There is nothing more of a commodity than socks. “Small Business Stacey” interviews sockpreneur Gary George about how he’s successfully built a brand and experience around something as simple as socks.
Hello and welcome everybody to another episode of small business success interview series. I’m your host, Small Business Stacey. Today I have with me Gary George who has so much energy and charisma that I swear the energizer bunny comes to him for coaching and support.
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How are you Gary?
Hey Stacey, I’m doing good. So good to see you and be on your show.
Absolutely. I am so glad to have you here because what we’re talking about today is socks.
Wow, that’s exciting right? You have found a way to make the sock sexy again. But before we get into that, share a little bit about yourself with the audience so they know sort of who you are, where you came from, and what you’re doing now.
Alright. Well basically, hi everybody, my name is Gary George. I am CEO of a few different companies. But today I’m here to talk about Sock Junkee, which is my sock company. Stacey and I met in the past because of what I do in my other side of my businesses which is a marketing firm named Blazin Multimedia. We market and work with tons of small business, medium size, large, all different types of companies and stuff like that. Growing them and getting them out there. Making sure that everybody’s automating as much as they should and getting things done the way that they should to really expose their brands and products of services.
So, of course, it was my time to jump into the product arena. I knew I wanted to do something fun, exciting, different. I’m all about fun and different and that’s the reason why we did the sock line, which we’re gonna talk a little bit more about.
Okay. Great. Alright, so that’s a little bit about the professional you but I wanna know the real you.
Alright, so I got some questions for you.
No right or wrong answers alright? So would you say a multiple choice question or essay?
You can give me a mix of both. I’ll take it.
Oh alright. An integrated approach.
Alright. Shower in the morning or shower at night?
Oh morning for sure. Gotta feel fresh all day long.
Alright. Good to know. I know you’re sort of very adventuresome. So skydiving or bungee jumping?
Oh skydiving. I’ve been several times. I went to get certified and everything for it.
Oh man. Alright.
I’m an official adrenaline junkee. Yes I am. I can’t get enough.
The question is if you open up a sock will that work?
It might. I should market that. Safety chute.
Right. Socks that save the world. Alright. Well we are talking about socks today and there is nothing I don’t think anything that is more commoditized than a sock right?
So I talk about this a lot because in my coffee and smoothie business, it’s a commodity as well. Like a coffee is a coffee and a smoothie is a smoothie. You just can’t compete in that way. So share a little bit about what you’re doing that are really making socks sexy again.
Well definitely it is all about being different. Nobody wants to be the same. That is my pitch. I say throw away those boring white socks. No more boring black socks. It’s time for fun socks. Put the fun on your feet. And that’s what we’re doing, is putting them back on their foot. Giving people some style. Giving you a person … we call them personality socks because we have something that fits everybody’s personality. Everybody’s just tired and ready to express themselves in multiple ways.
For a lot of guys who are hardcore businessmen in corporate America, the only smidgen of personality they get to shine through is on their socks. You know, they gotta wear the suits and this and that but they gotta stay in the status quo but they can get crazy with the socks and let everybody feel their real personality shine through.
So we kinda capitalized on that as well with the kids who are into sneakers. Big now, sneakers are huge. I mean my son and many other sons have paid $4, 500 dollars a pair. They’re really serious about this stuff.
Oh, they’re not even playing. I mean like it’s nothing, Stacey. Some of them are $800 bucks and these kids are buying. You’ll be surprised how many kids you see walking around and they got $800 sneakers on-
Alright did you guys hear that? $500 for a pair of socks.
Not socks. The sneakers.
Oh, the sneakers. Okay.
Yeah, the sneakers. They’re all about the sneakers. So those guys are serious because they’re collectors. When my son started doing it I was kinda like saying, “Wait a minute. You’re crazy. I’m not paying 300, 400 dollars for a pair of sneakers.” But then he kept saying, “Dad listen, I’m getting them at this price. You don’t understand.” You know, he had a business all worked out. He said, “I’m paying them 300 but in two weeks they’re gonna be $600. So I can wear them for a while and sell them for more than I bought them.” And I started to understand that whole world of how these guys really get serious and build these huge collections because it’s like collecting paintings and artwork nowadays.
It really is. These sneakers are exploding in value. So we knew that the socks were hand in hand with that. Those are the guys that don’t mind spending the money to look good, to have the latest and greatest. And that’s the reason why we did Sock Junkee.
Interesting. Now you’ve eluded to that it’s from the kids all the way up to the CEO, is it gender neutral? Like can women wear these as well? I know you mentioned men-
Absolutely. Oh yeah. Most definitely. Most of our buyers actually … almost in every product-based business, the women are always the buyers. Right? They’re gonna buy first. So they’re the ones buying, “Oh I wanna get this.” So they wear a lot of them. We have a lot of female-oriented designs. We have a lot of other designs that they’re universal. Which I’m gonna show you and you’ll see a lot of different stuff that everybody enjoys. Old, young, it’s crazy.
Because when we first started it I didn’t even think that we were targeting the older demographic. This is what I always say in my market of business and what I always do when I’m consulting all of my clients, is say, “Don’t ever think that people want what you like. You will never ever know it. Don’t base anything you do in marketing off of what you like. Because you will be wrong nine out of ten no matter how much you do it.” And even myself, being in marketing for 20 years, we have contests in the office where my guys are betting on which one of our ads is gonna win. And we’re all wrong. It’s always different. You don’t know what determines it. So we don’t guess, we just test. That’s what we do in marketing.
Oh I love that. Don’t guess, just test. And it’s so true ’cause you know, we think as marketers we’re so smart and we know it all. And I know you’ve done presentations before where you’ll throw up the ads and you’ll ask us to vote on which do you think had the highest response and I’m always wrong.
Right? So many of us are always wrong. You cannot determine it. That’s the reason why you gotta go test it. So we started testing. We got all these older demographics of particularly ladies. They were almost all females. We have a big wine collection. They love the wine collection. So they started buying these win socks. But not just that, we would think that we would try to determine, “Oh, we’re going to this type of event. It’s gonna be older people so we gotta bring the older designs.” We were wrong again.
See again, you can’t count on what you think or what you know. Now all of the older people we thought were gonna be buying for themselves, they were all buying the younger designs because they were buying for their nieces, their nephews, their grandsons, my son, my this. That’s who they were buying for. So we were like, “We sold way more of the young designs to the old people than we would have imagined.” Yeah.
That is amazing. Alright, so I know people are probably thinking, “Well gosh, I have my white sports socks or my black dress socks in my drawer. So what do these socks look like?” Are we talking about these fancy socks, give us a demo.
Yes. I will give you a demo. One thing about our socks is this, we have developed a process to make them supersaturated, eye-popping color that comes out of the socks. Plus we put these crazy designs on them and I’m gonna show you a few of them. And we put a ton of personality in. So let’s just take this one for example. This one is “taco bout it”. Right? We got tacos on there. We got our nice color. You see how vibrant the purples are? The tacos out of there. The nice saying on top so people can show it off and have a laugh about it. We put our humor in a bit of everything.
Alright, I’m gonna show you another one. Which is another good example. I love me, you should too. Right? So these again, all different types of personalities that you may have in your family members. Stuff like that. That barely awake. This one always sells good ’cause people are always like, “That’s me in the morning. I’m barely awake.” It’s funny ’cause I get so many people who buy these socks and they say, “Oh this is perfect for my boyfriend because we call him bear.”
So it’s like people that have names, nicknames that go with it. Stuff like that. This is another pun. You crazy. So this is another one that a lot of people like as well. Then we have our wine collection where we got everything happens for a reason.
Oh yeah. I’m in.
I know Jim’s in on this. “Everything happens for a Riesling”. Which is another good play on word?.
Oh my gosh.
You know, so we got a bunch of them. Will run for beer. And again, we try to make sure that we put some type of personality into it. We make it funny so that you’re not just putting on a sock in the morning. You feel like, “Ah, it’s just a sock and it’s boring.” It’s something you wanna wear. You feel good. This for my yogi’s. “Boom shockra lockra”.
So we’re always playing with different designs and stuff like that. So that’s what makes us different. That’s what makes Sock Junkee different. We do premium high quality socks. These aren’t regular socks. I tell everybody we don’t make socks, we engineer socks. We put so much testing and time into making sure the fabrics were appropriate. What we use to make them breathable so that they don’t fade when you wash them. They don’t lose their elasticity. Every single one of them has the shock absorbing heel on the back of them so that they feel really good on your feet. So they are definitely premium quality socks. People see that and they know the difference between our socks and the regular Joe sock shops out there.
Oh nice. So I’m really excited now to talk about the marketing of this. I would imagine people are taking pictures. I mean, do you have a hashtag?
Yeah, tell me a little bit about that.
Marketing, we’re going to town with it. I mean people love the socks. It’s something that makes people feel good. Whenever you got a product that makes people feel good and smile, you can get a lot of great content for social media and everything else. So we got tons of testimonials, tons of people talking aboutthe socks, how great they are. You know, they come in our booth and they go around and they’re just laughing at all the ones. We record them a lot of times and we have their reactions to certain designs. So they give out a lot of that information.
So we do a lot of that stuff with making sure that we test everything that we’re doing and we’re working with different audiences. Whenever we’re dealing with different audiences some people like this, some people like that, so you never can guess. Like I say, you gotta just test everything. Yeah that’s it.
Well you know, in your Blazin Media business you focus on online marketing, digital marketing. So I’m curious, are you doing any offline marketing in this sock business?
Yes. We are. We’re doing a ton of offline marketing as well. That is really our hand in hand sales where we’re doing big conferences, shows, trade shows, stuff like that. We go out and we’ll set up and sell socks at these different events. We’re using it as a marketing push and a lot of people don’t understand this. Especially small business owners that you feel like you always have to be making money from every effort that you put out there. But I’ve always preached that to all of my clients the same, to say, “Listen, this is the difference between I work with the big guys, to the medium, to the small guys, the difference of that is I continuously see that’s common with the big guys.”
They don’t look at that beginning number. They’re always looking at the end number. They’re always going for what is gonna be the golden nugget at the end of the rainbow. Now just what I’m getting out of it right now but what I’m gonna get out of return business. Out of referrals, out of how many times I repeat business, what kind of lifetime value am I gonna get out of this customer. They’ve already calculated all that so they know how much they’re willing to spend. And that’s the reason why most of the big dogs are willing to spend more than what a person will spend initially. It almost felt backwards.
I learned that from affiliate marketing when I was an affiliate marketer and I was marketing all these other products. I was doing ringtones and teeth whitening and all this other crazy stuff. It would be like the product would cost $15 and they would pay us $20 per sale. I was like, “How the hell are they paying us more than what the product costs?” You know? That was my first foray into understanding bigger business and understanding why they’re willing to pay you $20 for a $15 sale. Because they know that the lifetime value of that purse that’s probably 150 bucks. I’ll just wait for it. It’s gonna come around.
So that’s the way it goes. And that’s the way we approach the same thing we do with our socks as well.
Great. So I’m very proud of you. Because my thing is “gross is vanity, net is for sanity“.
Right. It’s not about Facebook likes. You can’t deposit that in the bank.
Exactly. Right? That’s for sure.
A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.
So I’m so glad that you’re focused on retention. So then how do you bring those customers back? Like they buy a pair or maybe five pairs of socks. Like how are you planning going back and marketing them to get them to buy more?
Data data data. This is the thing that I always push all of my clients. This is the reason why I actually did this because I’m always pushing my clients sometimes. I get aggravated. My wife, she’ll always say, “Why are you getting mad at the client for not listening to you?” And I was like, “I know this is the way that they just did this. They would be so much more successful.” So I said, “No, let me just do it so I don’t drive myself crazy all the time. Let me do it myself sometimes.” And that’s what I chose to do with this, which was doing that.
And this is one of the things I always told all of them, collect the data. Collect the data. When we’re at these shows and I’m face to face with a person, this is the number one way, this is the best marketing entail you could possibly get being face to face with an individual. You now have a focus group, a person right there that you can ask pop off questions. So what do you like? What do you don’t like? What’s your kids … Oh you got a nephew? Oh you got a niece? You got a grandson? Who are you buying this for? Oh your husband. Your husband likes beer right? Oh you like this? Okay, I’m writing all that down. Everything I’m asking them and I’m pulling out of their heads, I’m writing it down and I’m putting it into our database.
So that when I send them an email … That our emails are speaking to them. Some people say, “Man, you must be reading my mind. I was just thinking about this.” And it’s because no, I’m not reading your mind. I’m paying attention to what you say and what you’re doing. By the time you finish a conversation with me I know how many grandkids, how many kids you got, what kind of dog, where you been last week, what kind of drinks you drink.
I’m doing what Facebook does electronically. I’m doing it in the real world by talking to people face to face and doing these types of promotional marketing expos.
Wow. And I guess they then become your brand ambassador right?
Absolutely. They love it more than anything when I’m really able to pitch them … One of the things we’re doing, well I don’t wanna give away too many of my secrets … wait for it.
This is a good one though. We’re doing this now. This is gonna be really cool. We’re running contests for people. Right? To come up with different designs. We’re putting their name into the design and they also have their signature on the back of the sock. So it’s really cool. So people are going crazy.
Because what gave me this idea, so many people were giving us so many good ideas. I was like, “I like that idea.” Then we would print it up. Then I would send them a pair and they would go bananas because they were like, “You really listened to me. You really made it.” I was like, “I told you I liked that idea. We did it. Here’s a free pair of socks.” They love that.
So they went crazy and that gave me the idea. Say, “Oh we should do this more often. We should get more people involved.” Because now if you got a sock that has your name on it that’s for sale on a site, how many people, how many friends, how many family members are you gonna tell to say, “Go check out this sock company. Not just because I like the socks. But this is my sock. This is the Stacey sock. This is the Stacey sock that’s right there.” And it says your name on the name of the sock says it built into the sock. So it’s a real great way of getting some real hardcore brand ambassadors.
Oh my God. How brilliant. So this is not just a flock, this is like a piece of art.
Exactly. You know, many people say that. They say, “Man I really don’t wanna wear it. I just wanna hang it.” Yeah, but they retain the color so well you’d be surprised. You can still wear them and they still look great.
Wow. Okay, so I know you showed us some designs that you have and it sounds like those were ones that you either had people give you input to or you came up with the designs. But can people customize their own sock or do you have that in place yet?
Yes. They can. We do have that in place. People can do their own customs as well and we’re doing it now for a lot of teams, sports teams, organizations we’re doing it for. So definitely anyone who comes they always ask for business owners. I got a lot of business owners who give them away to their clients. They market themselves with those, that kind of thing. So yeah, we definitely do customs as well.
Brilliant. Alright, so we are coming into the holiday season. Everybody’s gonna be whipping out their wallet.
Yeah, what are you planning to do to compete against everybody else who’s out there selling socks?
Yeah, well this is a time when it gets very interesting. This is when we gotta go into full gear. Alright, end of the quarter, fourth quarter is when all retailers know that this is when you’re gonna get about 70, 80% of your revenue is gonna come in these three months. So you really gotta buckle down and get for real.
Most people who are new to it don’t understand it. They think it’s coming all year. It’s really not. Most of it’s coming right now so you gotta get really really prepared. You have to prepare early. We start in August doing our preparations for what’s gonna come into the holiday season. We’re doing a bunch of stuff. We’re making gift packages. We’re doing a corporate gifting program with some of the bigger corporations where they’re giving these socks or making custom socks and giving them to their employees.
So we’re doing stuff like that. Where alliances can allow you time to get you a lot further, even then what we’re doing on the hand in hand. So we make sure that we have both ends of that covered. From a consumer side of things we put in all the bells and the whistles to make sure that when you come to the site that we retained your information. That we can follow you around with those retargeting. Retargeting is the most important thing in eCommerce period. Like you must remind that individual. All of us go shop at a site and we might want that item but we just didn’t pull the trigger at the time. The dog started barking, my alarm clock went off, whatever, and I forgot to purchase.
But if I see it again and I keep going back on the line and I keep seeing ads for it that remind me about this product that I really really want, that’s the key. So retargeting is a huge jewel, even more so than services based businesses for product-based businesses. So that’s a big thing.
What else do we have that we’re rolling out? We’re also doing a gift box service that we’re rolling out. Which will be a subscription service where a person can sign up and say, “You got a Sock Junkee in your family who loves socks? What better way to not just give you one gift but I’m gonna give you another sock every month, another two socks every month that continue to come.” And that kind of thing. So we’re also rolling that out which is our subscription service for our socks too.
So we got a lot of stuff planned.
Wow Gary. You got it going on. Awesome. What I find so unique about it, and this is interesting, to me anyway it seems like maybe you had your midlife crisis kinda similar like I did. I was running a business and then I needed something fun to do. I started my coffee and smoothie business and I, just like you, work with my husband. So we don’t really talk about this on the show but what is it like working with your spouse?
And be nice.
I will definitely be nice. We have worked together for 20 years. It’s actually been 20 years this year, 2018. About to be 21 that we’ve been in business with Blazin Multimedia. My wife helped me start the company. She was intrical and everything to get it up and running. She did so much of the sales aspect and so many other things that really got us some huge clients. When we were initially starting the business, growing the business, that kind of thing.
It’s definitely a challenge like everyone knows. Like marriage is a challenge period. But to work together in a marriage and be business partners. It’s a whole nother level of a challenge. So I take my hat off to you Stacey, as well as Dave and everyone else who can do it. Because it is an extreme challenge to be flexible enough to work with your spouse in a way that you don’t kill each other. So you really have to humble yourself. And that’s what I find, more than anything. Sometimes you have to humble yourself and realize that you can’t deal with your spouse the same way that you deal with your employees no matter what.
They have to have a different type of way that we do things, that are slightly different no matter what the situation. So once you understand that and you both understand your strengths and your weaknesses you can really start to fill in the gaps with one another. That’s what a partnership is supposed to be about. The gaps that I have, you fill them. And that way we form a really great together and we can continue to complement one another.
That, or maybe you come out with a line of mood socks. So depending on how you’re feeling that day your spouse can see the sock and then they know.
I like that.
We might have to put that out there. The Stacey brand.
Alright send me my commission.
Alright Gary. Oh my God. You have shared so much valuable information to the small business community. Because we spend a lot of time talking a lot about service based businesses but I haven’t brought anybody on to talk about products. And specifically like eCommerce and something as mundane as a pair of socks. So are there any maybe last words of advice that you would give to a small business owner running maybe an online store? Like Shopify or selling a commoditized product like a cup of coffee or a pair of socks?
Right. Yeah definitely. I would definitely give my piece of advice is to build your list. Your list is money. Email list is your bread and butter of every business if you’re an online business. And even offline. You have to have that email list as a means of communicating with one another. Don’t just depend on social media. So many people think that that’s the way and we are constantly beating this into our clients heads. To say, “Do not get comfortable just building up a social media following. You don’t own that.”
Facebook can change their algorithm at any moment. What your normal posts … And it’s happening right now. It’s called Facebook edge. It’s their algorithm. So only less than 20% of your followers actually see your message. So for me, to build my messages, and then my posts. I can’t even get to my followers without having to pay for it, I don’t like that. So I have to build my email list where I can get direct access to those individuals. Whether it’s email, whether your crowd is younger and you need to do an SMS, whatever it is you need to build a list that you can communicate with your individuals consistently about what you’re doing in your business.
That’s my number one biggest piece of advice for anyone getting into business, but particularly eCommerce, anything product base business, that kind of thing. Definitely wanna do that. Second thing you wanna do is you gotta market like crazy. You can’t sit back and think that everybody’s gonna come because you got a great product. It will not happen. Doesn’t matter if you just invented something that is revolutionary. No one will come running for it because they won’t know it exists. So you have to really get out there and push.
You mean build it and they will come doesn’t work?
Right? Does not work. You better pump pump pump and get it out there.
Alright, Gary says it doesn’t work.
That’s right. So we put a lot … and that’s why I always tell small business owners is that they should not penny pinch on your marketing expense because it’s not an expense, it’s an investment. That’s money you’re getting back. So you need to plot as much as you possibly can to push your business forward fast enough. People wanna go slow motion and then they burn themselves out because it’s going too slow. And that’s why you see so many businesses fail. People get scared.
We like to say, “Listen, if you do it fast you’re gonna see the results fast. And when you get that coming back to you it makes you more excited. It makes everything start to work and click. You got some more money in the bank. Makes everybody feel better and that’s the way you can do it quickly. Don’t do it slow motion. Go fast and do it aggressively.” So that’s my tips for the day.
Alright. Gary, you must have read my book Small Business Marketing Made EZ. Because that is the I for invest in the Action System.
Great choice in words. Alright, Gary everybody is clamoring on their computer or their phone. How can I get in touch with him?
Care to share that information?
Absolutely you can get in touch with me. Just go to sockjunkee.com. That is junkee with two E’s. J-U-N-K-E-E, sockjunkee.com. You can also get me at my email which is email@example.com. So sock J-U-N-K-E-E-Z at gmail.com and you can touch base with me there. Whether it’s for sockjunkee, whether you need some help with marketing with Blazin Media, either one will get to me. We can talk. I’m willing to help out other small businesses. Other people looking to grow aggressively. We can help you do it.
Yeah, if anybody can do it, Gary George can do it. Thank you so much for coming on with me today. Your socks, they’re everything. They’re just gorgeous pieces of art. They make you smile. They’re for every age group. I commend you on doing something really fun and making a lot of money doing it.
Thank you Stacey.
Thanks for coming on with me today.
Appreciate it. Thank you for having me.
You got it. Let me close this out.
This is small business Stacey, your Small Biz Marketing Specialist here to help you get your marketing into action so you can become a #Small Biz Marketing Wiz. Buh bye everybody.
Stacey Riska, aka "Small Business Stacey" is a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about saving small business and rebuilding Main Street. She helps small and local business owners become a #SmallBizMarketingWiz by teaching them marketing strategies that get MORE: MORE leads, MORE customers/clients/patients, MORE sales, and MORE money. Stacey is the founder of Small Biz Marketing Specialist, THE go-to place for marketing tips, techniques and strategies that get results. She's also the author of "Small Business Marketing Made EZ" where she shares the 6-simple-step plan to get your marketing into ACTION - literally and figuratively. Stacey is also the creator of the Daily Deals for Massive Profits, an online video training program that teaches small and local business owners how to use daily deal sites like Groupon to skyrocket their business growth and get massive profits. In this program she teaches from experience, as it was the key strategy that transformed her coffee and smoothie business from being $500K in debt to a 7-figure profitable business. When not saving the small business world, she enjoys sipping red wine, eating chocolate (who doesn't!) and spending time with her amazing husband.
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