Shoe Goo Guru Lyman Van Vliet Cures Tattered Tennis Toes with Sheer Stick-to-Itiveness
The Van Vliets turned their home in ritzy Palos Verdes, Calif. into a goo factory—with Lyman as kitchen chemist, Sandy, 52, as sales manager, daughter Michelle as package designer and younger kids Melissa and Michael as packagers—until a neighbor got upset at the 55-gallon drums of flammable solvent sitting in the driveway. By that time, though, sales of Shoe Goo had grown from the first 22 orders in 1972 to the current gross of almost $2 million (a tube, which will re-tip five pairs of sneakers, sells for $3.25). In 1976 the Van Vliets transferred the operation to a San Pedro factory. Two months later Lyman, a Wayne State grad, quit his job as a physicist at Hughes Aircraft ("Goo luck!" his colleagues saluted him).
"We've been fortunate to ride the crest of two waves—tennis and jogging," Van Vliet says. The family company, Eclectic Products Inc., is expanding, repackaging its goo as Sportsman's Goop (for leaky tents and such) and Shoemaker in a Tube.
Today the Van Vliets each drive Cadillacs (hers with "SHOEGOO" license plates, his with "ECLECTC"). And now, with shoes that take a lot longer to wear out, they can play endless games of tennis on their backyard court, which they've dubbed "the Shoe Goo evaluation laboratory."