We sat down with Mark and John from John’s Crazy Socks to learn more about their mission to bring happiness to everyone, what it’s like to go viral, and how they gained a third of their email list using Privy.
Tell me about your business! What do you sell and why is it awesome?
Mark: Our business is a father-son venture all started by John, a young man with Down syndrome, and his love of colorful and fun socks, or what he calls his “crazy socks.”
At John’s Crazy Socks, we spread happiness, and we do it through socks.
We built the business on four pillars:
Inspiration and hope: Every day we show what’s possible if you give someone a chance!
Giving back: We donate 5% of our earnings to Special Olympics and raise money for charity partners throughout the year.
Socks you can love: You can choose from over 1500 socks, plus a sock of the month club.
Make it all personal: Every package gets a thank you note from John and some candy to show how much we care.
What inspired you to start it or join the team?
Mark: In the fall of 2016, I was developing a bunch of new businesses and John was in school, finishing up his last year. When he was trying to figure out what to do after, he spent some time brainstorming with his Dad.
John: First, we came up with idea to do a fun store, but they weren’t sure how to make it happen. Then, we came up with a food truck, which sounded like a lot of fun, but the problem was neither of us could cook. We’re only good at eating! So after some brainstorming, we had a eureka moment and came up with socks, because it’s fun, creative, and colorful, and I love socks.
Mark: Right. John always wore crazy socks because they let him be him. He came up with the name and we went straight to testing the idea with an MVP, built a website, and got some socks. We didn’t do a ton of marketing except for a Facebook page with John talking about the store.
Do you remember your first sale?
Mark: We opened December 9, 2016. The first thing I remember was we were going to open at 10 in the morning to turn the online store on except the website crashed, so we spent most of the day rebuilding it. Instead, we opened at 3 PM.
We got an order within two minutes of opening the store. We got so many orders in the first two days that we wiped out the inventory we started with. So on Saturday night we were going to KMART scooping up Christmas socks so we could have some inventory.
Most of the initial orders were local, and we were making local deliveries.
John: I was so happy that I would make a thank you note for every customer and we bought candy to say thank you. We’d drive around at night delivering the boxes.
How do you go about marketing your business?
Mark: We started to grow really quickly through word of mouth and social media so the next thing we knew we were shipping around the country.
Social media helps us share what’s possible. We have both a social mission and a retail mission. Our social mission is showing what you can do if you give people with a disability a chance, and that’s tied to the giving back that we do. The retail mission is obvious: We want to make our customers happy. So we share a lot of what we’re doing on social media.
We’re becoming as much a content company as we are a sock business, and that we’ve done primarily through Facebook. We’ll do Facebook Live videos of John talking about the business or John and I talking about what’s going on in John’s life.
For example, we’ll do a football pick show where we pick NFL playoff games and we just have fun and share what we’re thinking and what happens on the job. Right now, we have 12 permanent employees, 8 of whom have disabilities. Most of them the first time they’ve ever received a paycheck is from us and we celebrate that. We share all of that on social media.
We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve gotten quite a bit of media coverage also which has helped us grow.
What types of offers work best for you? What kinds of campaigns are you running on your site?
Mark: Overall, we try to be careful—a lot of people have been conditioned to only shop when they get discounts, and we have found working with our customers and by doing customer surveys that while everyone would appreciate a discount, people are not always coming to us because we have the least expensive products. Our products are very competitive products, and they’re odd because they’re a luxury but they’re also inexpensive. People like supporting us because of our mission and what we do.
One example is that Privy has enabled us to run special pop up campaigns on our site, so we’ve used that when we did a Christmas in July sale.
We avoid some of the crass commercialization around Thanksgiving and instead we do a week of gratitude, so we used Privy to alert our shoppers about that. For every order placed that week, we donated $1 to Special Olympics.
John: We also send out targeted discounts to our customers to thank them for their support. Every package gets two discount cards that they can share with a friend.
What do you love most about Privy?
Mark: We’ve used Privy from the beginning. It’s so easy to use and it has enabled us to connect with our customers so they could sign up to our newsletters. About 12,000 people have signed up through Privy and which is over a third of our email list. And most of that is from one campaign:
Privy enables us to capture customer names and emails so we can stay in touch with our customers, and that mailing list is extremely valuable. More than a third of our sales are to repeat customers, so being able to tell them about discounts and what we’re up to is important. On Facebook, we have 95,000 followers, but there’s no easy way to reach all of them. If we have their email, we can contact them directly.
How does Privy fit into the rest of your tech stack?
Mark: Other tools we use:
We’re built on Shopify.
We use Klaviyo email system, which Privy works well with because it feeds into the email list directly.
Combination of Shopify Product Review add on to capture product reviews
Bold apps recurring orders and subscriptions for sock of the month club
Restock Alert if a particular sock is out, you can sign up to get an email when it’s back in stock
We also use a wishlist app that people can maintain a list of favorites
What are some of your biggest business or marketing challenges?
Mark: One of the significant challenges because the sock business is very seasonal.
Some of the media coverage we’ve had has led to huge spikes in activity, which certainly presents a management challenge, but it’s also a challenge on how to make that sustainable. For example, we really got going in December of 2016. In January, we were in a temporary office space just getting started. By February we grew fivefold, so we hired some part time people, but were still in the temporary space.
In the beginning of March, a well-known publication called The Mighty put out a video about John and our business. Overnight, we went from 60 orders in a day to over 1000 orders, which sounds great, but it wiped out our inventory, our staff, and it took us a month of scrambling to catch up.
We had a second viral moment when we appeared on Fox and Friends. We got 3500 orders in one day! Here's the video:
We’re trying like every business to find growth and make it sustainable.
Advice to other entrepreneurs or other small businesses?
Mark: Just go out and do it. When John came up with the idea, it was a conscious decision not to study the market and develop extensive business plans. We were just gonna get something up there and test it and see how it goes. We act quickly here because we have to.
Basically, just do it!
Spread some of your own happiness by taking a look at the wide variety of John’s crazy socks and supporting their mission.