Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Kids hope Crocs add-ons add up

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Budding entrepreneurs Nick Rolle, 12, Jack Rolle, 9, Eric Tan, 12, and Caroline Tan, 11, started their own business in June that sells special ribbons called Cribbinz that are meant to add some pizzazz to Croc shoes. Partner Chris Rolle, 14, is not pictured.
Take five young Potomac entrepreneurs, a pair of plastic clogs and ribbons left over from a craft project, and what you have is a new start-up company determined to put the pretty back into plastic shoes.

‘‘Cribbinz,” a variety of pretty ribbons that can be wound through the holes of plastic shoes like Crocs, are the creation of Caroline Tan, 11.

She is marketing the new product with her brother Eric Tan, 12, and neighbors Jack Rolle, 9, Nick Rolle, 12, and Chris Rolle, 14.

It all began in late June when Tan thought her plastic Croc sandals could use a little jazzing up. So she wound some colorful ribbon through the holes in the plastic shoes and showed her creation to neighbor Nick Rolle.

Rolle figured other Croc lovers would pay money to pimp out their sandals, and enlisting the support of their siblings, the Cribbinz business was born.

‘‘[Caroline] came up with the ribbons and then I thought of making it a business and everybody joined and it just clicked,” Nick Rolle said.

Their inventory consists of 15 different colors of ribbon, ranging from Bermuda Pink to Nantucket Plaid to a Hello Kitty print. They customize the ribbon by measuring it to fit different shoe sizes and then seal off the end of the ribbon so it doesn’t fray.

‘‘Since there’s a lot of colors of Crocs, we picked out the colors that would go best with most of them,” Tan said.

To market the $2 item, they developed a Web site, business cards and fliers. Several hours each week, the hand out the fliers around their neighborhood off Piney Meetinghouse Road and respond to orders on www.freewebs.com⁄cribbinz.

With 15 sales on the books so far, the company is racking up just as much appreciation for their gung-ho spirit as for their product.

‘‘I think it’s a great idea. It just shows this entrepreneurial spirit in these kids,” said Michele Brashear, a friend of the Rolle family, who bought a pair of laces for her daughter. ‘‘I think so many of these kids are into Play Stations and Game Cubes and these kids are doing something different and using their time.”

And the product is proving to be a hit with young devotees of plastic shoes.

‘‘They’re very fun looking,” said satisfied customer Morgan Brashear, 10. ‘‘I put them on my Crocs and I haven’t taken them off yet. And I wear Crocs a lot because with the different colors of ribbon it matches a lot of my clothes.”

But the inventors feel that making money should mean more than lining their own wallets.

In fact, they are old hands at making business work for the needy. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they ran a lemonade stand that raised more than $250 for the survivors. That money was then matched by one of their father’s companies.

Under this new venture, a portion of the profits will go to the charity Nothing But Nets, a grassroots campaign that distributes mosquito nets to families in third world countries and raises awareness about malaria.

‘‘It kills about [1] million kids every year and we’d like to stop that from happening,” Caroline Tan said.

Looking to the future, they hope to expand their product line with more styles directed toward boys, like laces with the names of sports teams printed on them. They also hope to sell the product in gift shops.

As for their proud parents, they fully expect their children will succeed at whatever they aim to do.

‘‘I think it’s been a great opportunity for them to be creative and have an entrepreneurial experience behind them at this age,” Tracie Rolle said. ‘‘And the thought to give the proceeds to charity is real nice.”

more information

To purchase a pair of Cribbinz,visit the Web site at www.freewebs.com⁄cribbinz.