Friday Sep 27, 2013 by Dennis Keohane - Staff Writer, VentureFizz
Category 5 Boat Shoes, founded by a crew of best friends with Boston roots and University of Miami ties, is trying to accomplish two pretty impressive feats.
First, they are building a shoe company in the what may be the shoe capital of the world, with New Balance, Saucony, Reebok, and Converse all based in the city. Second, they are expanding their focus, which started on college Greek life, to the far more 'grown up' country club and corporate worlds.
As Jason Shuman, Cat 5's CEO explained, "Finding the balance between the country clubs and the colleges is one of the hardest things to do."
The company, which has met its goal of achieving six-figure revenue in its first year as Shuman said, makes customizable boat shoes and other related products. Launched last August after spending about two years developing the product, Category 5 believed that creating a customized product geared for sororities and fraternities would be a great way to disrupt an industry that has been dominated by a couple brands for decades.
As Shuman said, "We asked, how can we break down the wall [of overcoming the Sperry/Sebago domination]? So we decided to focus on customization, comfort, and creating engagement with our customers."
After designing a more comfortable boat shoe that has more in common with running shoes than standard boats shoes, the company needed to differentiate its product and make the shoes more marketable for college-aged consumers. So, they connected with, as Shuman explained, "This old shoe guy who has been in the shoe industry for years, and we put our heads together to come up with this device to stamp shoes."
They immediately began to find their market by stamping Cat 5 shoes with the logos of popular national Greek organizations. "We started out with Greek because it was easiest to prove," Shuman said, "and now we are expanding to country clubs." The difficulty has been keeping their caché with the college folk while projecting respectability with the country club and corporate set.
Category 5 has started to see an influx of orders from the country clubs sector and is even seeing a greater number of orders from corporate clients. As Shuman said, "We have a venture out on the West Coast that is outfitting their entire company with our shoes."
The company has achieved much in its first year, and as it grows to cover more niche categories, has the chance to replicate the success of a company like Vineyard Vines.
Being in Boston, could eventually be the key to their success as Shuman said, "It's always a learning process, and being back in Boston, I am really able to fulfill the entrepreneurship thirst that I have."