He had learned how to make sneakers in a factory on the East Coast and had seen all the shoes he was making being sold to retail stores which then resold them to the public. His dream seemed fairly simple -- to manufacture shoes and sell them directly to the public rather than going through a middleman retailer.
Paul decided to move west to Southern California along with his partners, Jim Van Doren, Gordy Lee and Serge D'Elia, and began making his dream come true. All of them had experience in the shoe manufacturing business although none of them knew anything about retailing.
After a full year of building the Vans factory, the first official day of business was March 15, 1966, when the first Vans shoe store opened at 704 East Broadway in Anaheim, California. They offered three styles on that first day, priced $2.49, $4.49, and $4.99 but had only made display shoes. The racks on the wall were stacked with empty boxes to help make it look like a shoe store, but they hadn't been able to make any stock to fill 400-square-
Twelve customers came into the Vans store that morning and picked out the style and color of shoes they wanted. However, since they didn't have any shoes in stock, Paul and Gordy asked the customers to come back in the afternoon to pick up their shoes. They then rushed back into the factory and made up the selected shoes.
When the customers returned in the afternoon to pick up their shoes, they needed change for their purchases. Paul and Gordy hadn't thought of this (remember, they didn't have any retail experience) and didn't have any change available. So, they just gave them the shoes and asked them to come back the next day to pay for them. All 12 customers showed up the following day to pay for their shoes.
Unfortunately, not everyone is as honest as those first 12 customers. One day in the first few years of the company, an office manager was taking the week's receipts to the bank and was held up at gunpoint, losing $16,000. The early years included many struggles with everyone working seven days each week making shoes and selling them through the stores and at swap meets.
Paul would open a new store almost every week during the first year. He would search for a new store location on Monday, sign the lease on Tuesday, paint and remodel on Wednesday and put shoe racks in on Thursday. He would then put shoes and displays in on Friday, hire a store manager on Saturday, train on Sunday and start the process all over again on Monday. Although Vans shoes are now sold through national and international retailers, the 105 company-owned Vans stores sell more Vans shoes than any other retailer. They also serve as a testing market for new Vans products and enable the company to get very close to the customer.
Naturally, Vans has found that not every style or design is successful. The first Vans shoes had a diamond pattern in the sole across the entire bottom of the shoe, but they soon discovered that it would crack along the ball of the outsole. Vertical lines were then added to the ball area to make it stronger, a design which is now our patented waffle sole. This change occured because customers came into the stores, reported the problem and Vans reacted immediately.
In 1976, skateboarders began wearing Vans shoes and asked to have different colors combined on them. Again, Vans reacted to their customers' wants and on March 19, 1976, came out with the first Era--in red and blue. This shoe was designed by two professional skaters, Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta. Over the next few years, many different color combinations were introduced into the Vans line. The Slip On was added in 1979 in a multitude of color combinations and quickly became the craze of Southern California.
That craze spread across the nation when Jeff Spicoli, a California surfer dude in the hit movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", wore a pair of Vans checkerboard slip ons. Actually, he not only wore them, he also carried them into class and even hit his head with them while talking to a friend on the telephone.
Vans had become a successful and profitable company by the early 1980s and Paul Van Doren decided to step back and take a lighter role. The administration that then took over started increasing the Vans line into new territory, making shoes for baseball, football, umpiring, soccer, basketball, wrestling, boxing and even skydiving. All of these new designs required a different type of manufacturing process that the other shoe companies were using in Asia. But Vans tried to do it in the United States where labor was much more expensive. They offered each style in 12 widths from EEEEE to AAAAA, costing a fortune to make. The standard Vans line was selling great, but all profits were being spent on this new athletic line. In order to compete with other shoe companies, Vans had to sell the new styles for less than what it cost to make them. Naturally, this had an unfortunate effect on the company.
The bank that was financing Vans called its note, but they did not have the money to pay. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, asking for some time to reorganize the company and to develop a plan that would lead Vans back into profitibality. The bank approved the plan and required Paul to come back as the chief administrator.
The plan required three years to implement and promised to pay all the creditors the full amount owed--a $12 million debt. Paul told the employees that he couldn't promise raises for the next three years. They all pitched in and cut back on everything except quality of materials for the product. In December of 1986, Vans came out of Chapter 11 and once again became a stable and profitable company.
On February 16, 1988, the original owners sold Vans to McCown DeLeeuw Co., an investment banking firm. With the new owner's financial backing, Vans expanded and gained recognition across the nation and around the world. They later made initial public offering of Vans stock, and the stock is now trading on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Changes continue to take place at Vans as it adapts to the demands of the market. Although Vans traditionally has manufactured shoes in California, it expanded manufacturing overseas in 1994 in order to produce specialized footwear incapable of being made in the United States. The Vans footwear collection now features over 60 styles ranging from classic deck shoes and slip-ons to high performance skateboard shoes, snowboard boots and sandals.
They are distributed through over 126 company-owned retail stores and outlets as well as through a nationwide network of independent shoe, sporting goods and apparel stores.