Spira, the El Paso running shoe company with the unique WaveSpring technology, has run its last race. After struggling for 14 years to make it in a field of giants, founder and CEO Andy Krafsur told El Paso Inc. that he’s calling it quits.
“We have had to close the business,” Krafsur said in an emotional interview last week. “We’re in the process of looking for a buyer. I will not have a role in management.
“It was a great product, and I have to tell you that seeing it go is very difficult.”
Without offering specifics, he said everything the company has will be sold in bulk to a California company.
“My hope is there’s going to be a new version of Spira that springs from this,” he said. “I also hope they’ll continue the website and the distribution as best they can.”
Spira shoes are still for sale from $60 to $170 on Amazon. They’re half off at the Helen of Troy store in Northwest El Paso. “That will end shortly,” Krafsur said of the Helen of Troy sales.
Helen of Troy is one of four El Paso-based, publicly traded companies and the model Krafsur had hoped Spira would follow.
“We wanted to do for El Paso what Helen of Troy did for El Paso,” he said.
The problems that finally killed the company were related to production in Asia and distribution in the U.S.
“I would say the challenges in Asia were about the biggest we faced – getting timely samples, quality production and timely product,” he said. “It’s just very difficult for a small company to navigate in Asia. Dealing with China was very difficult.”
Krafsur said he looked for affordable production opportunities in Mexico and the U.S. but found none.
“As a small company, those resources just aren’t available to you,” he said. “Even for bigger companies, production has gone to the Far East.”
Krafsur said he and the company’s investors looked for a buyer or partner that would continue, improve and expand the lines of running and walking shoes, as well as casual, leather footwear.
“I did everything I could think of to find a partner,” he said.
The problem with that was the big companies – Nike, Adidas, Reebok and the like – are invested in their own patented cushioning technologies.
But there was a long moment in 2014 when things looked promising.
The company had 300 investors, many of them friends going back to Krafsur’s law school days at Wake Forest, according to a school publication, and Spira had found an unlikely partner in the A&E TV network.
That resulted in an even less likely partnership with the “Duck Dynasty” family and the Spira Duck Dynasty line of camouflage shoes for those long walks to the hunting blind or short ones to the neighborhood Starbucks.
“At the start of the New Year, pre-orders for the shoes, part of the crowd-funding project, totaled about $500,000, accompanied by thousands of tweets and Facebook likes,” Wake Forest’s online “Connections” publication reported two years ago.
“This has put us on the map,” Krafsur said at the time.
Banned in Boston
Runners in Spira shoes won some 200 marathons. When the Boston Marathon banned Spira, Krafsur’s marketers came up with a “Banned in Boston” promotion.
It offered $50,000 to the runner who won the Boston Marathon and was disqualified for wearing Spiras.
While Krafsur saw the end coming, he didn’t believe it would actually happen.
“I always thought it was going to take off – to the very end,” he said. “I never thought it wasn’t going to make it. We just ran out of money and runway.”
Big dreams die hard and Krafsur, who sounded tired, is clearly taking it that way.
“When you pursue a dream, you give it everything you have,” he said. “I can say without question that we gave it everything we had.”
Part of the cost was the relationship with his younger brother, David, a co-founder of Spira whom he had to fight for control of the company.
Ousted from the company in 2006, Andy Krafsur came back in the following year to win control of Spira.
“I am very fortunate,” he said, “When you go through something personally devastating, it’s wonderful to have your friends around and a community that’s been supportive.”
What’s next for Krafsur? He says he’ll be returning to law with an existing firm he wasn’t ready to name. Years ago, he gave up a thriving law practice – Krafsur, Gordon and Mott, specializing in bankruptcy – to run Spira Footwear.
It will mean renewing his law license and a lot of brushing up after years away from law books and the courtroom. “I have to start from scratch,” he said.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.