For a company to stand on its “own two feet,” a lot of factors are at play. But when the company is a sock subscription service, those — and many more — feet matter.
Plaid socks, striped socks. Socks with flamingos, poodles, the Sydney or New York skyline. Even socks featuring the familiar faces of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Ironically, you actually don’t necessarily just take your pick, because that’s the business model.
For the past four-and-a-half years, Foot Cardigan has been shipping socks to consumers via its direct-to-consumer model. Every month for $9 or $15 depending on the subscription, customers receive a pair of colorful socks, and while they likely know its arrival window, the sheer element of surprise still lies within. From short socks, to tall socks, to work-appropriate, to show-stopping wild socks, consumers do get to pick which vertical or category of sock they’d prefer, but from there, Foot Cardigan is in charge of the rest of the experience.
A few years back, Foot Cardigan had the chance to be on the ABC show “Shark Tank.” Arguably, the “once-in-a-lifetime chance” ended with a handshake deal on screen, a departure of the minds after shooting. However, as Foot Cardigan CEO Bryan DeLuca said: “Whatever the opposite of hurting is, it did that.”
DeLuca spoke with PYMNTS about how the team tested out the market during a time when subscription or D2C models were not yet a thing, advice he has for other D2C brands and why just because most people have feet may not mean everyone is a customer, and that’s OK.
PYMNTS: Tell me about Foot Cardigan. What is it?
BD: It’s the world’s largest and most popular sock subscription company. And there are number of factors that tell me that. I'm not just saying that. Just in terms of researches and rank and that kind of thing.
We started four to four-and-a-half years ago, and the kind of inspiration was Dollar Shave Club. And that was 2012.
I was immediately drawn to the subscription model, and it looked like it was becoming a thing. I thought: What is a kind of commodity product — like a razor — where a bunch of people need to use it often, and how can I create another subscription? Socks. And it worked. Our website was live about two-and-a-half months later after I saw the Dollar Shave Club commercial.
PYMNTS: So, did you do a lot of testing of the market before launch?
BD: Yeah, and it’s tricky because the question is: How do you sell something to someone when they don’t know it even exists? Because, at the time, a sock subscription was not actually a thing.
We had three different names that we wanted to call this subscription. And three different price points that we tested out. We found some fun pairs of socks online and put images up on the site and created three different websites that had three different testing mechanisms. We changed out the pricing on some, changed other elements, but the content was the same other than the name. We needed to have some variables that we could compare against.
So, we told people about the subscription and asked them for their email so we could let them know when it started to happen. We even asked people if they want to buy a subscription before it even exists to give us their money. We put up a PayPal link, and we basically funneled keywords that we thought people might understand the concept of what we were doing and we had some traffic through some paid ads to these three separate websites.
After about 45 days, we looked at the results, and they were pretty staggering to be honest with you. One name of the subscription was 50 feet, and I had like no clicks. So, had we chosen that one we probably wouldn't have moved forward with the company. Another name, Rad Foot, had like 12 emails, and we were like OK but, considering the amount of traffic we sent to the page, this is not really all that much. But Foot Cardigan, for whatever reason, resonated, and we got like 300 and some-odd email addresses, and we actually had like five people pay for subscriptions before we even existed. So, that was like a 25 percent conversion rate. And we were like, “Wow, there is clearly something going on here.”
At the time, my cofounders and I each had side full-time jobs and families so this was kind of a side gig, and we were thinking this is going to be a full-time thing for us at the time.
PYMNTS: Have you received external funding? What about your experience on ABC’s “Shark Tank?”
BD: External funding, no we have not.
We are four-and-a-half years old, and we did go on the show “Shark Tank” last year and had a great experience with four offers from the sharks. We accepted to deal with two sharks. But, like it happens more often than you think when you watch the show, you make a deal on air, and your intentions are great, and you go back and do the due diligence, and sometimes, it works out, and sometimes, it doesn’t. That happens with any investor. So, we did not end up doing a deal with either shark. Which is fine. Not a boo-hoo sad thing. No complaints on our end.
PYMNTS: But going on “Shark Tank” likely did not hurt the business in terms of exposure to people that might want a sock subscription, right?
BD: No, it didn't hurt. Whatever the opposite of hurting is, it did that.
It was an amazing experience. Everybody on the show is great — the producers, show runners. And really, I was a fan of the show before I applied, and you have a certain level of expectation, but it exceeded those expectations. But as for the reaction from the public, our demographic was one thing before the show aired, and it was another after. Because there’s such a wide range of people watching the show. And it was different demographics, ages, genders and whatever. That was an adjustment for us because we had considered ourselves very irreverent and quirky and a unique brand, and we still consider ourselves that, but for better or worse, we’ve tightened up the ship a little.
To be clear, there are a lot of people who have feet, and they’re not all in the same box. If we really want to scale and become an experience for many many many many people, we know we have to look outside of our little box in terms of how we communicate to people and those we want to communicate with.
PYMNTS: What do you think of the shift from online or just in-store to kind of a mix of both as you’re seeing with Warby Parker and with Bonobos?
BD: I think you’re seeing a huge shift. The department stores and malls are not filled, and it’s easier to find parking in the mall. There’s just a very big shift.
PYMNTS: So, is it the novelty of getting a pair of socks in the mail? Or are they just really good socks? Or are they just simply fun socks? Why does Foot Cardigan do well?
BD: Honestly I think there’s a couple things. Could you get cheaper socks somewhere else? Sure, of course. I can make the argument, however, that our socks are better in quality, and you’ll pay for that versus some really crappy product. Because, no matter how great your business model is, if your stuff is crappy, no one will buy it. You have to have a good product no matter what. That being said, I think consumers love the experience. That’s why Dollar Shave Club has success, because you’re taking a mundane product like a razor and you’re making it fun to just receive a razor. It’s quirky because it has quirky stuff in the packages. Getting funny emails that go along with it. But it’s a razor company. Gone are the days — and I say this all the time — where you’re getting fun mail.
And at the same time, when you order something from Amazon, you know what you’ve ordered, so there’s no surprise. So, I think what people love about the smaller brands is that they’ll send you that box in the mail, and there’s an experience in the surprise of what shows up.
So, here’s some stats. Seventy-three percent of men wear socks every day. And like 41 percent of women wear socks every day, although that seems high considering who I know in my life. Anyway. It’s real, but it's a lot of people with feet. Sure, there are people who want plain white socks, and that’s fine so they wouldn’t buy our product. But there are other people who like fun socks, and we came in kind of at the right time of the sock trend and people wanting colorful socks. I think the sock has replaced the tie as the main accessory now.
But again, it’s a surprise pair of socks in the mailbox, and so, you never know what you’re going to get when you open the mailbox.
Ultimately, people are just craving experience with a brand. That’s what I think.
PYMNTS: So, if people want that “surprise in the mail” experience, will the direct-to-consumer business or industry save the U.S. Postal Service?
BD: (Laughs) Well, I think it depends on the Postal Service’s next move. Or next set of moves, because, much like the goobers and the delivery services that keep popping up, I think there’s going to be some major competition there. And then, there’s the drone delivery. I think that the experience of the delivery is clearly changing. I think it depends on how the USPS decides to innovate or the people who are in charge there because, on Sundays, Postal Service trucks are pulling up to my house, and I think they’re not working but maybe.
So, those services that are careers or drones or other methods of delivering packages or mail, those are what the Postal Service needs to look out for and change around.
PYMNTS: What about connecting with the consumer? Any last thoughts on how a startup D2C business can evolve?
BD: I don't think enough credit is given to millennials, even though I’m not a fan of that term. They are much more savvy than they are given credit for. And I always tell companies that I advise that we need to go to them. So, you’re gonna see a lot of investment in time, investment in education and reaching out to that consumer.
PYMNTS: How many socks have you sold today?
BD: I will say that we are going at a pace that is 200–300 percent year over year. This year is a little bit different, because we are at a bigger stage, but we shipped out almost three-quarters of a million pairs of socks. And next year, it will be a multiple of that.