Kraetsch is CEO of Kennesaw-based Flip Flop Shops, a national retailer of high-end flip flop brands that has capitalized on the popularity of the footwear, which has defined the attire of a generation.
Growing up as a surfer in his hometown of Ventura, California, Kraetsch was pushed out of the nest and lifestyle by his parents at the age of 18.
“I came home from surfing to find all of my worldly belongings on the driveway,” he said. “I packed my yellow VW station wagon and moved to Tempe, Ariz.”
Realizing most of his new friends were in college; Kraetsch enrolled at Arizona State University and while working 40 hours a week, became the first person on either side of his family to graduate from college.
While there, Kraetsch met the owner of the original Cold Stone Creamery premium ice cream shop. He obtained the rights to open a second location in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and then held several management positions in the start-up of Cold Stone Creamery Franchise Company. A few years later, as vice president and principal for the Southeast, he moved his office and family to Kennesaw and introduced Cold Stone in Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
Next, Kraetsch teamed with Martin Sprock to found Atlanta-based Raving Brands, a company that started Moe’s Southwest Grill; and today owns The Flying Biscuit Café, Cowlicks Yogurt and Floats and Monkey Joe’s Parties and Play.
A small chain of flip flop shops headquartered in Boston caught the attention of Kraetsch and two other Cold Stone Creamery alumni, and the next chapter was born.
With partners Brian Curin and Alan Woods, Kraetsch founded FFS Holdings in 2008 to franchise the retail store in North America.
Kraetsch recalls, “Quite a few people laughed at it … they thought it was a cute idea but didn’t have any legs.”
A team of local architects designed 500- to 900-square-foot stores that sell the experience of “freeing your toes” with coconut suntan oil scents and active lifestyle-inspired music in the air.
“We had grown up in flip flops … we had a passion for the concept.”
Kraetsch says due to the economic meltdown in 2008, the timing was difficult at best.
“As an entrepreneur, you have to take a long hard look at what your dreams are and if you have the fortitude to do it,” he said. “We went for months without selling a franchise.”
The company finally took off and has generated $4 million in franchise fees and more than $16 million in system-wide sales in its 80-plus shops. In 2011, the company won the International Council of Shopping Centers’ “Hot Retailer Award,” and in 2012, ranked 170 in Inc. magazine’s annual 500/5000 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.
“Truly, one of the greatest accomplishments that I am so proud of is the team that stuck around to make it happen,” he said.
Kraetsch says another 100 stores have sold and are in the process of opening — two will be in Georgia.
Sue Bunda, a former CNN executive who has served as an advisory board member for Flip Flop Shops for five years, describes Kraetsch as the truest sense of an entrepreneur.
“Darin’s marketing background keeps him laser focused on achieving the top level of customer service and satisfaction, which has proven to be key to his successes,” Bunda said.
Kraetsch said, “We found we were right … there were a lot of people that were passionate about flip flops and the flip flop lifestyle.”