by the orthopedic association to provide arch support.
Kyle, a collegiate and high school runner, says that most flip flop wearers who have a lower foot arch land on the outside of their heel and as their foot rolls forward, it also rolls inward, causing the arch to collapse. This destabilizes your ankle and causes a lot of pain on the outside of your leg.
Kyle’s know-how stems from working at a specialized running store that specifically fit runners in the community, where he learned a good amount of biomechanical knowledge and how the feet work.
In the online shopping era, Amazon can, most of the time, offer something cheaper. The only difference between Flip Flop Shops and online retailers is customer service.
This is where Flip Flop Shop excels. If they don’t have a particular size in stock, they will special order it and give the customer a discount. If they see a customer who’s interested in something, they’ll give them a 10% coupon to make sure they come back.
Kyle recounts a story of a customer who was looking for a specialized style that Reef technically doesn’t manufacture anymore, so he spent two weeks working with Reef to see if they had any of those units being returned to them from other businesses. Finally, he found the flip flops. Every two days or so he called the customer and informed her of any updates. In the end, Kyle still gave her a discount.
A customer once reminisced that shopping at the store was like shopping in the late 50s and early 60s, simply because the employees were so attentive. Where in a regular shoe store, you’d pick out your own shoes, ask for a certain color, have a rep bring the pair and then vanish, Flip Flop Shops employees are fitting you and providing recommendations, not to mention asking how your day is going.
Kyle can tell you that the last customer is going to the Bahamas for the second time, that she was thinking of getting a pair of Havaianas to match her bathing suit but they hurt her feet so he set her up with a pair of Cobians, which are good for the water and have better arch support, and that she wanted a pair with a black top and brown base.
It’s something that allows you to connect with customer, more so than, “here it is, do you like it or not?” according to Kyle. Customers feel more comfortable purchasing something in store they can get $10-15 cheaper online because it’s worth it for the service they’d never get at an online retailer.
Dave Dequeljoe, owner of the Village location, has a great relationship with Kyle. Dave is a very laid back guy, as Kyle describes, which is surprising since he comes from a military background, taking the principles of being a serviceman relevant to a business and leaving out the principles that are not.
Specifically: whether you’re managing the store or the guy mopping up, do it 100%, because that’s when you can go home at the end of the day feeling fulfilled. Even if you’re emptying trash cans, if you’re doing your best, you can feel like you’re accomplishing something and that you’re part of a team.
How Will Flip Flop Shops Help Students?
Flip Flop Shops used to give all NYU students a discount on the inventory, but now they provide a 10% discount to students nationwide. So even if you’re coming up from USC, you’re still getting that discount.
In the spring, Flip Flop Shops will be doing a program where they will give students a few hundred business cards, with a number on the card corresponding to the person who’s giving them out, so when a referred student comes into the shop to buy some flip flops, not only do they get 10% off, the number on the card and the amount of the sale goes into an excel spreadsheet. At the end of the month, the student who gave the business card to his friend gets 10% of sales.
Flip Flop Shops understands that college is about having a good time and keeping your budget to a minimum, and if they can save you a few bucks here and there, that’s great.
Kyle believes more businesses should do this—if students are paying to better themselves and further their education, why not save them some money?
Aleksandr Smechov, Baruch College.
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