The C-Spot | Chris McCullough, VP of Marketing at Croakies

Interview with Chris McCullough of Croakies

In the mid-70s a Jackson Hole ski patroller prone to losing his shades took a sharp pair of scissors and an old neoprene wetsuit and created the very first Croakies. Soon, all his ski patrol buddies were asking for them and the company was born. This year marks Croakies’ 40th anniversary, and Chris McCullough, VP of Marketing, is pretty stoked about it. Between the new ownership (Hilco Vision), the company’s new commitment to recycled poly, and the infusion of resources that new ownership will bring to the brand, the future looks bright for Croakies. You know what that means: Grab your shades—and your Croakies.

Photo: Zach Doleac

SNEWS: Forty years…congrats! That’s a huge milestone for a little company that was founded around a singular product.
Chris McCullough: This brand has such heritage and longevity. We have major brand equity with our name (people refer to any eyewear retainers as Croakies) and this anniversary is an opportunity for us to re-engage with our retailers and customers. When the inventor, Robbie Fuller, made the first Croakie, he knew he was onto something. Soon thereafter, John Krisik acquired the patent. John and his partners owned the brand from the beginning; he’s now looking forward to a well-deserved retirement. Hilco coming in this year was just perfect timing.

SNEWS: How does the acquisition effect your dealers?
CM: We have a really supportive and engaged retail base from the little specialty shops to the big boxes which has been a critical piece to the brand’s success over the past 40 years). The acquisition will have a positive effect on all of them. With increased resources, we’ll be able to be even more responsive to our customers and service dealer needs in a bigger, better way. We’re equally as excited to expand our distribution opportunities under the new ownership. So, whether strengthening existing relationships or building new ones, alongside our dealers, we’re positioned well to make this the biggest year yet for Croakies.

Almost 90 percent of Croakies products are made in its Bozeman, Montana, factory. // Photo: Courtesy

SNEWS: Will Croakies still be based in Jackson Hole?
CM: I don’t know the answer to that, but Hilco is committed to hitting the ground running and giving us its full support in driving ahead with our planned 2017 initiatives. In the 80s, our company elected to open a large manufacturing/distribution/customer service facility in Bozeman, Montana. Everything we make is designed and assembled in Bozeman, and today, 87 percent of our products are manufactured in the USA (including about 90 percent of our neoprene Croakies).

SNEWS: What’s keeping you from making 100 percent of your products there?
CM: We have to source certain pieces, like some belt buckles, two popular colors of neoprene (Pink and Bonnie Blue), and our new line of recycled polyester belt webbing overseas. We simply haven’t been able to find those items here in the states. We remain committed to US manufacturing and will continue to explore those options as they come up. We currently employ 49 full-time people at Croakies, and that number blows up with temporary jobs during peak production seasons.

SNEWS: What’s the scoop with the new recycled polyester webbing program?
CM: We’re excited that this year we are moving all our webbing products—belts, guitar straps, dog collars and leashes—to a recycled product. The goal is that by the end of 2017 we will hopefully have upcycled over 200,000 water bottles with this program. It’s really hard to source recycled webbing that you can sublimate graphics on, so we’re excited to be able to offer that now.

For its popular tie-dye products, Croakies taps Jammin' On, the same group that made T-shirts for The Grateful Dead. // Photo: Rick Moore Photo
For its popular tie-dye products, Croakies taps Jammin’ On, the same group that made T-shirts for The Grateful Dead. // Photo: Rick Moore Photo

SNEWS: We noticed some cool tie-dye designs in your booth at OR. Are you seeing that as a big design trend?
CM: Yes, tie-dye is on trend right now; we’re seeing it more frequently on fashion runways and throughout mainstream apparel lines. We’ve had a license with the Jammin’ On tie-dye artists out of San Francisco for some time. They used to make tie-dyes for the Grateful Dead, so they’re the best at what they do. Jammin’ On creates all of our tie-dye art—retainers, belts, leashes, collars, and guitar straps.

SNEWS: When did Croakies get into the guitar strap biz?
CM: We launched guitar straps about a year ago as a really fun product extension. It’s complimentary to everything else we do: It’s a retention product and we can share R&D with webbing from belts. Plus, we’ve had a lot of success selling eyewear retainers to music festival goers, so it was a natural extension. That said, we’re still most heavily focused on the eyewear retainer products.

SNEWS: How big is the custom printing/OEM business for Croakies?
CM: It’s definitely a solid part of the business and will continue to be. Because we do everything under one roof in Bozeman, it’s just a nice efficiency. The creative manager does the mockup, we run it through a screen printer, make a sample, and then produce them. It’s a fun part of the business because those branded pieces create that sense of story-telling for the customer. People might float a certain river and buy a branded Croakies product from the outfitter. They’ll use that souvenir for years and it will always bring them back to that trip.

Chris McCullough, Croakies VP of Marketing // Photo: Courtesy

SNEWS: Will Croakies still be attending Summer and Winter OR moving forward?
CM: Yes, we will. We are excited to once again participate in the Summer Market Open Air Demo Day in July. We do a really fun activation where we give retainers to all attendees at the demo and also offer a belt redemption code. So be sure to come by our booth this summer for a little swag!