- John’s Crazy Socks sells more than 2,300 SKUs of its namesake product, but don’t think this is your flavor-of-the-month sock company
- John Cronin, who founded the business with his father Mark, has Down syndrome, which has been zero impediment to the company’s success: sales into the millions, charitable donations eclipsing six-figures
- “Without the social mission, we’d be just another sock store,” John says. “Without a solid ecommerce business, we would be nothing more than a cute story.”
In the fall of 2016, a common problem was faced by an uncommon man.
Summer had drawn to a close on New York’s Long Island, and John Cronin surveyed an uneasy future. As he entered his final year at Huntington High School, John found himself unenthused about what might follow graduation.
John is one of about 250,000 Americans with Down syndrome. His entire life, he has made mincemeat of the expectations applied to him, though in this moment there was some trepidation about what was to come.
What am I gonna do when I’m done with school? he wondered to his father, Mark.
“John,” Mark says today, “didn’t like the options he saw.”
What followed was the maturation of the son, and the amazement of the father — an unlikely family business that, as it approaches its second anniversary, has become an even more unlikely ecommerce success.
It has happened under the banner of John’s Crazy Socks, a story made almost too easy for news producers, who indeed have flocked to the Cronins’ Long Island headquarters.
Fox has come. The BBC has, too. One short clip from online journal The Mighty has been viewed now more than 15 million times.
And yet it takes greater depth to properly understand the full scope of this company. Because there’s one thing neither founder wants mistaken ...
‘Not a Charity’
The story indeed strikes a chord, certainly made — as it has been time and again — for TV. Yet John’s Crazy Socks, Mark says, is “not a charity.”
“There are two sides of being a social enterprise: social and ecommerce mission,” John testified to the U.S. House of Representatives in May. “Without the social mission, we’d be just another sock store.
“Without a solid ecommerce business, we would be nothing more than a cute story.”
Since Dec. 9, 2016, John’s Crazy Socks has sold its namesake product — over 2,300 SKUs of ‘em, in all. But while the Cronins sell socks, they believe themselves to be another industry.
They say they are in the happiness business.
When the company began two winters ago, John was unsure what his life might become once school finished. He approached his father. “Dad,” he said, “I want to go into business with you.”
John and Mark thought of a food truck …
There was one problem. “We can’t cook,” Mark says.
So John looked inward. And then he looked downward. On his own feet were a wild pair of socks, a sort of longtime fashion signature John was known for.
That was it. Socks would be the first step toward John’s future.
Before long, John had the company name, even the drawings of what its website might look like. Mark registered the business and opened a Shopify store. “We went the lean start-up route,” Mark says.
Define instant success however you like, but this Long Island company had a first day it could kick its feet up to. With only a Facebook page and a few videos of John introducing his business, John’s Crazy Socks made 42 orders over its debut day on the market.
“Which was phenomenal,” Mark says.
And that much was true.
It was also only the smallest part of the battle. A successful launch might have forecast days to come, but John and Mark knew well that further growth had to be earned.
Through hustle. Through an ecommerce strategy that could handle sudden spikes in demand. And through a devotion to customer experience designed specifically to make people fall in love with a sock company.
“We decided,” Mark says, “let’s make this special.”
‘You Can’t Fake It. Your Core Principles Have to Infuse Everything You Do’
John and Mark felt reasonably confident they could inspire customers to buy their socks.
But the magic lied in having them buy over and over again.
In the beginning, they were simpler times. As an early trickle of orders came in over late 2016 and early 2017, John could add his personal touch to the company by wrapping each pair of socks in a red box, sprinkling in some Hershey’s Kisses, and including a handwritten appreciation in each order.
Then, because many of his customers were local, John would knock on doors and deliver the packages himself.
“Jeff Bezos is not putting candy and a thank you note in every package,” John says with a smile.
When TV crews caught wind of John’s story, it wasn’t long before in-person shipping became an option the company could no longer fulfill.
Millions of video views piled up. Facebook fans ballooned — nearly 200,000 like the company page today.
Everyone seemed to cherish the message of John’s Crazy Socks, which pledges 5% of its earnings to the Special Olympics — long before, Mark notes, the company had the profit to spare.
“You can’t fake it,” he says. “You can’t just say, ‘Well, we’ll do this and we’ll do that, and then it will make us look like a social enterprise. You truly have to believe. Your core principles have to infuse everything you do.”
Going Viral ‘Almost Put Us Out of Business’
“Everyone wants to go viral,” Mark says. “But watch what you ask for. You may get it.”
It’s the kind of insight that can only come from a man who’s been there.
When John’s video appeared on The Mighty, it was his company’s coming out moment. Yet it was also nearly the death of John’s Crazy Socks.
The video — 190 seconds of the most perfect shareable content — was released on a Thursday, around the time John’s Crazy Socks was shipping about 50 orders per day. Over the weekend, the clip took off.
On Sunday, John’s Crazy Socks fielded 1,025 orders alone.
“That great surge, while it was tremendous for us,” Mark says, “almost put us out of business.”
The scramble began, John and Mark panicking to fulfill orders, secure inventory, find the people needed to keep this rush from swallowing it whole ...
One night, Mark took off to Best Buy for a computer to run yet another packing station to meet demand. Before he left the store, he’d recruited two Best Buy employees to come work for John’s Crazy Socks the next day.
Mercifully, John’s Crazy Socks held on, and soon it was clear this company was not the same as it once was.
Within a month of its sudden viral fame, the brand sought new things …
Greater support, a merchant success program to counsel its rapid growth, and assurance of the capacity to handle its frequent surges in sales.
John’s Crazy Socks upgraded to Shopify Plus.
It has been an organic rise, but not one that has sustained merely because of a little PR.
The numbers suggest a company not likely to fade any time soon …
- In 22 months of business, revenue over $4 million
- 118,000 orders shipped to all 50 states and 44 different countries
- Year-over-year boosts in conversion rate (15%) and total sales (251%)
… but there are other metrics by which John’s Crazy Socks will measure itself a success.
Here’s one: 18.
That’s how many people with differing abilities John’s Crazy Socks has hired since it began in 2016.
Or another: $170,000.
That’s how much this company has raised for its charitable partners, including the Special Olympics.
If you’re still skeptical, try this: 2,067%.
That’s the YoY rise in recurring orders for John’s Crazy Socks.
In the happiness business, it pays to keep customers coming back.
None of It Happens Without John
If John’s Crazy Socks is not a cute story, then what is it, exactly?
John and Mark have been hard at work to define just that.
Sales are a fine benchmark, and so are its ecommerce chops.
The company is already a whiz at using Klaviyo for email marketing, and its SEO efforts have often led to as great as 10X returns on its paid search ad spend.
And yet, son and father have other ambitions for how they’d like to be remembered.
John and Mark still recall what it was like to start a small business — the counsel they received, the lifelines they were given.
So it will be that, inside a new office space of John’s Crazy Socks on Long Island, to be completed in 2020, the company would like to install an incubation space for young companies hoping to grow like it has.
Donating profits are not quite enough for the decision makers at John’s Crazy Socks. What’s in their heads — how to navigate sudden business success, how not to have it all come tumbling down, and how to thrive when a chunk of revenue is always marked for social causes instead of company coffers — may be the means through which this company’s legacy will last.
None of it happens without John Cronin.
The rise of his company has been improbable. Then again, unlikely is often within reach for the uncommon man.
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