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Work is a grind for Jerry Gross, 39, president and chief operating officer for Artemis Innovations, marketer of Soaps, shoes that are part sneaker and part skateboard.

Enthusiasts use Soaps to slide down stair- way hand rails, an activity called grinding.

The company founder, Chris Morris, created Soaps in 1996 as a way to offer thrill-seeking youngsters an alternative to inline skating or skateboarding.

Mr. Morris, who had worked for 16 years at Rollerblade, fashioned an ordinary shoe with a molded plate embedded into it for grinding. The plate is removable and can be replaced with a rubber plate for schools that ban grinding.

Mr. Gross slid into the business when Artemis needed a business plan.

"I'm the one with the business experience," says Mr. Gross, who holds a master's in business administration from Harvard Business School.

He also knows the footwear market from several years at Vans, a shoe marketer he helped take public.

Rather than traditional advertising, Mr. Gross says the company's grinding experts travel to places where the target audience, boys aged 8 to 14, hang out.

"It is easier to go to the kids than bring the kids to the mall," he says. There's even a Soapmobile making stops across the country touting Soaps and grinding.

Hanging out with kids has helped Soaps grow from sales of $7 million in 1998 to $14 million in 1999.

The marketer plans to expand its sales by expanding distribution beyond specialty shops to international retailers. The company now also offers a smaller sized shoe for younger children.

"Originally, we thought kids under size 5 would not be careful enough. But, to date more than 800,000 pairs of Soaps have been sold with few serious injuries," he says.

But you won't see Mr. Gross grinding, he'll leave that to Mr. Morris.

"The closer you get to 40, the more fearful you get," he says.

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