Vans's success was the product of four ambitious young men with an idea. Much like Steve Jobs and Apple, the Van Doren brothers, Paul and James, along with their partners Gordon Lee and Serge D'Elia, made their vision come true.
On March 16th, 1966, the four partners opened the first Vans store in Anaheim, California under the name "The Van Doren Rubber Company." Their business plan was simple. Manufacture the shoes, and sell them to the public. On their first day, twelve customers bought shoes, but were asked to return with payment on the following day for the partners had forgotten to maintain a cash reserve to provide change. All twelve left with the shoes, and all twelve returned with payment.
Vans made its big first impression on skateboarders residing in Southern California. By 1975, the Vans #95, known presently as the "Vans Era," was designed by Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta, two world famous skateboarding figures. With a padded collar, diverse color arrangements, and non-slip bottom for better grip, the Era became the top shoe for a generation of skateboarders.
Vans kept designing new models, such as the "#44," which reinforced Vans' influence in the shoe industry. By the end of the 1970s, Vans had successfully introduced seventy stores in California, and was beginning to spark national and international interest.
The 1980s proved to be a tremendous success for Vans as Hollywood star Sean Penn wore Vans in the 1982, iconic youth film, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."
Vans' owners wanted to expand their merchandise to be able to compete better with larger athletic shoe companies. As a result, they commenced production of shoes and other apparel for many sports, some of which were wakeboarding, motocross, and surfing.
Unfortunately, their aspirations fell short. The broad collection of products the company now offered had managed to deplete the company's capital, which forced them to file for bankruptcy in 1984. The company owed $12 million to the U.S. In two short years; Paul Van Doren payed his debts and reacquired his company.
In 1988, Paul Van Doren, as the majority owner, sold the company to a banking firm named McCown De Leeuw & Co. for $74.4 million.
The demand for Vans shoes has been and continues to be extremely high. In 2000 and 2001, Forbes Magazine recognized Vans as one of "America's Best Small Companies."
In 2004, Vans launched the Vans "Customs" feature, which allowed customers to personalize their Vans shoes. Vans continues to find new ways to intrigue its customers, and inspire innovation in shoe design.