Sloggers footwear is now a household name among gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts. Yet, the story behind the classic brand continues to evolve. The company’s founder, Dolph Hoyt was an innovator who pursued the American dream and used plastics to change our concept of fashionable footwear. Today, sons David and Robert continue the family tradition.
David, CEO of Principle Plastics shares humorous insights about operating a family-owned business. He also discusses what it takes to be competitive in tough times.
What motivated your family to start the company?
My dad, Dolph Hoyt was a lieutenant in the Air Force during World War II. After the war, he returned home and attended UCLA where he earned a degree in Chemistry. The original company, Coffey-Hoyt, was founded in 1948 by my father and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Bertram Coffey. Dad bought her share of the business a few years later and changed the name of the company to Principle Plastics. The first product was the Drizzle Boots. They were clear plastic overshoes that women wore to protect their shoes. Interestingly enough, my father made the boots because his aunt complained about getting grease on her shoes when frying bacon! Dad was a pioneer when it came to manufacturing of this type of plastic footwear.
When did you become President of the company?
I became the President of Principle Plastics in 1995. Before he retired, I remember having a funny conversation with my dad. I said, “nobody wants to buy Drizzle Boots anymore.” He said “it’s not my problem, good luck!” My dad was a real sink or swim kind of guy. My brother, Robert Hoyt, joined the company as our Chief Financial Officer.
What made you to decide to manufacture footwear for
Based on our previous connection to plastic footwear, I settled on making garden clogs. However, it wasn’t easy to get the business off the ground. I needed to buy all new equipment to make colorful, plastic garden clogs. Initially, we were unable to get any interest from footwear buyers. I hired a footwear sales manager named Dennis Kursewitcz. He attempted to sell the product into the traditional footwear channel, but without a lot of success. Dennis eventually built a sales team of Lawn and Garden Reps who took the concept into that channel. At first, Lawn and Garden Centers were reluctant to buy Sloggers because they had never sold footwear. But our cute, brightly colored clogs, our self-service display concept and our price points made Sloggers a winner. And, the rest is history.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced from
Things were great until 2005. That’s when a little company called Crocs® came along. Their product was made out of a new, lightweight material that I couldn’t make on my machines. I thought that technology was changing so quickly that we would become obsolete. To stay competitive, I went to China to open up tooling to make the lightweight, Crocs type footwear. However, I kept pushing our own product and the benefits to the USA manufacturing model, which is more about supply chain flexibility than it is about a marketing message.
How did the company survive those tough times?
Those were difficult years when the rising tide of Crocs and all of its competitors saturated the market with the new lightweight product. After the fad passed, there were a few more bad years when the warehouses were over flowing with crocs type product. By 2010 however the craze was over and Crocs had moved along to the fashion business. All of the companies that imitated them had come and gone. We were the last ones standing in this niche market of lawn & garden footwear.
Describe your leadership style?
My leadership style is hands on–something CEO’s of many small companies can relate to. I enjoy sales, marketing, design, and product development. These are the sides of the business that get my primary focus.
What is your philosophy on customer service?
We strive for impeccable customer service. Whenever there is a complaint, or negative review, I try to answer it personally as the owner of the company. In doing so, I learn a lot about what our customers like, and more importantly, dislike about the product or their experience with us. For example, the biggest complaint was that we “did not make half sizes.” With this problem in mind, we invented the “Half-Sizer Insole”. It’s a thin, cut to fit insole that can be place under the existing insole to make the shoe a ½ size smaller. I also learned that “heel Slip” was a problem, so we changed the trim on the top of the shoes to a material that clung a little bit to the heel, thus reducing the slippage. Online reviews, especially negative ones, have been the single greatest contributor to our continued improvement and growth as a company.
What are the company’s biggest challenges in today’s retail
My BIGGEST challenge is margins. There are many perceived price point ceilings: $19.99, $24.99, $29.99 for example. As our costs increased, we were able to maintain margins by becoming more efficient. However, with increasing costs associated with the California minimum wage increasing, and to a small degree, the Trump tariffs, we are going to have to raise prices and customers will need to move off of those [predetermined price points or take a margin hit themselves. This will be a challenge. The other challenge I have is how to meet the demand for product development while designing for USA production, meaning designed with the efficient use of labor in mind. There are certain items that we have to import, hats for example, because we can’t make those labor-intensive products here in the USA. But for the most part, we are able to give customers what they want while still designing the product to be made here.
How does the quality of Slogger products differ from competitors?
We don’t really have any competitors in our price range, but if we did, the major advantage is our quality and our production flexibility. I mentioned earlier that “Made in the USA” is a supply chain advantage, as well as being a good marketing element, but mostly it’s supply chain. You can imagine that major retailers will project out their buy for the season, and if placing the orders in China, will have to hope they guessed correctly. If a style sells well, they risk being out of stock. If it does not perform well, they have to clearance, thus reducing their margins. One of the biggest advantages we have is to adjust to these market elements in season. However, it has taken a lot to train buyers about this supply chain advantage, as they are so used to buying everything out of China.
What role does customer feedback play in determining new
We do a lot of research through social media, Facebook and Instagram. We love how our customers love to weigh in on designs and give us feedback when we present concepts to them. This is how we found the “Chickenistas”. This group of “crazy chicken ladies” (their words, not mine) went crazy when I presented them with the chicken prints design by Sarah Rosedahl. The response was so overwhelming that I knew we had a hit on our hands!
What is the one thing you want Retailers to know
about your products and company?
We are completely dedicated to supporting the Independent Lawn and Garden Channel. That’s why we don’t sell to Home Depot or Lowes.