How We Started A $18K/Month Fun And Colorful Groomsmen Socks Company

$17,800
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
product
No Cold Feet LLC
from Chicago, IL
started December 2016
$17,800
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
4.56M
alexa rank
617
followers

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

We are Mari and Matt McNamara and we’re the founders of No Cold Feet, a gifting company currently focused on groomsmen gifts. We’re in our third full year of business and planning on growing our business more than ever with new products, increased marketing, and focusing on growing our various platforms.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company

More specifically, we sell socks with custom labels/sleeves for grooms to ask their groomsmen to stand with them (a groomposal) or to thank them for standing with them on their wedding day. We also have a lot of brides who buy our “in case of cold feet” socks and labels to give to their soon-to-be husbands. We recently re-launched our website in order to allow for product expansion and to improve our overall presence.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company

Last year we passed $200k in revenue and have cumulatively sold over 10k orders in the last three years.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

During college, I (Matt) became enamored with startups, entrepreneurship, technology, and the idea of working for a company that combined all three of these. I ended up with a degree in advertising and anticipated working in that industry where people commonly job hop from one agency to another every couple of years.

I left college with somewhere north of $75k in student loans which largely meant a job at an early stage startup was out of the question. I ended up at a 90-year-old manufacturing company as a Marketing Coordinator where I have thrived there largely in part to an amazing manager and the nature of a small company where you can wear as many hats as you put on.

In hindsight, this was an incredible opportunity for me and largely what allowed my wife and me to successfully launch No Cold Feet. On the professional side, I gained experience in marketing, sales, e-commerce, product development, manufacturing abroad, hiring, and so many other skills that ultimately fed into operating our business. On the personal side, the stability of the company, some early promotions and raises, and living at home for three years allowed me to significantly pay down my student loans, buy a car, and save for an engagement ring...

Fast forward to 2015 and Mari and I got married in November of that year. At the time I saw a trend of grooms having their groomsmen wear brightly colored, and often matching, socks. I think 3 of the 4 weddings I stood in prior to our own wedding I was given socks as part of the groomsman gift. In the scheme of the wedding, the groom often has little decision-making power over most aspects of the event and, while not fully the case for myself, I decided we’d be doing matching socks in the color of my choosing.

The next step was deciding which pair and finding a place to buy them. I settled on a bright green pair from Express but finding a single store to buy the 8 or so pairs I needed to be proved surprisingly difficult. I learned that depending on the brand/store, it was often hard to find the same pair in those quantities. Worse yet was the price because even with coupons and a sale the best price you could get to was $10 per pair (maybe $9 if it was on clearance or something). This felt expensive for buying simple socks in bulk. Fun socks in stylish designs/colors/patterns were starting to become a thing around this time and they were sold between $12 and $21 per pair. I thought I could do better by offering fun designs in a multitude of colors and combining that with bulk discounting. The only validation was researching how common having groomsmen wearing custom socks was and what it would cost to manufacture an initial run of our socks to see if the numbers would work.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company A common site at large retailers where the only socks they seem to have a lot of are the ones no one wants

For about a year I sat on the idea, often returning to it when I was daydreaming and eventually Mari must’ve gotten annoyed with me claiming I could do this and she more or less said shut up and do it already. With our combined finances, we had paid off my student loans, saved a bit of money, and were at a good point to start something on the side.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Our product design process was relatively simple compared to other physical products or even other textiles. We began by reaching out to manufacturers on Alibaba, maybe twenty or so originally, and narrowed down to six for quoting and samples. Because socks are fairly standard sizing you essentially pick your target size (e.g. average men, children’s, etc) and then provide a design to the manufacturer who converts it to the file that a knitting machine requires.

We found a blank template for sock design online and had a graphic designer (a previous co-worker of Matt’s) create all of the patterns that would eventually become our first round of socks. The colors were chosen based on what would match with standard formal wear for weddings plus a few others that were more aligned with the seasons. We started with sixteen styles including argyle, polka dots, and stripes. Before placing our full order we ended up adding solid black socks because of Mari’s intuition and this proved to be a great idea.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company Original template/design file (left) and the final product (right)

We ordered one pair of each style from 6 or so manufacturers. The cost of each set of samples was between $50 per pair and/or $250 for the set of three and most manufacturers in our space will credit the cost of the samples towards a full production order. The samples were mostly about the size and feel as some manufacturers matched our colors if they had the material in stock but others just used similar colors.

After receiving the samples we knew which manufacturer we liked and did a small friend and family sampling to validate our opinions of the quality. Ultimately, we settled on a manufacturer and moved forward with our first order. For the most part, the initial order was smooth but we definitely ran into some quality issues including colors not matching our specifications perfectly and typical garment quality issues like holes and miss stitching where one color crossed into the other.

Our first bulk order was for about 7,000 pairs of socks. Between the socks, shipping, customs fees, forming our company, and a number of other miscellaneous costs we started the company for about $16k.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company Our original bulk purchased delivered and stored in parents’ garage

As an aside, we looked into manufacturers in the US prior to placing our order but none would talk to us as our quantities were too low for them. After our initial quality issues, we began our search again and eventually located a small family-owned hosiery company that was amazing about answering our questions and teaching us about manufacturing the products. We’ve since placed multiple orders with them to fill supply chain gaps with our primary manufacturer.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Once we settled on the fact that we were starting the business, one of the natural next steps is to decide on a name. Mari and I were walking to the gym one day and one of the first five ideas was No Cold Feet. I was immediately sold on it; the name played on the fact we would start with socks, the idea of not getting cold feet on your wedding day, and didn’t have socks in the name which would allow us to branch out into other areas without rebranding. The .co URL was available, .com was available for purchase, and social media handles we liked were available. We launched with nocoldfeet.co to avoid the initial cost of purchasing the .com domain but about a year later purchased the .com domain once we had built up some momentum and negotiated the cost down a bit.

Do not dismiss platforms that align with your products or brand! It is critical to have a product that people want and offer fantastic service but these platforms have a lot of reach, literally worldwide.

We launched our website in the first week of June 2017 within a week of receiving our product and again, with Mari’s intuition, we launched on Etsy shortly thereafter. Mari also said we should expand our product offering to include customized labels/sleeves that go around the socks themselves. Grooms could use them for groomposals (asking their groomsmen to stand with them on the big day) or as thank you gifts for their groomsmen on the day of. Brides also buy our products as their gifts for their groom for cute day-of gifts.

For our website launch, we used one of the cheap Shopify templates and that worked but we had improvements we wanted to do from day one. Our first website had a stock image of a bridal party in socks that we didn’t even sell! All the product photography at the time was done by Matt and that largely met our needs. Our first order on our website came in within a week of launching. Etsy orders started flowing in within the first week of launching our shop as well but quickly skyrocketed to being our main focus for the next two years.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company Old homepage of nocoldfeet.co with a stock image, those weren’t our socks!

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company New website with a fresh design, now featuring our own products!

For us, our launch was admittedly easy. Yes, some of Mari’s product ideas like the customizable labels to go around the socks helped beyond Matt’s expectations, but launching on Etsy where their audience overlaps our own extremely well was key to our early success. We think of our core demographics as 25-35-year-olds who are recently engaged or getting married soon. This exact group flocks to Etsy to buy products and gifts for their big day.

There wasn’t much fanfare or anything particularly strategic to our launch but it did highlight that people don’t just come to your website… When you launch your site you’ve created an island in the middle of the ocean and it takes work to let people know by building a social following or working on content to drive SEO. Many people find our site by searching for us because they saw us on Etsy and ultimately purchase there because they can sometimes get a slightly better deal. If an existing platform, like Etsy, isn’t appropriate for your products you need to plan in time, efforts, and likely some expenses to drive traffic.

It’s really important to stay lean and price your product appropriately. Just as personal finances are critical, so are your business finances. Knowing your numbers, understanding them, and spending responsibly enables you to take risks and grow the business more comfortably.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The topic of attracting and retaining customers is a very interesting one for us because on one hand, really, the only thing we had to do to attract customers was to launch on Etsy. Of course, we had to have a product people wanted, looked good, and was priced correctly, but with those aside, our initial customers came to us because of the marketing Etsy did. On the other hand, we always have to attract new customers because weddings are theoretically a one-time thing so customer retention is an interesting area that is hard for us.

That being said, there are absolutely things we do in an effort to be the business that people buy form because there are competitors and our customers definitely have a choice.

The first thing is “simply” taking care of our customers. On a platform like Etsy reviews are everything. We have over 1300 five star reviews and we go to some extreme lengths to customize products to our customer’s desires, get them products with extremely quick turnaround times, and most importantly taking care of errors no questions asked. That last one is something we pride ourselves on. Of course, we don’t want errors to happen but when they do we address them promptly. The cost to offer this level of service is built into our products but has arguably been a marketing cost in the sense that customers rely on and trust reviews on a site like Etsy.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company

Also important for any business is presenting yourself well. Shopify and similar services provide templates that lay a great foundation for good design especially early on in a business where you’re trying to manage start-up costs and may not know what you like, how your customers will shop your products/how you should present them, and don’t know what features will be critical as you scale your business. Related to this is your product photography. Whether it’s a physical product like socks and labels or a web-app, clean imagery that accurately portrays what your customer will be receiving is critical to instilling the confidence to purchase.

As previously mentioned, weddings are generally a one-time thing. So, how are we to go about creating repeat customers? One avenue we’ve only dipped our toes into is converting the groomsmen from gift recipients to paying customers. After all, we sell fun and comfortable socks which is a widely popular category. So far we’ve tested subtle coupon codes buried in some of the fine print on product labels (no conversions thus far). But overall we have to balance minimal branding and advertising ourselves on products that are being given as personalized gifts.

This year we’re really focusing on owning and growing our customer list so we can test different marketing strategies to increase conversion, growth, and ideally retention. With that, we’ll expand into email marketing and retargeting. .

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

No Cold Feet is doing quite well and we’re excited about the future. We were profitable in 2017. In 2018 we did over $100k in revenue at roughly 65% profit margins and in 2019 we saw revenue increase by over 75% to just over $213k with similar margins.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company growth on Etsy since 2016

Last year we also hired two part-time employees, had our first child (working from the hospital while he slept), moved the business into a proper office, solved our product quality issues and placed our largest order yet, did our first photo shoot, and relaunched our website with a new design.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company Receiving our first large inventory order to our storage unit after moving out of our parents’ garage (left) and our even larger storage unit to accommodate our growing selection of inventory (right)

So far in 2020 we’re off to a great start, currently up just over 35% over 2019 and we’re looking to do even more than that. With the redesign of our website last year, we’re really hoping to focus our efforts there. We see our having so much revenue from Etsy as a risk factor and really want to diversify platforms and own the conversation with our or customers more than we can on someone else’s platform. Currently, Etsy makes up around 85% of our sales, with our website at roughly another 10%, and partnerships rounding out the last 5%.

While there are so many things we want to get done to build our site and other channels, we’re investing a significant amount of effort and money with a marketing agency to help with SEO and content. We’ll likely spend over $60k with them this year which is a sizable chunk of our revenues but one that we think will help towards our goal of increasing website revenue (decreasing our dependence on Etsy) and take our business to the next level.

We’ll be launching a few new products this year including some gift sets and we’re hoping to expand into some corporate gifting. We’ve seen some minor success there and believe there’s an opportunity for expansion.

We’re also still learning to balance a growing business and having our first child, and the changes that the combination of these two bring. For Mari, it was a total identity shift going from a large corporate job to running our business and largely making sure everything runs smoothly with our son. For me, it’s been trying to figure out how to balance supporting Mari, spending time with our son, helping with NCF after we put him down, and trying to stay mentally and physically healthy while doing all this plus my full-time job which has been busier than ever.

how-we-started-a-18k-month-fun-and-colourful-groomsmen-socks-company Our son, just days after coming home from the hospital, hanging out with us while we process the backlog of orders accumulated during the almost week we spent in the hospital for his birth

Looking past 2020 we’d like to expand further outside of socks, round out even more of our marketing efforts (including email, social, maybe PPC, partnerships/affiliates), and break $1MM in revenue in/around 2023 while remaining lean and profitable as we go.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We really lucked out w/ Etsy and I’m not sure we understood the opportunity that a platform like this can provide prior to launching. Do not dismiss platforms that align with your products or brand! It is critical to have a product that people want and offer fantastic service but these platforms have a lot of reaches, literally worldwide.

You need to add value or offer something unique. For us, we’re one of the only sock companies that offer the custom labels (though, other companies have taken notice and started to offer similar products). On Etsy, the custom labels were actually a differentiator in the sea of cufflinks, flasks, etc (and that’s not to knock those… we’ll expand into some of the popular categories eventually). In addition, the fact that we offered socks with our labels helped too and because we ordered in bulk we had the margins to take care of our customers, invest back into our business, and save for a rainy day.

We also learned that you probably notice and care about minor quality issues way more than your customer does. It has been and always will be important for us to put forth a quality product. We’re priced at a premium and believe the product should reflect that. But you can add a lot of frustration by wasting time nitpicking minor quality issues that your customers don’t even see. We had a grad school team actually validate this idea as part of a project of theirs and the results were quite telling.

Don’t partner with just anyone and trust your gut. At the end of 2017, we partnered with a freelance marketing guy who rubbed us the wrong way in the very first meeting. But because his price was right, he was a smooth talker, and we had limited resources paired with big ambitions, we stuck with him longer than we should’ve. He missed deadlines, didn’t deliver anything of value, and we had some morally and ethically questionable interactions with him. But, having this bad experience has helped us identify where we went wrong and what to look for in future partners.

Lastly, it’s really important to stay lean and price your product appropriately. Just as personal finances are critical, so are your business finances. Knowing your numbers, understanding them, and spending responsibly enables you to take risks and grow the business more comfortably. We’re still learning a lot in this area including deepening our knowledge of business finances in general and hiring a new accountant who helps us understand our decisions. Pricing your product to cover your materials is important, but you need to include overhead and profit as well. This is a point a lot of people on Etsy miss and their hobbies go from fun pastimes to burdens.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Matt is really into process optimization and loves to automate things. Mari loves the output of these endeavors but is often reluctant to change to use the latest software or integration.

Our own website runs on Shopify and this is a great tool because it is fairly affordable, requires minimal on-going maintenance, and because it is an industry leader, integrates will pretty much everything. Matt is a big fan of WooCommerce but the day to day management can distract you from building your business if you don’t have the resources. Related, we use the Turbo theme with Shopify which has some nice designs and is well structured for SEO.

Of course, there’s Etsy, not much more to say there.

We use Shipstation for our fulfillment software and it is fantastic because it integrates all our stores including Shopify, Etsy, and wholesale shops. We also use it with our designer to act as his to-do list for creating our proofs.

Other tools we use include:

While it isn’t an app, we have used Guided Imports to help with our last two orders of inventory and think they’re one of the best values we’ve found as a business.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

We both take a lot of inspiration from How I Built This and even saw a live taping when they passed through Chicago. Matt particularly loves How You Built This segment at the end because it is businesses like ours and we found the company that ultimately helped us solve our quality issues by introducing us to Guided Imports. Matt also listens to the Shopify and the Side Hustle podcasts (amongst too many others).

We’ve read a lot of marketing and startup books over the years but are currently reading Financial Intelligence, Revised Edition: A Manager's Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean to better understand our finances. Both of us really believe in healthy personal finances and Matt has done a ton of reading there too. If we hadn’t had a strong financial situation we wouldn’t have had the money to pay off student loans which lead to having the money for the initial purchase of inventory, and most recently made us comfortable with Mari going full time with NCF.

Matt also spends a good amount of time in business forums. Most of these are on Reddit and include r/Entrepreneur, r/smallbusiness, and r/etsy. Forums are a good place to ask specific questions and find people who have been where you’ve been and can tell you how they traversed topics, issues, and opportunities.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The number one thing that an entrepreneur can do to increase their likelihood of success is to quickly identify and admit what they don’t know and network or surround themselves with people who are strong in those areas. Whether that’s hiring employees who know more about the subject area you’re hiring them for, hiring consultants who specialize in these areas or networking with people who you’re comfortable going to for guidance it is critical to know your strengths and weaknesses and ask for help.

Validate your product as much as you can and/or minimize the investment you put into it. Other than spotting a trend and having some close exposure to it, we didn’t validate our idea to the extent possible. There are many low-cost avenues to validate an idea before you invest your time and money into an idea. This can prevent a lot of frustration and debt. For us, we were very comfortable with our exit strategy. If we had purchased the socks and didn’t find success, we could’ve sold them on Amazon and still made a profit!

On the other hand, it is very easy to spend too much time researching your idea of death. It’s quite common to hear a successful business person say that if they had known what was required to be successful before they started, then they never would have started. So, find the right balance of research/validation and just diving into it. Yes, you’ll face challenges but you’ll learn so much along the way that can be used for this venture or the next.

Lastly, trust your gut. Had a meeting with a potential consultant that rubs you the wrong way? Either dig deeper before committing or walk. Don’t you love a candidate for a new job? Wait for the right one. You can waste a lot of time spinning your wheels with a bad partner, be it internal or external, and almost every business owner has that story about how they wish they had parted ways sooner. Learn from those who have come before you. Better yet, don’t dive in if your gut tells you not to.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re currently trying to hire a new part-time Production Designer as our current one has informed us a large freelance client is taking up too much of his time and he’d like to focus on that. Depending on how the year goes we may look for more people with experience in PPC, social media, or even another assistant.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Mari & Matt McNamara,   Founder of No Cold Feet LLC

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