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In Conversation With John’s Crazy Socks

By February 22, 2022July 7th, 2022No Comments

The Unique Business Model Behind John's Crazy Socks

John’s Crazy Socks is a father-son venture inspired by co-founder John Lee Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome. John’s father, Mark Cronin, partnered with John to create a business built around his affinity for crazy socks and his love of making people smile.

Here are the 5 pillars of John’s Crazy Socks business which you’ll hear about over the next week or so:

  1. Spread Happiness
  2. Make It Personal
  3. Be Great
  4. Give Back
  5. Show What’s Possible
Learn More

Video Transcript

all right this is excellent excellent so firstly i want to thank uh john and

mark the cronins from john’s crazy socks um for joining us today it’s a delight

to have you as part of our team and we wanted to just learn a lot more

about all the good things you guys are doing so why don’t we start with that why don’t you tell us a little bit about

john’s crazy socks you should introduce us so dad

what’s our mission pretty happiness so what we have done

is create slightly different type of business model we’re a social enterprise

with both a social and a business drive and they feed off of each other but

everything comes down to spreading happiness that’s right

we we built the business on five pillars

it fit in hope give it back fun players

you can love make it personal and the last is making a great place to work

i’ll kind of walk quickly through those five if we want to spread happiness in the

world connect with our customers and our community we have to start at home

our colleagues have to be happy working here you know it’s got to be a mission

worthy of their commitment everybody’s got to know why their job matters

we put people in a position to succeed we recognize what people do say thank you

and then stay the hell out of the way let people do their jobs right so that’s we start

there if we can have happy

colleagues they’re going to be productive and on board and everything else will follow

then it’s make it personal so we we likely sell online but we’re

always looking to create connections with our customers and create customer

experiences and that is made manifest in everything we do so here’s an example

what goes in every package every packet get a digging note for me and candy you get a handwritten thank

you note from john and candy now yes it is true

we we make copies of that thank you note but it is a handwritten thank you note

um it’s you know other examples of of ways that that becomes manifest so

one of the types of socks we sell are compression socks for diabetics

and one day one of our packers comes and says you know we’re sending diabetic socks to people

and we’re sending them candy what’s wrong with that picture so now we have

um sugar-free candy that goes in those packages we

people in e-commerce will all tell you about segmenting email so that you can

personalize it we segment our fulfillment so everybody gets the same basic package

but if it’s your first order you get one package if it’s your third order you’re

getting a different package anything we can do to make that connection and and here’s and you know a third way

when we started on our very first day how were we delivering packages our home delivery

home deliveries well today we’ve shipped 370 000 packages to 88 different

countries but if we get an order from between our office and our home

what are you doing with it i i go i go also

a home delivery you’re knocking on doors and deliver it so then

fun products you can love is a very cool thing when we started we could put all the

different socks we had on one table how many different socks do we have today we have a four thousand a thousand

two kind of stuck that means four thousand different songs

which means john’s crazy socks is the world’s largest sock store john here his

idea has grown to the world’s largest sock store we have to be

a great e-commerce business a great sock company

it’s got to be a great website you got to have that great choice the products have to be great so we have

over 29 000 five-star reviews

because you’ve got to deliver for your customers and the service has to be great we do same-day shipping so if an

order comes in today it’s going out today we do better shipping than amazon

but jeff bezos he’s not like john he’s not putting a thank you known candy in those packages

i am then the giving back is baked into everything we do

it’s not enough to just sell stuff so we started by pledging five percent

of our earnings to the special olympics and why the special olympics i have

better epic athletes yes you are and many of our colleagues and special olympic athletes and many of us have

coached in the special olympics but we’ve gone on to create products that raise awareness

and support causes and raise money for those causes so what was the first awareness

i found it from a renaissance john designed the world’s first down

syndrome suck but we now have autism awareness yeah and sound policy

and also emily we do pet risk yes and we have um our healthcare superhero stock to their

final workers in 2020 we created healthcare superhero

socks to thank the frontline workers those have raised over 50 000

for frontline workers um you know some of our charity partners of the american cancer society the autism

society of america you got to give back today for example we opened the

applications for what are now fourth annual autism can do scholarship a five

thousand dollar scholarship to somebody in the autism spectrum but the most important pillar is to show

what’s possible is to show and we can talk about our orbiting story how john turned challenge

into an opportunity it’s to show what a business can do the impact you can have but most

particularly it’s to show what people with different abilities can do

so more than half our colleagues have a differing ability and we want to show the world

we create content right we host tours and work groups from schools and

social service agencies we do speak engagements like this with

crisscross canada the us mexico um and we do advocacy work

so just yesterday we made an arrangement to go meet with the new york state

assembly um on world down syndrome day but we testified twice before congress was

spoken at the united nations and all of this rolls up to let’s spread some happiness

and that’s john’s crazy songs so that when a customer buys from us

yes they’re getting great socks but it’s more it’s that experience they know

they’re helping us employ people with different abilities they know they’re supporting the giving back and most of

all they’re helping to spread happiness so that’s john’s crazy socks

well that is a very lovely explanation of what you’ve done

why you’ve done it and what the most amazing results that you’ve gotten i mean

going the the sheer volume going from one table to hundreds of thousands of

orders is really really impressive now we all know when that happens

it’s hard to find good talent and here you guys have not only done

that you’ve gotten talent that also is incredibly productive and continues to be productive and and and that happiness

spreads happiness and this productivity why don’t you tell us a little bit more

about how you found the people that you found and how you ensured that

being altruistic is also can also result in good business results

we everybody every employer you want to find the best possible

people for your organization that means you have to know who you are

and you have to know the type of people that you want to attract some of what we’ve learned

the character and and the ability to fit with our culture

matters more than the skills and don’t get me wrong skills matter you

got to be able to have the skills to do what you want we have found that if we offer people

a mission worthy of their commitment that people are track are attracted to

that we want something outside of ourselves it’s bigger than ourselves

we need to make sure that everybody here knows exactly why what they do matters

and we just hired somebody back you know we’ve we just celebrated our fifth anniversary we’ve had some ups and downs

we had big years 2019 was an awful year we’re running out of money um we’re

gonna let people go well one of the people we let go just came back to work for us she took a pay cut to come work

here we raised what we were able to offer for a position but in explaining why she came back here

she said look i have a good job but i’m a cog in the machine and she was talking about with her

husband who said you’ve never been so happy as when you work there and she’s coming back now and is already

making a difference you offer that but it’s also important

you want to start with as big a pool as possible you don’t want to artificially

arbitrarily exclude people that’s what enables us to hire people

with different abilities because we’re looking with focus on what people can do not what they can do

we then want to make sure everybody knows as much as they can about us and you’ll get a self-selection process some

people are drawn some people keep walking but that’s you know we i’ll give you

some examples we do our own fulfillment we run our own pick and pack warehouse

it’s a very seasonal business we do 40 of our business in the last two months of the year so we always have to add

extra people well we are we’re based on long island outside new york city

this past holiday employers were begging for people they couldn’t find enough workers

when we needed people we had a surplus of applicants because we tap into

people with differing abilities and because we’re the type of organization where people want to come

work we become treated well then we just hired three more year-round

people i listen to friends and their businesses

oh you’re you don’t know how hard it’s going to be you can’t find people we had a surplus of applicants

we had our choice of people and it was a hard choice because there were really good people

but you do that by creating a place where people can perform where they’re

valued and when they’re respected and and i want to be really clear about this

john here is a very nice guy i am not

everybody we hire produces right so when we talk about hiring

people with differing abilities we don’t give out jobs

everybody here has earned their job and that’s part of the date that

and so mark what i really like about about that is everyone likes to feel like they are

productive and they’re contributing and they’re making a difference but a large part of that

also comes from from you and john creating

um jobs where people are set up for success

how do you go about creating an environment and doing that kind of training

well first focus on what the job is or what you’re expecting of people

um and then you’re recruiting people that can do

that work and you put them in a position to succeed so i’ll give you a couple of

easy examples we just hired um a web designer who will also do graphic

work for us and shoot videos so when she’s coming on board it’s a

question of what type of computer do you need and we ordered

a new computer for her to meet her specs because doing video work requires a lot

of horsepower and a lot of storage so let’s find out what you need to put

you in a position to succeed and that’s so simple right um in our warehouse we

run a pickup back warehouse and what do we call our pickers uh documents

wranglers so we have found that the best workforce

for us are people with differing abilities um so how do we go about that right we when

we have openings it starts before we have an opening

people get to know us because maybe they’ve been here on a tour maybe they’ve been here as part of a

work group we work with a lot of social service agencies they get to know us and how we

work when it is time to hire somebody our colleagues will bring people in

we go through our social media network people that know us we go through those social service agencies

so someone comes in the first thing they do is john and i believe them

because we want them to know our values and what matters we want them to know the story

then we provide training our current sock wreckers train the

newbies and our stock mic does love doing it you’ve trained a lot of people i did

alyssa brags about how many people she’s trained but then what it comes down to is you

have to pass the sock wrangler test we have a test can you do the job

pick six orders in 30 minutes or less but there’s nothing extraneous there’s

nothing that doesn’t have to do with the job show us you can do the job and when you pass that test we hire you

then we make sure everybody knows you know it’s it’s a welcoming environment

we make sure you know you’re valued so many of our people

the first time they get a paycheck is from us so we have a ceremony

in giving everybody their first paycheck because that really matters to people

we make sure everybody gets a business card now you can tell me business cards are

passe or maybe when you started you got that box and you put in your draw

but for many of our people this is a symbol that they’re serious people and

you know that they’re professionals and one of the things we do that we put in everybody gets a personalized

discount code on the back of that card so now everybody is a salesperson

because people are excited they go out and want to tell people about where they work and the job they do and they can give out a

discount so it’s it’s it’s all of a whole you have to make

that commitment to bringing people in for your culture and

knowing what you do or how you treat people you have to know the people that are

going to succeed in your place you have to make sure that you start

with the largest possible pool and and then the values and the way you

approach work comes through in everything you do do that make sense to you

yeah it sure does you know i’m listening to you and as um

being being the good marketer that i am my takeaways are such uh standard things

that all companies need to have so firstly people need to know who you are

right you need a brand identity they need to understand your your culture that’s your brand value

you have to make sure you have clear job descriptions and goals and you have to make sure that people

fit into not only that job description but also the culture of your company

and then it sounds like there is an immense amount of respect and acknowledgement for the good work that

the people do on your teams and i i think that that’s such incredible

um those are great guide posts to have a successful

company with a successful employees who can afford your product and you give them incentive to buy it i i think

that’s amazing and and i’m also incredibly impressed with the fact that

five years anniversary that means you guys are doing something right and um

i i would love to know maybe maybe take us back why don’t you take us back to how did you guys even come up with this

idea well we were born in many ways out of

necessity so let’s go back we’ll go back to the very beginning okay a little more

than five years ago and our story starts in a small log cabin in the woods no no

it starts in suburban long island in a town called huntington and where were

you i i was in hong kong high school i’m going my lashes too so

here’s something to know about john right john is an entrepreneur he’s a philanthropist an athlete a dancer a

lover and he happens to have down syndrome

so anywhere in the u.s if you have a disability you can stay in

the public school system until you turn 21. and then they say get out

when you’re in the school system everything is right there in front of you all of your

programs and services your support but once you’re done you’re on your own

and you’ve got to find and figure everything out it’s known often as the 21 year old cliff so john was heading

for that cliff and you were trying to figure out what to do next right yeah what were you looking at i like a job

program in school i don’t know i don’t like and that’s an unfortunate reality for

people with different abilities fewer than one in five people with a

disability have a job in this country it’s outrageous

but john here he’s a natural entrepreneur yes i am if you didn’t see your job you wanted

what’d you say i said i want to make my own create one and you came and would you tell me i

said i’m gonna go to bed with my dad and and that fellas have been together it comes status go into business together

now i’m a very lucky man i’ve got three sons he’s the youngest and this is one i could work with right

so now you know entrepreneurs they get a lot of ideas

some of them are even good ideas like what was one of your ideas uh one of

them is a food truck um a food truck right right um i i got here

from the movie chef and john farrow the movie about our father’s son

buying a bunny over a food truck so he’s so excited let’s talk about a food truck

what can we make where would we go uh but we ran into a problem

we can’t yeah we can cook but then

right before thanksgiving john had his eureka moment i did i myself crazy socks

why socks it’s fun it’s colorful it’s creative i always let

me be me we used to drive around looking for these crazy socks for john so he comes

and says we should sell socks and you know our thinking was okay

if you loved these socks this much surely other people would till we could find our trial

now you you’re a professional you’ve been around lots of businesses

most places times at that point you stop everything and you prepare your business

plan right you do your market research your competitive analysis your operational plan financial forecast

uh that’s not what we did we went the lean startup route and we

said you know what let’s just get something up and running and we’ll see how customers respond

so you already had the name i got a name i took a website we built a website on the shopify

platform we got some inventory we were bootstrapping so the only marketing we did was to set

up a facebook page i would take out my cell phone and we made videos and who was in those videos

i am i talked about socks socks woodstock and we noticed something those videos

started getting shared and where it was spreading and what day did we open we were on

friday 2015. and we didn’t know what to expect

but we got 42 orders the first day

most of them were local which made sense and what did we do with those orders

we got red boxes we put the socks in the box and looked at it and said it needs something else

so you put in a thing yeah i’ve been thinking no i vote

and a candy we got bags of hershey’s kisses poured them in

loaded up the car drove around and you were knocking on doors so there

were some nights you were out there at 10 30 at night yeah knocking on doors just dawn with your socks and how do the

customers respond confidence loves it and they put it on social media

with i guess that’s fast but so that’s how we got started right we we

saw in in two weeks really we shipped 452 orders had 13 000 in revenue and we

knew we could build this but we already had we had the roots there you get your dna

from your origin story and and a lot of the aesthetic or that we approach which is

ready fire aim don’t overthink

just go and do um and it’s good to have the right partner

it’s very hard to find the right partner and i’m so impressed that you guys have done such amazing work i

i can only imagine in the five years it hasn’t always been smooth sailing you

talked about 2019 being a particularly difficult year

um how how do you you know what sort of obstacles have you had and and what have

you done to overcome them you know people asked a lot like what’s

the hardest thing and you know about and they think it’s about getting started

getting started is easy and we were very fortunate that we grew

quickly we had a couple of viral experiences so watch what you asked for

you may get it right and our third month of business we had a video

that somebody else made about us go viral it had over 20 million views

um it was great but it also almost put us out of business because it was so overwhelming

and we weren’t ready for it we’re also very seasonal business

so our first two years we had wild growth

we moved now we got inventory at the end of each of those years i’m looking at on

paper we had a nice big number we had

a profit on paper and had no money it’s like you know where where’s the

money in my account that is saying mark let’s go look in your warehouse see all that inventory

that’s your money um we we had bootstrapped it and we managed

through two years we came into our third year and said okay we gotta get some capital we gotta get

some capital in here and you know to be honest i’m not very

sophisticated about that we had people we all along had people coming oh we

want to invest oh this is great uh we did on the advice of our

accountant hired an investment bank nate came in and said oh this is going to be easy

you don’t even have to give up equity banks started coming in going through everything and they all

told us the same thing oh we love the story we love the growth we love what you’re

doing we love the fact that you made a profit we’re not going to give you a cent

because you’re a startup and we’re not going to invest in you personally

but come back to us in two years and we had investors coming in

and what they wanted to do in essence was buy the brand and shut us

down um you know oh this is a great brand we can go and sell this but we don’t want

you to do anything you just go and promote and you’ll be happy you’re missing the point and and also i

knew if we didn’t have everything else going on the brand would evaporate

so what happened in 2019 was our sales slowed down

now we’re tight on money um wind up borrowing money to pay

salaries i’m borrowing from what

in an earlier day might have been called loan sharks but today we call cash advance places

and it’s awful uh so by the end of 2019 because of that

under capitalization um we were for all intents and purposes

bankrupt um in fact you know united states a great country

i i started interviewing bankruptcy law firms

but they wanted thirty to fifty thousand dollars up front and i’m like well wait a second if i had

fifty thousand up front i wouldn’t be talking to you um but part of what we were doing was just

fighting to stay alive and looking for the right partner and in december of 2019

we found that partner um a third generation family business

that has been manufacturing socks for over 60 years and making them for

department stores and for brand names and we hit it off

the right cultural mix they had never made an acquisition never invested in another um

lewis rodstein rodstein family lewis is the third generation

somebody had done an introduction we had a half hour meeting planned we spent five hours together

by the next week i met paul rudstein who was the ceo um

we had a handshake deal and within two months we had signed an agreement so

now we have financial stability and a partner that can do the manufacturing so 2020

and we signed that deal then you may have heard we got hit with a pandemic um

so 2020 was a lot about stabilizing things last year we grew 47

in our revenue um we’ve already started strong this year

and here’s and here’s the way the partnership works um [Music]

one of our uh we our theme this year was do less to do more right don’t get

distracted by doing too much and stay focused one of our objectives is we will start

shipping wholesale by the fourth quarter well

kohl’s has already come to us and they were attracted by the brand and what we’ve created

and we now have an agreement we’re going to be in 600 calls stores

in the fourth quarter they were attracted to us because of the

brand and the story and the mission but to fulfill that we had to have the right

partner so we could actually do the manufacturing and do the nuts and bolts

you can’t have one without the other so finding that partner was really important to us

yeah you know um i think the relationships the values the

right match i mean you talk a lot about culture right that partner just fit in so beautifully with you guys in the

culture and that’s exactly how you know you’re doing the right thing right this is a very good professional relationship

and i think the the results speak for themselves right there’s no by by

any business standards the success you guys have seen has really been incredibly impressive um and i’m sure

you have many many great years ahead of you with more more more employees more happiness

more more more fun fun socks for sure um i know i’ve taken up a lot of your time

so i i would love to um close with one last question which is

with the success you’ve seen for people that are looking to be as successful right with the hiring with

the culture with the happiness with the productivity with the growth what advice would you like to give to

these other businesses that are looking to see the similar successes well we’ll offer

we can each offer some advice to me you have to know what you’re about

you have to have that purpose that becomes your north star

and you have to be clear on what your values are they’ll evolve over time but

that’s what keeps you straight so you got to have that nurse start that that purpose and you have to believe you

can’t just pay lip service to it because when times are tough that’s going to see you through

that then everything will flow from that but only if you do with real conviction

you know that that then will attract people to you both customers and

employees that believe in what you’re doing and so you’ve got to have that

and and then pay attention to the details of the nuts and bolts

we can talk all we want about hiring people with different abilities and supporting causes but if we’re not

getting those orders out on time nothing is working right we can we can spend time here

talking with you because i know our fulfillment manager our lord of the socks

does a great job and we track those numbers so you know our promise is same day

shipping in the past year plus now for 14 months only one day

did we not did we not fulfill that promise so you’ve and that’s even with surges

and holidays you gotta pay attention to that right you gotta have

the products that are you’re gonna get people to keep coming back so

know what you’re about have conviction and pay attention to the details you

know the nuts and bolts but what advice do you have for people my advice

for your heart follow your dream work hard

so you can do i love it there’s nothing

that we do that is esoteric or crazy or requires

the proverbial rocket science it’s all common sense

and we’re so fortunate to be able to get to do it

you know when when you asked before about hiring people

i know we have the attitude that we are fortunate to get the people

in our team to work with us i know there are a lot of employers who act like you’re lucky i gave you a job

we have it the other way we’re so fortunate to get to work with folks and then

that makes a difference you know that sense of gratitude so

can we put in a plug where can people go to get great socks

great gifts and you’re gonna do it at

john’ you come to us you get great products great socks

you help us employ people with different abilities you help us give back and most of all

you help us spread happiness gentlemen you guys are terrific thank

you so so much for your time your insights your brand promise and your delivery on the

promise um we will definitely uh follow up with you on

um promoting your your business so people know what you’ve done by helping us uh co-marketing this video

well thank you and uh i have another business i’m going to be referring to justly um so

because you guys are doing neat work