Fluevog Marketing Director Bares Sole

In conversation with Stephen Bailey about the underpinnings of the brand's marketing.

In conversation with Stephen Bailey about the underpinnings of the brand’s marketing.

A few weeks ago I ran a Twitter poll (follow me at @BAdavid) and asked my followers what Vancouver-based brands were rocking it. John Fluevog Shoes was one of the top brands mentioned. With 10 stores across North America and sales of 75,000 pairs of footwear a year this is a brand with legions of fashion-forward followers, that seemingly rides the trend wave year after year without much turbulence. Stephen Bailey is the Marketing Communications Director at Fluevog, the crazy kooky shoe company based in Vancouver since 1970. Here’s my interview with him.

Q: Fluevog’s fan base is incredibly loyal – they are in love with your brand, which is an enviable position. How did you get there? What do you attribute this to?

A lot of people tell us it’s because we’ve never sold out – which I know means different things to different people- but we take it to mean the brand has stayed true and consistent to the vision it was founded on. The voice of John Fluevog himself has been the driving force behind that for 40 years now. People know what to expect. There’s a flag planted in the ground. It’s a blessing and a curse; the shoes all come from John’s brain; if people get it they love it. If they don’t, they don’t.

We are a family internally too, revolving around John Fluevog, and the theme of consistency is internal as well. We all want to do things right. There’s a human-ness to what we do and who we are and how we represent ourselves through our marketing – it’s a little sarcastic and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re not curing cancer here, but at the same time we are interested in being good: good people doing good things. 

Q: What are the core values of the brand, and how are they played out in the life of the company?

Quality, Comfort and Uniqueness are our written-down-on-paper core values. But the line I like better is “unique soles for unique souls.” We have this amazing variety of individualistic people coming through the door, and the product itself is very unique. I had an email from a teacher in Istanbul the other day. Another teacher saw her shoes and not only knew they were Fluevogs, but knew the name of the style. We think of Fluevog as more of a movement than a brand. I know everyone is saying this stuff these days, but we’ve been at it for 40 years. That’s a huge advantage. We stumbled on this early.

Q: What new branding and marketing tools and techniques are on your radar? Have you been using social media? Crowd-sourcing? Other stuff?

Again, we stumbled into things a bit ahead of the curve. We’ve been crowdsourcing shoe designs for more than 8 years and have had over 2000 submissions online from various people. For the first 32 years of our business, people were constantly giving John their “dream shoe” sketch on a scrap of paper when he was in the stores. So we decided to let them load their ideas up onto the website.  If we make your shoe we name it after you and you get a free pair. This was crowdsourcing long before there was a name for it.

And of course social media is an exciting thing for us, given our customer loyalty. We’re using Facebook and Twitter. I really don’t understand why any company wouldn’t be in this space. CBC news was interviewing us about how we use social media, and off-camera the reporter was telling me they were going to interview an office supply company that didn’t think social media was necessary. I was stunned. Why wouldn’t they use these tools? It makes no sense to ignore social media, regardless of what industry you are in. Why wouldn’t you want to talk with your customers?

Q: What’s the most successful marketing tactic you’ve ever used?

Without question it’s been the crowdsourcing of shoe designs on our website. It provides incredible consumer engagement. It’s a hugely active section of our site, and not just for those who are submitting designs. Everyone hangs out there. I guess it’s just human nature to want to see what others create.

I first met Stephen after a panel discussion I was part of in September. He was in the audience, and we were introduced by mutual friends. Soon after, our mutual friends sent this video to my inbox. It’s a great indication of the kind of free-spirited nuttiness that makes Fluevog such a well-loved brand. Can you imagine the Marketing Director of other international companies having this much fun?

Q: What tactic did you try and abandon because it didn’t work?

That’s a hard question. We’ve been lucky and cautious, so most things we’ve started have worked out. The ones that didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped might not have been given time – we could probably work on our patience. I think if you’re not ready to commit to something 100% you shouldn’t do it. We live by that rule. It helps us stay focused on doing things well.