Nowadays, customers can score the hottest deal from the comfort of their own bed. The internet has changed the face of shopping and forced several on-site stores to transition to a solely online presence; but this isn’t the case for the Sock Club. In 2012, friends Noah and Dane used their shared love of socks to fuel the creation of Sock Club: an organization that produces quality socks all from American manufacturers.
With the founders’ homes functioning as Sock Club headquarters, the company began as a small online presence. Since then, production has skyrocketed with the introduction of their subscription service where customers receive a monthly pair of specialty socks. Due to the increase in business, Noah and Dane have decided to reverse the trend and have just opened their first physical Sock Club store in Austin, Texas.
Affinity: Noah and Dane, talk a little about your friendship. When did you become friends? How did the conversation turn to a sock business?
Noah and Dane: We became friends when we both moved to Austin in 2010. We had lots of mutual friends and were actually roommates at one point. Both of us were working full time jobs, but we found ourselves always talking building businesses. Dane was always tinkering with ideas and trying things. One day, Dane came across a Forbes article about a sock company that had been around for awhile that sent black socks to its members each month. He thought we could do better by sending fun creative socks each month. Dane built a website and forgot about it. Six months later, he checked in on it to realize a bunch of people had signed up but were given a coming soon disclaimer. At that point we had an idea that had legs, so we just started running Sock Club on the side until it became a full-time job.
Affinity: What was the hardest part about creating the company from the ground up?
N&D: The hardest part of creating a company from the ground up is scaling. The hardest part of scaling a company is hiring the right people and managing them. Skills can be learned, numbers can be analyzed, and the market will dictate some of your growth, but it is hard to build a team that believes in what you’re doing and wants to work toward that goal together. When you are small team communication is easy and change can be accomplished quickly. As the business scales change becomes harder. We have found that the right people who can quickly adapt and change to any problem are the key to our growth.
Affinity: Were there ever moments during which you wanted to back out?
N&D: Definitely. It was hard before things got going, when we were trying to juggle other responsibilities while still building the business. We used to stay up all night packing the subscription boxes ourselves, and then go into our other jobs the next day. One time, our dog ate a bunch of the packing supplies and we had to try to go find wax seal materials at 3am. But, there are going to be different challenges at each phase of the company, and you just have to focus and get through them.
Affinity: What made you so adamant about partnering with American factories? Was it a goal even early on?
N&D: Our goal was always to provide the best quality socks at a fair price. At first, we weren’t even making our own socks; we were picking our favorite pairs from different brands, and sending them out to our subscribers. When we decided that we wanted to make socks, we looked at factories in America and overseas, trying to ensure that our customers got the best product possible. American production was by far the best option to make that happen. Our partners in North Carolina have over 250 years of knitting experience – we push each other to do our jobs better and make our product better.
Affinity: Talk a little about the subscription process. What are customers offered?
N&D: Our subscribers are offered a new pair of socks each month. Every one of our members gets the same design, so it’s a surprise that they share every time. Each pair comes with a personalized letter describing the inspiration behind the sock, and explaining the name. We have found that a sock subscription is really popular as a gift, so we incorporate an easy-to-update gift message at the top of each letter so that you can personalize each shipment for the recipient. We also have a really great Customer Service team that we are very proud of, and is one of the things that makes our sock subscription the best.
Affinity: While most businesses are moving towards a solely online presence, you just opened your first sock shop in Austin. What made you decide to open a physical store instead of continuing to operate via the internet?
N&D: We realize that commerce is moving slowly toward being solely done online, but it only accounted for 9% of all retail sales in 2017. It is only projected to increase to 14% by 2020. We want a part of that other 85-90%. Our socks stand up very well to the in-person test – they are soft and well-made, and our colors are vibrant. A physical location also allows us to interact with our customers personally, and see how we can better meet their needs. Another added benefit of our physical location is that people can come in and see some of our favorite custom branded socks. Since that is not our consumer facing brand, many of our subscribers only see photos of our custom socks on social media. The gallery wall of our custom socks is a great opportunity for customers to get the custom sock experience. The space is really about celebrating Sock Club.
Affinity: How long did it take you / the company to make that decision? What was the hardest part about it?
N&D: We just opened the physical location this year, and we started the company in 2012 – so I would say about 5 years. The hardest part about it was making it a priority. We know that this one physical location is not going to outpace our custom branded socks business, so it was hard to put energy toward it. We think it is a good decision for the business overall, and that it will help us toward a larger retail footprint, but it is easy to get lost in what is going to be good for your business tomorrow, as opposed to 5-10 years from now.
Affinity: What all is located and done at the store? Is there any production happening or is it Sock Club “headquarters”?
N&D: There is no production happening at the store, although we do have one functioning antique knitting machine. The store is connected to our offices, so you can come in and meet the design team and the office dogs when you’re there. Although some of our cotton is grown near us in Texas, almost all of the rest of the manufacturing process happens in the Carolinas.
Affinity: Will you still have as big of an online presence?
N&D: Definitely. Opening a physical location is about expanding our focus, not refocusing. We want more market share, not just a different market share.
Affinity: Are you looking to expand the company even more by opening more shops in the future?
N&D: We are going to take it one step at a time, and make sure that each move is good for the company. This summer, we are releasing a retail line of socks that is exclusively in stores, but they won’t be stand-alone Sock Club stores. We want to give people the opportunity to become brand loyalists before we do a big push for Sock Club stores.
Affinity: That being said, what are your long-term goals for the company? Where is Sock Club going next?
N&D: Our goal is to be the best platform possible to create awesome custom socks. We are a sock design company. The largest part of our business, and the fastest growing, is making custom socks for brands and organizations all over the world. We want to extend the customization process into something that makes sense for individual consumers. Now, our designers curate the best possible sock experience you can purchase through our subscription. And, with our push into retail, that design experience can be seen and purchased in stores around America. We want to engineer products and processes that allow every person to get the experience of socks that makes sense for them.
Affinity: What’s been the best part of the Sock Club experience so far?
N&D: I think we would say that the best part of Sock Club has also been the biggest challenge – the people. We all work really hard, and we push each other to be better, so it can be challenging at times. But, when you see people grow, when they surprise you, when you realize how much you have been through together, it makes it all worth it.
Affinity: If you could go back and change one thing about the company creation, what would it be?
N&D: We hate to give this answer, but I don’t think we’d change anything. Each mistake has taught us how to be a better company. Maybe we would have kept the packing supplies further away from the dogs.