The Resurrection of DuFFS

Skate-shoe company rises, falls, and rises again?with a vengeance

In early 1992, Steve Rocco and the World Industries collective created a new-generation skateboard-shoe company that would clearly impact the direction skateboarding was headed.

DuFFS shoes was launched in 1993 with a unique design, a recognizable advertising campaign, and a strong team.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for the shoes to become hugely popular with their distinct dotted-sole-logo design, which was also effectively employed as a marketing point. At the same time, DuFFS did many humorous lifestyle ads like the Mail-Order Bride ad depicting a barefoot wedding-dress-clad Asian girl standing on a longboard, her DuFFS shoes being dragged behind. Early DuFFS ads featured the shoes strategically placed to show the dotted design of the sole.

Approaching the mid 1990s, as skateboarding started to sink many young skateboard and skate-shoe brands established themselves, DuFFS found itself surrounded by eager competitors, and the company seemingly disappeared.

In 1997 DuFFS was purchased by Canadian winter-boot-company Genfoot, makers of Kamik boots, who own the company to this day.

The period between late 1996 and early 1997 was key in the development of skate brands. DC Shoe Co. was busy building a strong brand and amazing team, Sole Technology had established separate divisions for its three brands, and more young brands like Osiris and DVS entered the skate-shoe market. With the advent of these new companies, both DuFFS’ sales and popularity were negatively affected. When DuFFS ownership changed from World Industries to Genfoot in 1997, the company entered what President Tim Haley and Sales Manager Dave Andrecht describe as a long “transitional period,” that didn’t find the company a place on the front line of skateboarding until early 2000.

Both Team Manager R.P. Bess and Marketing and Creative Director, and Footwear Designer August Benzien joined DuFFS in early 2000, when the company was emerging from a period of transition that this duo refer to as “the dark years.” Bess’ background included former team manager, and later the marketing and promotions assistant at Adio. August Benzien came from Innes Clothing, where he was the art director. Bess says he regarded DuFFS as a good opportunity, feeling he could do more there in addition to working directly with the riders. “I’ve seen and learned a lot from DuFFS already, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot more and seeing tons of good things come out of these offices in the future.” Both Bess and Benzien agree that what brought them to DuFFS was the company’s potential for growth.

With the financial and technical backing of Genfoot, DuFFS was able to reorganize and restructure the company, to take it to a new level. In January 2000 Alphonzo Rawls was brought on board as the shoe designer. In the time he was with DuFFS, his fresh perspective and innovative style contributed greatly to reestablishing a foothold in the competitive skate-shoe market.

It has been a huge team effort for DuFFS to reinvent itself, and get its shoes back on the shelves of skate shops. Although DuFFS has some deep roots in skateboarding, it took them a lot of work to regain enough “credibility” for ‘core skate shops to carry them again. Bess admits, “We never saw anything from DuFFS on the shelves of shops when we started.”

Old-school pro-skateboarder Dave Andrecht was working with Plan B Skateboards and Dukes Shoes when DuFFS was first launched. Then exclusively distributed through World Industries, the first DuFFS shoes hit the market in the 1993/1994 season. Andrecht, who had joined DuFFS in 1995, became the international sales manager in 1998. Haley, formerly the General Manager at Merge Distribution, was recently appointed president of DuFFS in May of this year.

DuFFS was purchased by Canadian-boot-company Genfoot, the makers of Kamik bootsin 1997. The resources, technical, managerial, and financial, proved enormously beneficial for DuFFS. Both new computer and shipping systems came in to use at DuFFS at that time. “The things we have available to us through Genfoot can set us apart from anyone else in the business,” says Tim. “We just have to find a creative way to use it.”

Andrecht explains, “I think the whole company started picking up around 1993/94 when World Industries was doing all the distributing out of their building.”

Haley attributes the company’s slowdown to insufficient funding: “Basically what happened is DuFFS had too many orders and not enough money?so we placed a lot of orders at the factory. And the factory wanted to deliver, but couldn’t, so the shoes became six months late.”

After a relatively lengthy “transitional” period that lasted until late 1999, DuFFS has started its comeback. Andrecht explains that DuFFS hasn’t had a late delivery since 1997 when it joined Genfoot, and the parent company has installed new computers and systems that allow DuFFS to operate much more efficiently.

Andrecht adds that the priorities with the company were different when Genfoot came in. Before that, DuFFS was looking beyond skateboarding and lost focus of its ‘core market. “Back then, I think their Duffs’ focus was going mainstream quicker because they came out with a lot of shoes that had nothing to do with skateboarding,” he says. “We had the shoes like the DuFFS Puppies and the DuFFERS?they had skate soles with more of a casual upper. You have to take risks, and at that time DuFFS was in the position to take those risks. The biggest problem was the fact the factory wasn’t able to deliver the product on time, which hurt us big-time. This misfortune could not have come at a worse time with four new skate-shoe companies making a play. Our timing was real bad, as far as going more mainstream.”

Perhaps the greatest thing that DuFFS prides itself in, in a period when skateboarding has been infiltrated with an endless amount of skate-shoe companies, is its simplicity?a style the brand has consciously maintained since its beginning. DuFFS’ styles have consistently been clean and simple?a stark contrast to many of the super-tech athletic-style shoes in today’s market.

Haley explains that with Genfoot as a parent company, one of the greatest benefits is DuFFS’ access to materials: “Genfoot has over 100 years of experience in making shoes, and thus an enormous amount of resources and knowledge of materials. We tell them what we want, and they suggest ways that we can make the best shoe for the least amount of money. We want to keep all our wholesale prices between 28 and 40 dollars.”

Haley’s only been at the helm at DuFFS for a few months, but he’s drawing from his experience with apparel brands?including time at Merge, Inc.?to devise a forward-looking strategy for DuFFS. “We’re not in today’s skate industry. We’re in tomorrow’s skate industry,” he says. “Wherever we go, we’re going to take skate heritage with us. Authenticity is what gives your product credibility in the marketplace. Right now we’re experimenting and testing with different materials. And one of our biggest achievements over the past year is getting our styles down?condensed from having so many, down to about six. We’re just trying to focus and make them better, and push them more.”

As team manager at DuFFS, Bess initially found it a challenging task to create a team that best defined the company. “I was pretty set with the team that DuFFS had,” he says. “But since then, we’ve had some changes, and I had to look for new riders. It hasn’t been that hard, especially with how the product and ads are looking. Riders are seeing that things are happening here. I’m trying to build a team where the riders complement each other. Not just all one type of skater, but all different. And that’s the challenge.”

Bess explains that teamriders, both pro and am, are encouraged to be as involved with the company as they want to be. “The shoe testing is where they really come into play,” he says. “They give us tons of input, and we want it. They’re the ones who are out there skating in them every day, and we want to hear what they have to say, as we want to make our shoes better. Some even draw shoe designs they want to see, and we work with them to make them. I really like working with the riders. It’s one of the reasons I came here.”

Haley explains he came in at a key point in the developments at DuFFS: “I think when I came in they had gotten down to the real critical components, the real strength and core fibers of the company, and who is capable of taking the company forward. I was just there to add a spark to the fuel that’s already here, by establishing a new direction for the brand and then looking for more opportunities. Looking for a more creative way to use the economy to scale?the incredible resources we have available to us that could set us apart from the rest of the industry. It’s outstanding. We just have to come up with creative ways to use it, and to leverage off of their experiences in the footwear business. They don’t know skate shoes, but they know footwear. We have to use their resources for the growth of the brand.”

With his eyes on the company’s future, Haley sees DuFFS growing beyond skateboarding once it’s reestablished itself. To that end, the company’s been developing other markets like BMX. “When there’s weakness in one market it affects the bottom line,” he says. “I’m curious to know how many shoe businesses aren’t as profitable as they thought they were. As the marketplace gets more competitive and expands, and when price becomes important how do you make money without giving the product away? I have to plan for that tomorrow. Right now the marketplace is fine?you don’t see acquisitions or mergers, and you don’t see companies going out of business every single day. But the signs are out there. We’re in a good position, as we can look at it analytically and look at our resources to start planning for tomorrow. I think that’s a really important focus.”

Pausing, Haley explains, “To take skateboarding with you, you have to understand the lifestyle. There are so many guys out there trying to figure out how to make their stuff look ?skate’ who don’t realize that skate comes from within, and now the industry is looking how to retake skate beyond skateboarding, and it’s working.”

Andrecht agrees: “I think the thing DuFFS has, and what will be part of its history, is that we were one of the first. Before Vans and Airwalks there really wasn’t an industry. They opened a door, and we came in as part of the new generation. Authenticity is what gives your product integrity in the marketplace. You have a name that can be applied to any product and brings an image for customer satisfaction. It’s something that any brand needs to develop. Maybe down the road we’ll be selling umbrellas, but not likely.”

Andrecht doesn’t think the broadening of DuFFS distribution is really the issue. “I think it’s saturation of the ‘core business,” he says. “I like to use the analogy that you can’t build a house without a foundation, and if we go and situate our brand in the important stores, our image, customer loyalty, satisfaction, and information is translated to the consumer. This gives us a basis from which to grow. We can make steps beyond that and still not compromise or lose our image. I think as a company we need to innovate and differentiate ourselves from the rest of the market. Too many shoes look the same now. Marketing is the only separation. We’ve got to find a way to make our marketing different. Our prices have to be different. Out materials have to be different. We have to differentiate or die. That’s one of our keys to the future.

“A lot of things impact kids now?the media, Internet, television, music?instead of a shoe coming out and lase encouraged to be as involved with the company as they want to be. “The shoe testing is where they really come into play,” he says. “They give us tons of input, and we want it. They’re the ones who are out there skating in them every day, and we want to hear what they have to say, as we want to make our shoes better. Some even draw shoe designs they want to see, and we work with them to make them. I really like working with the riders. It’s one of the reasons I came here.”

Haley explains he came in at a key point in the developments at DuFFS: “I think when I came in they had gotten down to the real critical components, the real strength and core fibers of the company, and who is capable of taking the company forward. I was just there to add a spark to the fuel that’s already here, by establishing a new direction for the brand and then looking for more opportunities. Looking for a more creative way to use the economy to scale?the incredible resources we have available to us that could set us apart from the rest of the industry. It’s outstanding. We just have to come up with creative ways to use it, and to leverage off of their experiences in the footwear business. They don’t know skate shoes, but they know footwear. We have to use their resources for the growth of the brand.”

With his eyes on the company’s future, Haley sees DuFFS growing beyond skateboarding once it’s reestablished itself. To that end, the company’s been developing other markets like BMX. “When there’s weakness in one market it affects the bottom line,” he says. “I’m curious to know how many shoe businesses aren’t as profitable as they thought they were. As the marketplace gets more competitive and expands, and when price becomes important how do you make money without giving the product away? I have to plan for that tomorrow. Right now the marketplace is fine?you don’t see acquisitions or mergers, and you don’t see companies going out of business every single day. But the signs are out there. We’re in a good position, as we can look at it analytically and look at our resources to start planning for tomorrow. I think that’s a really important focus.”

Pausing, Haley explains, “To take skateboarding with you, you have to understand the lifestyle. There are so many guys out there trying to figure out how to make their stuff look ?skate’ who don’t realize that skate comes from within, and now the industry is looking how to retake skate beyond skateboarding, and it’s working.”

Andrecht agrees: “I think the thing DuFFS has, and what will be part of its history, is that we were one of the first. Before Vans and Airwalks there really wasn’t an industry. They opened a door, and we came in as part of the new generation. Authenticity is what gives your product integrity in the marketplace. You have a name that can be applied to any product and brings an image for customer satisfaction. It’s something that any brand needs to develop. Maybe down the road we’ll be selling umbrellas, but not likely.”

Andrecht doesn’t think the broadening of DuFFS distribution is really the issue. “I think it’s saturation of the ‘core business,” he says. “I like to use the analogy that you can’t build a house without a foundation, and if we go and situate our brand in the important stores, our image, customer loyalty, satisfaction, and information is translated to the consumer. This gives us a basis from which to grow. We can make steps beyond that and still not compromise or lose our image. I think as a company we need to innovate and differentiate ourselves from the rest of the market. Too many shoes look the same now. Marketing is the only separation. We’ve got to find a way to make our marketing different. Our prices have to be different. Out materials have to be different. We have to differentiate or die. That’s one of our keys to the future.

“A lot of things impact kids now?the media, Internet, television, music?instead of a shoe coming out and lasting for six months to a year,” says Haley. “Even if it’s the hot shoe for the season, the kids’ demand for an innovative new product just gets faster and faster.”

The Internet and direct mailings have put up-to-the-minute information in the hands of consumers and given them several ways to purchase new products. But Haley believes the skate shop will remain the most important sales and marketing device for skate brands like DuFFS. “I think we’ve seen e-commerce become really interesting and exciting. Now it’s sort of settling back into a growth mode. We still have to learn a lot about how to get to a customer and become important to the customer, and I think we’re definitely going to become that. While e-commerce figures itself out, mail order has picked up. So there are great opportunities for anybody representing skate to take advantage of. The skate shop will always be a starting point for the trend and style to really make it. The mistakes we’ve made in the past have come from things that were not directly influenced by skateboarding. I’m a firm believer that form follows function. From my design background, that was the most important thing. That is our biggest focus now. The designs were developed by skateboarders. Our team members are a big influence on what it is that we’re trying to do and what it is they’d like to see. Colors that they would want to wear?stuff like that. Since these guys are the life-thread of shops, that’s where it needs to start. It can branch out from there.

“Skateboarding is so prolific now,” he adds. “It’s such a huge market force, and it has such a great potential in the broader world of apparel, accessories, and footwear, that those broader brands that we’ve known and esteemed, like a Nike, could benefit from having something that would cater to that ‘core skateboard customer. I think they the mainstream are going to borrow our style, and it’s just going to make brands actually in skateboarding that much more legitimate.

“I think what’s important is that wherever we go, we’re going to take skateboarding heritage with us?we have to, it’s who we are.”

lasting for six months to a year,” says Haley. “Even if it’s the hot shoe for the season, the kids’ demand for an innovative new product just gets faster and faster.”

The Internet and direct mailings have put up-to-the-minute information in the hands of consumers and given them several ways to purchase new products. But Haley believes the skate shop will remain the most important sales and marketing device for skate brands like DuFFS. “I think we’ve seen e-commerce become really interesting and exciting. Now it’s sort of settling back into a growth mode. We still have to learn a lot about how to get to a customer and become important to the customer, and I think we’re definitely going to become that. While e-commerce figures itself out, mail order has picked up. So there are great opportunities for anybody representing skate to take advantage of. The skate shop will always be a starting point for the trend and style to really make it. The mistakes we’ve made in the past have come from things that were not directly influenced by skateboarding. I’m a firm believer that form follows function. From my design background, that was the most important thing. That is our biggest focus now. The designs were developed by skateboarders. Our team members are a big influence on what it is that we’re trying to do and what it is they’d like to see. Colors that they would want to wear?stuff like that. Since these guys are the life-thread of shops, that’s where it needs to start. It can branch out from there.

“Skateboarding is so prolific now,” he adds. “It’s such a huge market force, and it has such a great potential in the broader world of apparel, accessories, and footwear, that those broader brands that we’ve known and esteemed, like a Nike, could benefit from having something that would cater to that ‘core skatebboard customer. I think they the mainstream are going to borrow our style, and it’s just going to make brands actually in skateboarding that much more legitimate.

“I think what’s important is that wherever we go, we’re going to take skateboarding heritage with us?we have to, it’s who we are.”

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