Stance Socks On Growing An Under Developed Product Category

In June 2009  Skullcandy Founder Rick Alden began examining the factors behind the long-term success of brands and realized that those companies first to market in non-existent or underdeveloped product categories have reaped the most benefits.

Tapping a group of talented individuals and industry veterans, including former Element Global Marketing Director Ryan Kingman and former Reef President John Wilson, Alden set his sites on the action-sports sock category  and by January 2010, Stance was born. With the help of a strong crew and a team of skaters including Chris Cole and Lizard King, Stance released its initial line to retail last August, receiving a strong response and steady support from retailers and consumers, according to Kingman. The independently owned and operated company, which is headed up by CEO Jeff Kearl and rounded out with Director of Sourcing and Production Taylor Shupe and Brand VP Aaron Hennings, is gearing up for another solid year. We caught up with Kingman to find out what’s in store for the new year.

The Stance crew (L to R) John Wilson, Ryan Kingman, Aaron Hennings, Jeff Kearl, and Taylor Shupe

The Stance crew (L to R) John Wilson, Ryan Kingman, Aaron Hennings, Jeff Kearl, and Taylor Shupe

Why does the industry need a sock brand, and why did you see an opportunity in this category? Are there many action sports brands within this realm?
Stance saw an opportunity to address a category that has been neglected and overlooked by most brands over the years and bring it to the surface, show it off, champion it. Whenever there’s a product being manufactured in a space with an excited and loyal consumer base there’s an opportunity to develop the category and make it shine. As it turns out there are a lot more sock enthusiasts and aficionados than we had hoped for. Truth be told, all action sports brands are in this realm. Like stated prior, it’s traditionally been a category that’s been neglected with very few brands taking it serious enough to commit any serious development, sales or marketing funds toward.

How has the brand been received by retailers and the industry as a whole?
Quite well, thankfully. There’s been a lot of support at the retail level because the shops know what the category is doing and that it’s capable of doing better. The industry on the other hand has more of a divide between supporters and “sock blockers.” Some see Stance as a threat assuming that we’re gearing up to develop an apparel brand or that we’re going to eat away at their unsung sock biz. The other side of the divide has been supportive knowing that our efforts will eventually grow the category for everyone by bringing much needed relevance to something that has been a quiet performer. We’re adding more relevance.

Which retailers are you targeting and how will the product placement look in these shops?
Specialty retailers that we as individuals have long-term relationships with and have done business with for many years. We’re hoping to build a strong base and build mutually beneficial relationships. Our vision is to have Stance specific fixtures in these stores that give our brand a clear point of view that doesn’t get muted by any other brands. Very similar to most of the current apparel and accessory manufacturers’ in-store goals. We’re just doing it in a category that wasn’t fully developed thus leaving the opportunity to step in and help.

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How do line changes work with socks—do you plan to release new styles/colorways every season, once a year, et cetera?
We’re developing product for Spring, Back to School, and Holiday selling seasons as well as a snow-specific season for our snow offering.

As far as marketing goes, what is the brand’s strategy in the next six months to a year and what goals do you hope to achieve by then?
Nothing overly complicated or ingenious really—the same steps any other brand would hope to accomplish; great product, compelling brand launch, working alongside talented and creative individuals that endorse the brand and understand the category, and engage the consumer on every available channel of communication available to us…all within the confines of a start-up budget of course.

What are some of the materials you are using in your products and how will that give you a competitive advantage over other brands in the category?
That’s top secret.

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As a new brand you are obviously focusing on a narrow category and ways to improve and gain market share there. Are there plans for Stance to eventually branch out and include other categories, such as apparel?
Everyone seems to think so, but right now we have our sight set on creating outstanding product in the category we committed ourselves to. If we’re lucky enough to make it out of the gate and get in the race then I guess we’ll see where it goes but for now we’re just psyched on socks.

What specific marketing strategies is the brand using, as far as product placement in retail, POP displays, advertising, and telling the brand story?
We’ve developed a Stance-branded, sock specific in-store fixture that helps us stand out from the pack and avoid being put in the existing “sock section” of the retail environment. We ask that our retailers embrace our presentation and take in a 1, 2 or 3-sided fixture to help us convey brand presence and story. As far as advertising goes, we’re a start up brand and have to treat our marketing spend as such. While we are investing in advertising, it’s on a much smaller level than may be expected. Our initial focus has been digital on our proprietary site and banner ads in the skate space. We want to build a solid digital platform from which we can engage the consumer through brand messaging and product. In addition we’re also going to be advertising in regional mags that help support specific regions and the retailers therein. Another important component of our marketing is our “Punks & Poets” which is comprised of the athletes, brand ambassadors, and artists we’re working with. These are the individuals that help personify the brand message “The Uncommon Thread” and get consumers hyped on the product.

In regard to “Punks & Poets,” are you planning on doing signature styles?
Yes, we’ve got a couple of different programs that were working on. First off, we are introducing a signature Lizard King sock that will be available in March of next year. It glows in the dark. We’re also working on a Chris Cole signature series. Stance “Artists Series” is a program that we developed which enables us to work with a number of different artists by giving them a medium that most artists have not yet had the opportunity of working on. These socks have been very well received and have generated a lot of interest form artists that want to work with us.

Anything else Stance is working on that you’d like to comment on?
We’re in the midst of developing our snow product and marketing plan. It’s been a lot of fun coming up with product ideas and reaching out to athletes. We’ll be premiering the line at the upcoming SIA show in January but will have some AO product available so that we don’t miss the current season’s selling dates.