40 Republic Road
Melville, NY 11747
Founders: John Lee Cronin, Mark X. Cronin
Community Organizer: Maria Lerner
“Established under 2 years ago when John, a young man with Down Syndrome, was nearing graduation from high school. He and his dad were brainstorming business ideas and John suggested a sock company! Father reports, “We are evangelists on what people with different abilities can do! The best we can do is make our business a success. Johns Crazy Socks is a social enterprise/business. 18 people of differing abilities make up the 35 person work force. Work place is unified with all working side by side.”
John’s Crazy Socks is housed in a welcoming building in Melville, Long Island (New York). The friendly, upbeat vibe is felt immediately when walking from the parking lot to the building. Colorful signs with a caricature of John are on the outside of the building, the entrance way is colorful with good lighting, and the employees who greeted me were friendly and upbeat.
I sat in conference room with John (son) and Mark (father) to learn the history, companies mission and four pillars. They are a year and a half in to a 3-year lease. Last year, they filled 42,000 sock orders. This year, they have filled more than 50,000. The idea for the company came about when John was nearing graduation from high school in 2016 with some specialized training in retail and customer service. As they brainstormed ideas, John told his father that he wanted to go in to business with him. Father and son exhibit their great sense of humor throughout with father, Mark, saying, “We are a couple of knuckleheads from Long Island selling socks!” Sock wranglers, those filling orders start at $12/hour (above minimum wage).
The Story of John’s Crazy Socks (via website):
John’s Crazy Socks is a father-son venture inspired by co-founder John Lee Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome. John’s affinity for crazy socks paired with his love of making people smile made our mission clear: we want to spread happiness.
We have a social mission and a retail mission, and they are indivisible. We want to show what is possible when you give someone a chance. Every day, we demonstrate what people with intellectual disabilities can do. And we believe in giving back: we donate 5 percent of our earnings to the Special Olympics as they’ve played a vital role in John’s development. We continue to expand our charity partners by offering and creating socks with specific “awareness” themes, such as our Autism Awareness Socks and Down Syndrome Awareness Socks.
We match our social mission with a commitment to be a great sock store. We have socks you can love with the widest array of fun, unique and beautifully designed socks that let you express your passion and personality. And we deliver those socks with fast, personal service. We provide same-day shipping and every package includes a hand-written thank you note from John and some candy.
We love what we do. We hope you love our socks and that your experience with John’s Crazy Socks brings you happiness.
Everything we do is designed to spread happiness. The more we can do for others, the more we can make people happy, the better off we are.
We have built our business on four pillars:
- Inspiration and Hope
- Giving Back
- Socks You Can Love
- Making It Personal
HAPPINESS THROUGH SOCKS.
Our four principles:
- Inspiration: Showing what’s Possible
- Giving Back: 5% of earnings donated to the Special Olympics
- Socks You Can Love: Over 2000 awesome socks choices
- Gratitude: Every package has a thank you note from John and some candy.
- “This is all an adventure—doing something new—building a social enterprise” (came out of desire to find work for his son which came out of son’s interests)
- “We are bootstrapping”—making due with the cash we have…”
- Positive and inspirational tone set by owners helps a great deal. “We get joy each day out of little miracles.” “Everyone is so happy here. They feel they have a purpose.”
- It is important to feel and be part of a community. Employees “want” to be here. They have jobs with meaning and purpose and want to be part of a community. “approach to engagement is fairly simple.”
- Take people with disabilities seriously—they often have amazing ideas! (John had his own ideas for a business; father took him seriously!)
- “This is not a charity. No altruism here. Everyone earned his or her job by passing a test. It is a unified work place where everyone works side by side.” (to become a sock wangle, the most common job of “picking and packing,” employees must: understand company origin story, be excited, shadow a current sock wrangler, and take a test when ready which involves pulling 5 orders in under 30 minutes and being accurate.”
- In a unified work place, there is great productivity and great morale and various role models. (This leads to “off the charts retention.”)
- Give tours! They give school tours, Skype tours, etc to show off life skills and to show there are options after graduation—no charge
- Get out in the community and beyond and get the word out—do speaking engagements, conferences, media coverage, even Capitol Hill
- Congress understands how bad the Social Security system is (meaning one loses benefits if earnings are to high)—they acknowledge “we are nowhere.”
- “We are running a business—the more we do for others, the better it is for us.” (gives away money to charity—gives business credibility and a platform”)
- You can’t just sell stuff anymore—consumers are looking beyond products—they are looking for your mission and want to know how you are connecting to the community
- We are successful because of the people we hire. We have a competitive advantage—in Long Island, it is going to be a tough (2018) holiday season due to a labor shortage—we will be on top because we are tapping in to a market others don’t!
- We expect people to be work ready—we will train (we offer supports and make some accommodations for these workers, as we do for all workers i.e the right chair, the right software)
- Keep workforce happy—put them in a position to succeed; give them directions and support; make sure they know how their work fits in to the overall mission; tell them “thank you;” stay out of their way; “We show our appreciation by recognizing what people do, but we have other offerings to help build our community: Bagel Wednesday, Staff Lunch Friday, regular social outings (bowling tournament, Mets baseball game, attending various fundraisers for our charity partners, etc.)
- Keep one month’s worth of inventory in the warehouse
- One challenge is that there are spikes throughout the year that you can’t predict.
- All payroll, taxes and benefits are handled by a PEO—professional employment organization.
- Just do it! Not enough to say, “I have an idea…”