Business Rx: Proper Socks will need to do some footwork to sell its wares

February 2
The entrepreneur

As a busy consultant, Justin Schachner spends a lot of time in a suit and dress shoes. He often doesn’t change out of his clothes after work before walking the dog and cooking dinner. Schachner is also a runner. One day when changing out of his work clothes and into his running gear, he had an epiphany. “I thought, “Why don’t my dress socks have any of the same technology as my running socks?’”

Though he only wears them for about 30 minutes a day, Schachner’s running socks supported his feet better and were much more comfortable. He searched everywhere for similar socks he could wear with his suits. When he couldn’t find them, he decided to make them himself.

In search of a manufacturer, he took a day off of work to drive up to New York’s garment district and knock on doors. Eventually, he stumbled across a company called Soxland International that was excited about his idea and willing to help. District-based Proper Socks was born.

The pitch

Schachner

“We just wanted to combine all of the existing technology that is in running socks into men’s dress socks. You’re in them all day, you’re wearing your least comfortable shoes, and there is no reason you shouldn’t be as comfortable as possible while you’re at work.

“We just finished up a successful Kickstarter campaign [to raise funds.] That will allow us to buy the initial run of the product — 12,000 pairs of socks. The difficulty with socks is you have to have a pretty large order with a factory.

“We are building an e-commerce site so people can purchase our socks online. But we’re really focused on getting in stores. Men tend to buy their socks where they buy their shoes. For the most part, that’s still department stores, so that’s the ultimate goal. I know that’s not going to happen overnight.

“We’re planning to reach out to smaller boutique stores up and down the East Coast first. And then the plan is to work our way up. How do we keep up momentum for Proper Socks after our Kickstarter success?

The advice

Elana Fine, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“Run a lot of different tests, then put resources into what works best. You have to be as creative as you can to get shelf space. Look at companies where it worked — Honest Tea has a good story. Founder Seth Goldman was creative and went to a deli meat distributor and a charcoal distributor to tack on shipments of his tea and get on grocery store shelves. Think about what is analogous to that. Maybe it’s athletic stores rather than men’s stores. It seems like it would be an interesting thing for them to also sell, even if it’s their only brand of dress socks.

“As you have conversations with department stores and other retailers, the more information you have about people who came to your Web site and bought your socks, the more likely they are to carry your product. You need to go after consumers in parallel with retailers.

“Figure out if people are willing to pay for your socks — you need to figure this out early. Use your initial product run to determine what a customer is willing to pay for high-tech dress socks and further validate your value proposition. Allocate a few thousand pairs to run as many tests as you can to figure out what you need to do to capture customers, particularly focused on different price points. Everywhere you go, sell your socks.

The beauty of socks is people always need more of them. If you can get someone to try your product and like it, you have created a catalyst for their demand, not satisfied it. People may not believe how great your socks are until they try them. Continue to try different things and the minute you see a peak in something, allocate resources to push that strategy forward. You’re not going to know now what will continue to give you momentum.

“Think about pursuing runners — they are your target market. You could set up at registrations for large local races. I would say go where the athletes are, as opposed to where the men are.

“Try to get your socks included in a relevant monthly delivery box, like Birchbox, for example, to get samples to consumers with coupons to buy more.

“Also think about other markets in particular industries where people wear uniforms and might want to wear your socks as a form of expression. Also think about industries where people are on their feet all day. People who work in hospitals hits both of those — they wear scrubs all day and are constantly on the move.”

The reaction

Schachner

“I like the idea of approaching athletic stores and targeting athletes. We targeted ads online to runners to get an initial following for Proper Socks and that was very successful. Those people get the concept of our socks. We need to find the right events and opportunities — we’re definitely looking into it.

“We’re hitting the market at the right time because there is a push in men’s socks. It really started in San Francisco, where no one wears ties and socks have become a differentiator. Some of our socks have fun patterns, but we also have solid colors because I want these to be for everyone.

“We’re just looking to move as fast as we can. Your advice is our best bet—we just need to reach out to everyone we can and see if we can get it into stores.”

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