Start-up Searches for Red Carpet Treatment
My brother-in-law is a not-yet-famous actor but makes a decent living and is very well connected among the Hollywood set.
This often turns out to be a perk for his extended family, including myself. He goes to many glamorous parties where he leaves with many fabulous stories and gift bags loaded with designer swag that he often passes on to us.
He called me the day after the Oscars to tell me what he'd been up to. Here's a small highlight of our conversation: "The Elton John after-party was a blast. Elton is so nice and just like a regular guy, and dancing with Sharon Stone and Ellen DeGeneres was so fun! They look amazing! I just got signed up to do voice overs with David Duchovny. What's going on with you?"
Little did I know that our conversation would lead to the story of how one small business is banking its marketing strategy on getting celebrities to wear its gear.
One of the goodies in the 1,500 highly-coveted glittery doggy-bags at the Screen Actors Guild Awards that my brother-in-law received was a certificate from a start-up that said it sold fashionable and comfortable men's shoes.
If the Shoe Hurts, Ditch It
Auri Footwear is a story of a serial entrepreneur who loves cars, but his feet hurt after pressing the gas pedal a few too many times.
Ori Rosenbaum, 44, launched Auri, which he calls "the anime version" of his name, this year after a string of successful startups beginning at age 19.
He said his success in companies focused on car audio systems and technology consulting, to name a few, led him to develop a taste for high fashion and fast cars. After he raced his high-performance Dodge Viper at a private function, he realized that his shoes were not made for walking, so he decided to start a shoe company. Rosenbaum was wearing expensive driving shoes but "I couldn't even walk a couple of blocks" in them, he said.
If the Shoe Fits, Pitch It
Auri Footwear hired a public relations firm, which tipped off Rosenbaum that there was an opportunity to include his product in the much-publicized gift bags doled out to the Hollywood in-crowd at events like the Screen Actors Guild awards.
"I'm a start-up," said Rosenbaum, who was born in Israel but grew up in California's Bay area, "but I thought we could give it a try."
The Laguna Beach, Calif., company initially pitched the Golden Globe awards by sending bag sponsor In Style magazine a "box of cool shoes," said Rosenbaum. Auri Footwear was selected but lost an opportunity to showcase its wares when the Golden Globes event was cancelled due to a writers' strike.
Disappointed but undeterred, the firm eventually was chosen to contribute to the 1,500 SAG bags and in the 400 Hollywood Daily gift bags for the Grammys.
In each bag was an Auri Footwear brochure inviting the recipient to call the company to receive a pair of shoes of his choice and size.
"Advertising costs money," said Rosenbaum, "so we're trying to push our products through public relations, and we launched through Hollywood. Movie stars cross a lot of segments." However, he acknowledged that although many brands launch out of Hollywood, few celebrities get pictures taken and publicized of their feet.
Rosenbaum said the gift bags have generated many orders and he felt "giddy" when certain celebrities have phoned to place an order. Although he was reluctant to discuss specific names at the behest of his public relations firm, one superstar who graces magazine covers regularly has expressed interest. Rosenbaum identified the celebrity as appearing in the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou."
Toeing the Line
The company bills itself as targeting 25- to 45-year-old men, but Rosenbaum explains it by using a car analogy, something he likes to do often:
"Back in the day, my dad had a big old Cadillac. It was a huge comfort mobile and then there were little race cars that had what was called performance. Shoes have stayed that way. Today, if you have a Bentley GT, you can't argue that it's not a comfortable car, yet it's got an amazing engine. There's not a 20-year-old kid on Earth and not a 65 year old who wouldn't want to have one. My shoes have got to be stylish and have got to have real performance."
Rosenbaum's firm licensed Outlast, a patented material for regulating temperature that originally had been developed for a NASA spacesuit, and Dri-Lex, which is designed to wick moisture. The materials have been used in gear for snowboarding and hiking. "For example, [Outlast] would help when you normally would go up a ski chair lift freezing and then ski down the mountain sweating," he explained.
Although the spacesuit material was very expensive, Rosenbaum determined that because a shoe would only need a very small amount of it, the final product could be sold within a sellable price-point. In Auri's case, that's up to $230 for a pair of shoes.
The shoes are designed in Laguna Beach. The leather is Italian and South American, and they are assembled in China.
Auri Footwear has five employees and Rosenbaum is not taking a salary. "We're self-funded and it hurts really really bad," he said.
He sold his Dodge Viper (a car that retails at about $90,000 for the base model) to start the firm. But where it really eats at him, Rosenbaum says, is that he had to give up racing when he also sold his track-only Radical SR3.
Although he declined to say how much of his money he's put into Auri Footwear, Rosenbaum said a typical start up in his line of work would need an infusion of about $2.5 million before becoming profitable. He expects to take his victory lap next year.
While his taste for fast cars and fancy clothes continues, he admits that every startup is a challenge. "I love start ups, but things are different. We had an event at our offices recently and I literally was mopping the floors" before guests came, said Rosenbaum, who didn't attend college but says he went straight to the "University of Hard Knocks" that started when he began tinkering around with cars at 16.
The company's line of shoes is launching in June, and it's in talks with major retailers for distribution.
By Sharon McLoone |
March 19, 2008; 12:40 PM ET
Profiles in Entrepreneurship
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