But it wasn't until almost a decade later that Teva President Thatcher and his licensee, Deckers Outdoor Corp., realized that with the right marketing, what he calls an "amphibious utility sandal" could become essential to beach strollers and backyard barbecuers.
Teva, an ancient Hebrew term for nature, uses a patent design that includes a hiking boot-style sole atop a sturdy strapped sandal. A geophysicist by training, Mr. Thatcher likens Teva's development to oil exploration-both take a combination of good science and intuition, he says.
"We want to find the edges of the oil field before the giants come," says Mr. Thatcher, 39. "We don't want to give the lion's share away."
The giants, in this case Nike and Reebok, already are drilling for their own fortunes in the sport sandal niche. But Teva has managed to protect its turf by broadening its marketing appeal.
In late 1992, Teva hired Stein Robaire Helm, Los Angeles, as its first agency. It produced an edgy print campaign with the theme, "Do you exist in shoes or live in Tevas?" that ran in magazines such as Rolling Stone and won awards.
But the ads didn't win the wholehearted approval of Mr. Thatcher and licensee Deckers, so the duo has since split with Stein Robaire and together created Tevas' first TV campaign in-house.
The result of the ad push: Deckers' Teva 1993 sales were up 77.4% from the previous year, to $55 million. That's living in sandals, agency or no.