Eventful life for mother and daughter
Hard times inspire graduate’s enterprise
Sheri Schmelzer: Accidental Entrepreneur
by Scott on August 23, 2009
Some people look at a hole and see empty space. Others see opportunity. That’s what Sheri Schmelzer spotted a few years ago when everyone-including her three children-started wearing Crocs, the colorful resin clogs dotted with holes.
“My kids and I were clowning around, and my eldest daughter, Lexie, got the sewing kit out. I grabbed one of the Crocs, pulled some buttons, rhinestones, and fabric out of the kit, and stuck them in the holes. Lexie said, ‘Mom, I love that!’ ”
Sheri and Lexie, then seven, spent the rest of the day filling holes in the family’s 12 pairs of Crocs. Every look-alike shoe was suddenly unique.
When her husband, Rich, a seasoned entrepreneur with two technology start-ups under his belt, came home later that day, says Sheri, “I could see the lightbulb go on over his head.” Crocs had sold millions of pairs of shoes; the couple figured they could create a business simply by riding the wave. Rich refused to let a decorated Croc leave their Boulder, Colorado, house until he’d filed a patent.
But first they needed a name. “Rich and I had seen a movie where Meg Ryan says to Tom Hanks, ‘I’m such a flibbertigibbet!’ That became my nickname, so I called the business Jibbitz.” While Sheri designed, Rich strategized. They decided to sell the charms through a website, jibbitz.com.
Six months later, in February 2006, Sheri was doing so well that Rich left his business to work with her full-time. She was making hundreds of Jibbitz to order, by hand, by herself, in their basement. And filling those holes wasn’t as easy as it looked. The bigger the shoe, the bigger the holes; it took six prototypes before Sheri figured out how to make her charms one-size-fits-all.
Rich soon found a way to get plastic Jibbitz manufactured in China, but Sheri hated giving up control. Already she was spending much of her time sending out replacements or refunding money for broken Jibbitz.
Late one night, Rich found her crying. “Do you think Microsoft had the perfect version the first time around?” he said. He persuaded her to hire help and move the operation out of their home.
Someone at Crocs was bound to notice the charms-after all, the company was headquartered just ten miles down the road. Duke Hanson, one of Crocs’ founders, spotted Lexie and her Jibbitz at the local pool, handed her his business card, and said, “Have your mom call me.”
Sheri and Rich met with Crocs execs, but no one suggested buying the company. Sheri was actually relieved because she wanted to see if she, not Crocs, could make it big.
Biding her time allowed Sheri to develop over 300 designs and sign up 4,000 retail outlets. Having more products, more customers, and better distribution boosted the company’s value. In December 2006, Crocs bought Jibbitz for $20 million, with the Schmelzers staying on board.
As president, Rich has been able to strike licensing deals. Spider-Man and Bugs Bunny have joined the collection of more than 3,000 Jibbitz. And Sheri is branching out into messenger bags and cell phone cases. The diversification turned out to be a good thing when Crocs stock fell sharply earlier this year. As popular as the shoes are, it’s not yet clear if they’re a short-term fad or a long-term business.
Today Sheri sits in bright new digs, the chief design officer of a global business. Even she is amazed by how far you can go with one simple idea. “All I heard from family and friends was ‘Gee, there are holes right there! Why didn’t I think of that?’”
What did you learn while building the company?
Patience. As a mom and a wife, I wanted everything done my way. I was unwilling to let go of any part of it until it was perfect. So I’ve had to learn to slow down. After a few years, I finally get it: Nothing happens overnight.
Did you have a business plan?
No. Rich says a business plan takes so long to develop and is so tedious and not fun that if you spend all your energy on that, there’s nothing left. You’ve lost your creative drive.
Was it difficult having to hire people?
We have an amazing crew, but it was hard at first. I wanted to be around the corner listening to their calls to customers, making sure they were saying the right thing. But after doing that for about 48 hours, I had to let go.
Do you ever wish you’d had formal training in design?
There are times when I want to get on my laptop and see my idea right away. But I’ve got all these talented designers around me, so I’d rather focus my energy on coming up with the next cool thing.
What shoes are you wearing today?
They’re lace-up sandals by Crocs, but they don’t have holes in them! So I decided to express myself on my purse- I designed a leather tassel, braided with 12 grommets for Jibbitz.
Has money changed anything in your life?
Now I can relax about paying for the kids’ education. We didn’t go out and buy new cars or a new house. The money means security. And validation.
Is there anything you won’t turn into a Jibbit?
We laugh at some of the suggestions we get. We’ve been asked to design Jibbitz with body parts and guns. I won’t do that.
What do you hope your kids will take away from this experience?
That if there’s something they want to do, to get up and do it. And I want them to know that work is something to be passionate about.
How do you balance work with your family?
It’s about time management. Rich won’t let me bring my computer home.