The CHICO FEET Story (Change the Conversation)

Here’s a quick story of how you can change the conversation to “get noticed” and a few actionable steps to get started.

I’ll start with the back story, but the point remains…

The CHICO FEET business concept is more compelling than Sam Kabert selling office supplies/promotional products from Value Business Products.

Not just a Sandal Company:  When a common expression, a tangible product and some clever marketing collide.

College

I remember it like it was yesterday.  In the Fall of 2010, I accepted an internship that would involve me moving from Chico down to San Diego.  I could not have been more excited!  All I knew at the time was that I wanted to do my college internship in either Hawaii, Texas, or San Diego.  I didn’t have a strong preference to any of the locations as I could make a case for each of the three and it being a very different reason for each.

Impressionable Sandals + The “Chico Feet” Expression

After I talked with my Mom about the move, she thought it would be a great opportunity for me to test out my side hustle skills. In addition it would be a good opportunity to introduce brandable sandals to hotels and other local business near the beaches.  These sandals aren’t just any sandals tho… these are what I call “Impressionable Sandals”… why you ask?

Well, they literally leave an impression in the sand of your company logo or whatever artwork one would want to use.  That’s a good enough reason to call them Impressionable Sandals. Even more think about the impression it leaves the recipient with your brand?!

This excited me.  During the conversation, I had two words come to mind “Chico Feet”.  I’ll explain…

In the town of Chico, CA the phrase “Chico Feet” is known by all – whether it’s a Chico local or a college student… everyone knows about Chico Feet.  Chico Feet essentially means the bottom of your foot is dirty from walking around barefoot.  Chico is very much a party school and a college town but the term doesn’t just reference drunk college kids playing around on a slip and slide while day drinking.  It extends so much further than that.  There are so many great outdoor adventures in and around Chico including floating on the river, exploring various water holes, the rope swing and so much more.  You can totally get Chico Feet without drinking at all.  So, it extends to the whole town of 80,000 + people.

A Business is Born (CHICO FEET)

The concept was pretty simple:  sell sandals to build brand awareness while selling promotional products to businesses is the main focus.  Let’s break it down…

    • Positioning:  Take a commonly used phrase and attach it to a tangible item (Chico Feet expression becoming CHICO FEET sandals)
    • Buzz:  Chico is one of those places that is just magical and the people that have ties to the town fall in love with anything promoting it’s greatness.  I’m serious – I’m a huge Chico, CA lover.  I’ve been going to Chico since I was a young kid with my family.  My Dad went to Chico State and for most summers of my life we would visit Chico as a family and go boating at the nearby lakes, followed by dinner at Sierra Nevada and a movie at Tinseltown… sometimes ice cream from the local spot “Shubert’s”. This love I have for Chico is not unique.  “Chico Magic” is another commonly known Chico expression around town… anyone that has ties to Chico will agree.
    • The Sandals:  I bought 100 mens and 100 ladies sandals.  We sold these in popular local stores like Trucker, in addition I sold them online and at farmer’s markets.  The plan was never to focus on CHICO FEET sandals sales… No, the plan was to build the brand through the CHICO FEET sandals.
    • News:  Within just a few months the local paper and the Chico State newspaper both did a story on myself/CHICO FEET.  Hours after I walked the stage to graduate, I was being filmed/interviewed on the local CBS station in Downtown Chico to do a live story about the business.  
    • Sales Plan:  Now that word was spreading around town about the CHICO FEET sandals I started making my cold calls.  It was so great to call and say “Hi, this is Sam with CHICO FEET” vs. saying “Hi, this is Sam with ABC Company”.  In sales they say you need to reach your potential buyer(s) at the emotional level of the child.  It helps with opening doors by connecting with people on a real and genuine level.  The idea was in a nutshell to create the brand through the sandals but in reality what I was selling was Promotional Products to businesses. Taking this even a step further I was literally demonstrating the value and ROI of promotional products through the sandals as a case study. No one in town would know I was selling SWAG to businesses had it not been for the branded CHICO FEET sandals.

What I Learned

My biggest takeaway from CHICO FEET is that you cannot be everything to everyone.  Now, I’m going to repeat that … you cannot be EVERYTHING to EVERYONE.  Both times I wrote that I put a strong emphasis on the “everything” and “everyone” and here’s why…

Offering too many services does not make you a jack of all trades; rather it shows you are not an expert in any one given field.  CHICO FEET was offering Fundraising to Greeks etc. through selling sandals, offering street teams of campus reps for events, promotional products and I even had another offering of giving free pint glasses to bars and offsetting the cost by selling ad spots.  

I put so much time in offering services where I felt I could provide value.  At the time I had just been promoted from being a Campus Rep for a startup anti-hangover company to being the Campus Rep Manager.  The promotion meant I was working with the CEO directly and recruiting, training and managing campus reps.  I also rep’d Monster Energy Drinks, Neuro Drinks and SWAT Spring Break trips in college so I really feel that I could bring that background to CHICO FEET…. Wrong.  Bad idea.  

Now, this next part takes me to “Everyone”.

Everyone:  If everyone is your demographic then you do not have a demographic nor do you have a niche either for that matter.  I literally was targeting any business in the town of Chico that would talk with me.  This was such a bad approach and in hindsight I should have known better.  Sure, I spoke and did business with a variety of industries but I had no focus and no vision.  It wasn’t until I moved from CHICO FEET that I discovered my greatest lesson of this business was that you “Cannot be everything to everyone”.  

JUST DO IT.

I hope that this quick story inspires you to bring your next idea to action.  As my favorite book teaches “Begin at Once”.  I highly recommend the “Think and Grow Rich” book and my greatest takeaway from the book is to put your idea into action immediately while staying determined through your definitive purpose and mindset.  

Drop me a line and let’s chat about your next big idea!

 

As promised…

Here are 3 actionable tips  you can apply to your personal brand regardless of where you might live and where you are in your career:

  1. Passions:  What are you passionate about?  I didn’t talk about it too much in this specific post, but it’s obvious to those around you what you are passionate about.  For me at an office supply convention my peers could tell I didn’t have passion for office supplies, but they saw the passion I have for “SWAG” thus nick-naming me “SwagSam”.
  2. Expertise:  What do you know?  Who do others perceive you as?  What knowledge can you share with the world?  Ask yourself these questions and your friends for that matter and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised with the answers.
  3. Your Secret Sauce:  If you know what you are passionate about and you identify what areas you have expertise in you are bound to find your secret sauce.  There’s a middle ground where your passions meet your expertise… that is your secret sauce.

Now, “Begin at Once”…

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About the author, SwagSam

Sam Kabert is the Creative Director of ValueBP Marketing Group and the Creator and Co-Host of the podcast “WhatUp Silicon Valley!” A risk taker who embraces permanent beta, Sam is leading the transformation of his family-run office supplies business into a promotional products’ powerhouse.

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