Spreading Happiness With Mark & John Cronin

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. On the episode today, we have John and Mark Cronin. Welcome.

How are you, Thomas? Thank you for having us on the show. We will work on being ethical.

It is my pleasure. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a little bit about yourselves and what you do?

You want to introduce us, pal? Yeah, my name is John and Mark. We’re John’s Crazy Socks. We’re a social enterprise. And what’s our mission spreading? Happiness. Spreading happiness. So, uh, and I gotta give credit. We can talk about the origin, but this was John’s idea and people should know a bit about John. I’ll introduce you. Okay, you’re an entrepreneur. Yes. A philanthropist. An athlete back this weekend. You’re gonna be competing in the New York state special Olympic, Winter Games.

I’m really excited. You’re a dancer. I hear about you and your girlfriend, so I guess that makes you a lover. But you also happen to have Down syndrome. Yes, I am. What do you say about Down syndrome? I have Down syndrome. Down syndrome never hurt me back. No, it does not gonna go about you. You introduced me to you. Okay, well, it’s Thomas’s show you should ask him. That’s okay. Okay, Thomas. Yeah, go for it. My dad is smooth. Yeah. Love like his wife and he is a funny man, he is kind, I hear, even so intelligent. I’m intelligent. Well, thank you very much. It’s a live show. I never know what John is going to do. One of the things, I mean I do have a direction I want to go in.

But one of the things I wanted to add to that, if I may, is that you are also a great dad and that comes up. I see that pretty much in every video I see of you guys. So would you say that’s fair, John? Yeah. Did you? Well, I appreciate you saying that. You know, parenting is very humbling. There’s so much you want to do as a parent and in many ways there’s very little weekend, But John is the youngest of three sons and if we had his older brother’s on, they could offer some dissenting opinion. Well, I said, I didn’t want to talk about your story, but in prep for the episode, obviously I looked at the socials, so I saw some great dance in there, but I also looked at the YouTube trailer, if you like the front, the video on the channel and your, your mission of spreading happiness.

I did, I can confess to crying. So the video made me cry and I think it made me cry because you’re accomplishing your mission of spreading happiness. So I wanted to say thank you for that. Um, and we really don’t aim to make people cry, we have seen it happen, but it was supposed to be making people feel good and spread some happiness, but it’s, it’s not a, not a bad thing. It was a, oh my goodness, the meaningful work is just amazing. And I look for meaning in, in business where I can and I think you guys are doing a fantastic job. So if we get to perhaps the beginnings of of your business, how does it begin? So We’re just a little over five years old. So let’s cast our minds back to the fall of 2016 and you know, it’s a good story. Our story starts in a small log cabin in the woods.

No, no, not really. So it’s in suburban New York. And where were you John, I was at, I’m gonna be my last year school, so it’s gonna be his last year of school and like everybody else, John was trying to figure out what do I do next And what were you looking at him like a job program and four. I don’t like the objects and like he didn’t see any options he liked and this is an unfortunate reality for people with different abilities. In the US, fewer than one in five people with a disability are employed and I know there are similar numbers in the UK, It’s awful, but John here, he’s a natural, if he didn’t see your job, he wanted, what were you gonna do? And would you tell me, I said, I want to go into business with my dad, a nice father working with each other.

Now I told you, Thomas, I’ve got three sons. This John is the youngest, and this is one I could work with. So okay, we’ll go into business and you probably know this entrepreneurs have ideas all the time and some of them are even good ideas but not every one of them. So we had to come up with a business. What were we going to do? What was one of your ideas? One of them is a free truck. I kept, I kept idea from the movie chef. I drive around the movie about a father and son biding a food truck which seemed like great fun and you started talking about what we could make and we would put it. but we ran into a problem but we can’t hook. Yeah. So it wasn’t gonna be a food truck. But then right before the US Thanksgiving, which is late November, John you had your Eureka moment.

I did. I want to sell crazy socks. White socks. It’s fun. It’s colourful. It’s crazy. I will always let me be me. So this seemed like a good idea and the thinking or thinking was listen, if John loved these socks this much shortly other people would too and we could find our tribe. So we did not prepare your traditional business plan. Instead, we went the lean startup route. We said let’s get something up and going and we’ll see how customers respond. So you already had the name. I got a name. I told a website as a design. We built a website on the Shopify platform. We got a little bit of inventory. We were bootstrapping so you gotta make do with what you had. The only marketing we did was to set up a Facebook page and I would take out my cell phone and we made videos and then who do you think was in those videos?

I am. I talked my socks, socks, socks, more socks, and we noticed something. People started sharing those videos and they started getting a larger and larger reach. What day did we open? We will be on the Friday. December 9th 2016. And we didn’t know what to expect. We were very fortunate. We got a flood of orders the first day. We got 42 orders where it certainly felt like a flood then and most of them were local. And what we decided to do with those orders, I decided to our home telemetry. We get red boxes. We put the socks in the boxes and looked at it and said I need something else. So what we put in print in and taking them out road and candy, we got bags of Hershey’s kisses, filled up the boxes, loaded up the car and drove around and you knocked on doors to your sides. There were times, We were out at 10:30 PM and John’s knocking on doors saying they’re just John with your socks and have the customers respond said they took a fire and take a pictures and put it on social media.

I wouldn’t get expressed. We had customers reordering just to get John to come back to their house. So by the end of the month, really two weeks We had shipped 452 waters and had $13,000 in revenue. And we learned a few things why people might buy socks to people going by sex for me. They related to drive. They liked the fact they like the personal touch of the note in the candy They liked the fact we had already pledged 5% to the Special Olympics. 5% of our earnings for the Special Olympics and something that caught us off guard. People responded very emotionally. We heard from people who had a trial with Down syndrome with autism or had a relative. And there was a very strong reaction. And you learn by doing so. We learned that this young man, old man, we could sell socks.

So that’s how we got started. It’s a great story. And I also want to buy socks based on the story. Well, that’s, you know what we’ve got on. We were told that we refer to it as a social enterprise, but that’s part of what it’s about, right. You have to have, you’ve got to have a purpose. You’ve got to know what you’re about. You know what your why is Simon cynic would call it. And it’s got to be something greater than ourselves. And it can’t just be we want to make money and don’t get me wrong, we want to make money and we like to live indoors. But you’ve got to have that purpose that provides both your north store. He can guide you when the tough times come and tough times will come. But it also gives you something to connect with your customers and your community and to connect with your colleagues.

You’ll think about it. We sell songs, we’ve got out counted. There are exactly one gazillion sock companies. And you know, socks are a simple piece of fabric and before you’re doing is selling socks. What do you say ours are better than yours. Ours don’t smell as much as yours, right? But when you have a purpose behind it, when you have a story that you believe, well then the socks become transformative. So, you know, our customers, you gotta have great socks, right? So among other things, We have over 29,005 star reviews. But what our customers are buying from us, it’s an experience. They know they’re gonna get great socks, they know they’re gonna get great service. We do the same day shipping, but they also know that they’re helping us employ people with different abilities. More than half of our colleagues have a different ability.

They know they’re supporting or giving back program. It makes them happy. And so now they’re spreading happiness and we’re doing all this together. So your business partners, but you’ve got two brothers. Have they mentioned that they want to get involved in the business now that you’re a success? They have, have they both helped all along, they have their own lives. One of them worked with us for a while and that ended because if it didn’t and we love each other didn’t, we were on the phone together last night talking, but after a while, I think you would have found us both on the floor in a pool of blood with taxes in our heads. But the mama bear works with us to write. But everybody, you know, we’re fortunate. John’s brothers are all helpful with the business and are able to give us advice and guidance and particularly early on when we needed extra hands, they would be there to help us.

What have some of the biggest challenges been? Well, there are always gonna be some challenges. Getting started is actually the easy part. The challenge for us. The biggest challenges have been handling growth and the seasonality of our business So that I can give you a sense of some of the ups and downs, just like even in the very first year. So our first four years, 2017, we were growing nicely and then in March and the first weekend of March. We had our first viral experience. Watch what you ask for, you may get it. Uh, somebody had made a video about us, it’s not a particularly special video. They didn’t film anything. It was just a slideshow video, but last I looked at had over 20 million views. So we went from doing 40 orders a day to over 1000 orders today almost put us out of business.

No, we, we surged up for that. And then by the summer, you know, that surge is gone and now we’re discovering first-hand what others in the industry already knew, which is nobody buys socks in the summer. So we’ve got very little revenue coming in, I’ve got no cash, I’m borrowing to pay staff, we run out of money, you know, I’m talking to my account and saying on paper, we look okay, says yes, Mark, let’s go look in your warehouse because by this point we’ve now moved into a building with a proper warehouse. You see your inventory, that’s all your money. We were able to come back during the holidays and surge and did well hired everybody back. Um, but that ups and down really was difficult for the first three years because we’ve had surges and down and then up, we had a huge year or second year with some multiple media appearances and viral events.

But by the end of our third year we were for all intents and purposes bankrupt. I was talking to bankruptcy firms, and they wanted as much as $50,000 up front, no bankruptcy law firms. And, and I’m saying to him, well wait a second. If I had $50,000, I wouldn’t need to be talking to you. Uh, the good news for us is we found uh, the perfect strategic partner after striking out with banks and listening to investors or supposed investors who wanted to put money in, but really got us, uh, they were just interested in buying a brand. Um, we found for us at least the perfect partner, 3rd Generation family business, Been around over 60 years that manufacturers socks for department stores and um, brand names.

So it, it turned out to be a really good fit. We have shared values and so you know, that challenge of being able to have financial stability and also find the production capabilities to match. What we were trying to do was that was the biggest challenge. And, and were able to meet it by finding that strategic partner. And you know, I’ll give you an idea of, of one way it works um, for 2020 to 1 of our objectives was sent to the wholesale channel and start shipping wholesale by the fourth quarter. Well, we already have an arrangement with coals, the Big Department store trained in the US, they’re gonna put us in 600 stores for the fourth quarter. We were able to get that because of the story and the brand that we have developed.

But two years ago, they could have come to us and said, we want to do this deal, and we would have had no way of making it happen. And because now we have the right partner, we’re able to do that. Well, congratulations on all that. There’s a couple of things that I wanted to cover within your story. You both did a Ted X talk. How was it? How did it go? And we’re happy with it. So, we’ve been, we’ve been very fortunate to do to Ted X talks, the first one, it was real, it was, we do a lot of speaking engagements, but the techniques were different. You know, for the first time we had to memorise a script and you had to be on your marks. Um, and it was very personal. The first one, uh, I’m not terribly happy with it because the production of it just wasn’t great if you watch the video and it’s gone.

So it’s gotten some traction. There’s something off with the sound, so that’s a little frustrating because it kind of undermines the substance. The 2nd 1 is on a theme we pursue often, which is saying that hiring people with different abilities is not altruism. It’s good business and we did that, that one, there was no audience who was just done in the studio, Much happier with that one. It’s much more focused and on the mark, it’s not quite as emotional as the first one. And it was, it had a better production quality to it. I did see the second one, so I’ll go back and watch the first one. But you mentioned the socials and I had a look at your, I think it’s your TikTok massive audience. How has that been? We are having fun with TikTok, huh?

You do a lot of TikTok videos, you and Christy have fun making them. TikTok in many ways plays real well to us because it’s raw, it’s who you are, it’s hard to manufacture it so we can claim any form of expertise because we do some things that get 50,000 views and then others that we think are going to get a lot of views and they get nothing. and this is okay with us. We haven’t figured out how to monetise it yet. But that’s much of our approach, right? We’re looking, we’re looking to connect with people, we’re looking to begin relationships that will, will be lasting, you know, not simply a transaction. And we’ve taken that view on all of our social platforms.

And all of our outreach, it’s what can we do for you, what can we share and we share. We, you know, we take our processes and turn that into context. We share a lot of things. We want our customers and community to really feel a part of what we’re doing. I’d like to also highlight something which is your, your message. You’re focusing on what you can do versus what you can’t do. There might be someone listening to this John who maybe they have, let’s say they’ve been convinced by society or someone else telling them that they can’t do something. Whereas you’ve achieved an awful lot. What would you say as advice for someone who let’s say they’ve been told they can’t do something, what would you say to them? What advice do you have? My face finally, your heart in front of your hands, work hard. So you can’t go okay, we have a focus, it’s part of our approach to working with all of our colleagues and a key part of that is put people in a position to succeed.

Don’t ask them to do what they can’t do. So John here, you do an awful lot of things in the business, right? But we don’t ask you to manage our finances because that’s not a strength or when it comes to hiring in our warehouse, we do our own fulfilment, right? If you sell goods online somehow, you gotta have a pick and pack warehouse. Many people help towards that. But because we’re creating jobs, we do it ourselves. It also fits with our pillar of making things personal allows us to personalise the packaging and the service, but when it comes to hiring and what do we call our pickers language. So that’s our entry-level job. We focus on, you can, you do that job and we don’t look at externalities or things that don’t matter.

So that has enabled us to see that are best hiring pool are people with different abilities because they can do that job. And that’s literally how we hire them. We train people and to get the job, you gotta pass the sock Wrangler test. You gotta pick six orders and 30 minutes or less show us you can do the job, you got the job. It was something that I was going to ask you about was your hiring process, but it’s kind of like a test, Is that right? Well, yes. And you know, the hiring process, it is a comprehensive approach that it doesn’t just start, that you can’t start hiring when you decide or we need a position, we need to fill a job. So, you know, for us and you know, here’s some of the things that happened ahead of time. We host tours here. So schools and social service agencies come in here all the time to see what it is we do and now they’re students or clients get exposure to what we do and that opens their eyes of, oh, you know, I can get a job, I can work.

But also, I may want to come and work with John’s crazy socks. We host work groups from schools and social service agencies that will bring five or six people in for an hour to a week to so they can get some work experience. But again, those are people who now see what we do and we get to see them and the schools and social service agencies get to know us and we work with some of those social service agencies that bring people in and they do assessments with them because they want to see them in the field. So now when it’s time we have an opening, we gotta hire, we have this pull the people that are familiar with us. They see what the jobs are like and they’re either able to apply directly or find candidates for us. And we extend that through our social media. Um, and our colleagues who helped recruit people. So as an example, well, we surged during the holiday season.

We’re very seasonal. We do 40% of our business in the last two months of the year. So we got to hire extra stay after the holidays. In our part of the world. There’s a growing labour shortage, employees couldn’t find enough good workers. We had a surplus of people we were easily able to fill every job we had and it’s because of whom we consider right there. We don’t artificially exclude anybody and it’s because we develop these relationships. So when it’s, when we have openings, we get a lot of people coming and applying for those jobs. Congratulations on all that. I think that’s amazing. The coming back to the mission just shortly, I think there are a lot of people who are perhaps working and they don’t have that level of happiness in their job. How do you, what would you advise them or how do you spread happiness in the, in the workplace? Well, I can tell you our approach and we’ve kind of broken it down to five pieces.

First, as an employer, as an organisation, we have to offer people a mission worthy of their commitment, something meaningful, some purpose that’s larger than ourselves. It’s got to be more than just make money. Um, in the US we’ve been going through what which people are referring to is the big quick with a big resignation. four million people a month have been quitting their jobs. And some of it is because they’re saying, I’m not gonna take that crappy pay. And some of it is because they’re saying, what, what am I doing this for? And so an organisation, we start by saying, well, we have something, we have a purpose that’s going to make a difference and it’s worthy of your commitment worthy of your time, that’s 12, everybody has to know why their job matters why there, how their job fits into that mission and that purpose, why we need them.

Some of it is, you know, some of that is just a sense of gratitude of, you know, we don’t view it. You ought to be thankful. We gave you a job, we view it as we’re grateful you work with us. We’re grateful to see the work you do. So everybody here, if you ask them, what’s your job about? They’re gonna tell you, I’m spreading happiness and they’ll tell you why, you know, third put people in a position to succeed, Don’t ask them to do what they can to give them the right direction and the right tools and write support. We just hired a web designer slash graphic artist slash video editor sat down with her. What type of computer do you want to work with in duty? Because we know you’re gonna need a a special machine, given what you’re doing and we don’t have endless resources but give somebody what they need. If someone needs a special chair, get him a special chair, it’s not hard.

And don’t ask people to do what they can’t do. Find their strengths and build on that fourth, you have to recognise what everybody does. You show up at your job, Thomas, and you care about it. You want to do a good work. So just let’s recognise him. You know, say to somebody, you know, I mentioned a web designer. So she just yesterday published her first new page actually built on our site. It’s better than anything we’ve done before. So immediately came running and saying, just thank you so much. You made us look so good. Oftentimes, that’s all it is. It’s just saying thank you. Yes, it gets into play. You have to pay fair doesn’t mean you have to pay the top, but everybody has to be paid fairly. So because I don’t think pay ever becomes an incentive, but it can be a disincentive if you think you’re not being paid right, that’s going to bother you. And with us, it means if the company does well, everybody should share it.

So, we structure things around bonuses that are not tied to your individual performance that some of it, but it’s really tied to team and organisational performance. We’re all in this together. Um, and then the last piece of that is, you know, give people that mission, make sure they know what they’re doing, Put them in a position to succeed, recognise what they do and then stay the hell out of the way. Let people do their jobs. So if you look at era work chart. John and I appeared twice in New York truck, we’re up top because our job is to provide the vision and the direction, where are we going or at the bottom because my job in particular is to support everybody else to put you in a position to succeed. And if you’re running into an obstacle, it’s my job to, we moved that obstacle. Great point.

In terms of the future, what’s next for John’s crazy socks? We want to reach more people, you’d like to say, we’ve only just begun, right? So, it’s really building on that mission of spreading happiness. There are a couple of objectives that we have for this year. We are finding more ways to connect with people. One way we’re doing it is doing more podcast interviews like this. We’re, we’re building up to speaking engagements. We do, we are just today dropping our own podcast, the spreading happiness podcast, half hour weekly podcast. We are not a competitor reviewers, it’s just John and I sharing, you know, conversation and updates and news, not about business as much about our lives and just trying to make people feel happy. You know, it was shown that it will make you smile and feel good for the day. Um, so we’re doing, you know, some of that is, is going out and driving beginning to create content because our overall strategy is drive the mission, the more we do for the mission and the story, the more that drives the brand and then that will drive sales.

We do have some targets to grow our direct to consumer business. We are now finally growing our B2B business for years now, people have called us up and said hey, can you make custom socks for us or do give packages? The answer is yes. And now we finally said huh? I think would happen if we actually marketed those services and we want to be in wholesale by the fourth quarter. We already have that deal with calls Macy’s has agreed to at least sell us through Macy’s online. And we have a deal already in place of selling through Zappos. And then we have a 4th objective. We have a new program we’re rolling out called JCS Champions. The idea is we want to put people with different abilities into their own business by giving them a business in a box.

We’re gonna give them inventory, give them a stand, give them training, help them get set up. It’s not a franchise it’s their business. They can run a micro-business and now selling craft fairs and farmers’ market or maybe set up inside the store in town. They will be able to control how much they grow the business because at least in the US, if you have a disability and you’re getting disability payments and medical coverage. If you earn too much, you lose those benefits. So this will enable them to have a business but still get their benefits. We expect to enrol the first people in October And our plan is to create 1000 businesses over a five-year period of time. It’s amazing. It’s a great goal. We’re trying not to be. We want to be focused, not do too much, but we have very clear objectives and where team based organisation will build teams around those.

Monthly management meetings, okay, where are we folks? We’re very fortunate. We have a great team of people yeah that are committed in and we get that fund. It was very inspirational. So, congratulations to you both. And also I think it’s really good that you share it on social because it means that other people get to be inspired by it as well. So even if you, you know, let’s say you don’t get that particular viral reach or something. I could steal. I went and go and I watched a lot of stuff and I just found it was great and it made my day so well done for all of that. Is there anything that I should have asked you about today? Yeah, I don’t think so. You know, I always like to talk about bob Dylan but that’s really not under the show. Here. Anything you wanted to talk about. I don’t know, we got that you got special Olympics in a week. Yeah. A lot of folks focus on the social aspect of what we do know the giving back and we have these products that raise money and raise awareness and we could talk about how we create personal connections with customers.

I mean, Here’s a fun fact. We told you how we started, we did home deliveries. So now we’ve shipped over 370,000 packages to 88 different countries. But if we get an order between the office and home, what are you doing with that order? Are you still doing home delivery? But something that’s important is to make everything go. You, you gotta have the basics covered. You’ve got a great, great website and have a great selection. You can have great products. I told you we got 29,005 star reviews. You’ve got a great service. You’ve got to have that to make everything else work. But here’s, And then one other bit of inspiration and hope and credit to John of what you’ve been able to build buddy. When we started, we could put all the different socks we had on one table. How many different socks do we have now? We have over 4000 democrats socks.

That means John owns the world’s largest sock store. How cool is that? Very cool. Yeah, Great fun buddy. It’s actually really, really nice that you can do it together as well. Like business partner’s son and dad. I think it’s really cool. So well done. It’s, we’re very fortunate and we’ve had some great experiences. Um, and we have testified twice before the US Congress. We’ve spoken at the United Nations to be sitting in the US capital next to my son testifying, you know, just standing up for the rights of others. How awesome is that? How phenomenal. How did that go? And what was it about? Um, it was talking about employment issues and how do we better employee, you know, knock down barriers so that people with different abilities could work. Um, okay, It went the way many things go like this. There was a panel, there were three others on the panel and they were all CEOs.

Two for big non-profits. One they’re all non-profits for big advocacy agencies and one for a non-profit and then John and me who was the star, John because he’s the only person with different abilities sitting there standing up and people took notice, right? Um, you know, that’s an important part. One, the business has given us a platform by which other people are willing to listen to us look at you, you were willing to have us on your show, which we’re really grateful for. Once we have that opportunity, we have to take advantage of it. You have to make use of it. It becomes an obligation on our part. So, you know, we get to talk to you about hiring people with different abilities or you know, here’s an approach to treating your colleagues well. So you can attract people and go and do bigger and better things.

We get to do that with elected officials. They take our phone calls. You know, here’s an anecdote. We were down one day on Capitol hill and we share that on social media and a customer from Houston called up and said, you know I see that trying to mark her on Capitol hill. Well, my mother works there and she’s a big fan of John’s. Do you think it would be possible for my mother to meet John and our colleagues said sure here’s Mark’s cell number. Just text him your mom’s name and contact information. Who was mom Nancy Pelosi. So we get a meeting with the Speaker of the house and it was all warm and wonderful. You know we I think this happens in the UK. But we’re in a particularly bad place in the US. We vilify our elected officials. If you don’t agree with them you don’t just disagree. They’re monsters to you.

Well, let’s put politics aside. We forget their people. So among other things, Nancy Pelosi is an 80-year-old Italian grandmother you know so she’s warm and kind with John and she took out pictures of her and former President Bush, the elder G George H. W. Bush and socks that she had given him because John had become sock buddies with the former president Bush and they had exchanged letters and socks. So this was a warm and wonderful most. But now we have this opportunity. We’re meeting with the speaker of the house, one of the most powerful people in the United States. Well, if we take the photos and smile and have the chit chats like, but we have to talk to you about a few issues, we have to talk to you about eliminating the sub-minimum wage that allows employers to pay people with a disability as little as five cents an hour. We have to change that. We have to break this link between benefits and income so that people aren’t forced to choose between work and maintaining their health benefits if you have a disability. The business gives us those opportunities. It gives us speaking opportunities to stand in front of 5000 people in a Microsoft Conference and, you know, applaud the work they do in hiring people with different abilities and show them look what can happen and that’s really important to us. Well, well done on everything. it reminds me and probably people that are listening that there is more to do. There’s always more to do. But if someone wants to buy some socks, some crazy socks, where do they go? Johnscrazysocks.com. Right. And you buy from us. You’re gonna get great socks, you’re gonna help us employ people with different abilities. You’re gonna help us give back most of all You help us spread happiness and you can connect with us on all the social platforms, John’s crazy socks, You can now listen to the John’s to the spreading happiness podcast on all your favourite platforms and you can always get a hold of us, send us an email.

Send it to john@johnscrazysocks.com and you’ll get that email and show it to me and we’ll be glad to connect with people. Well, I’m in the UK. Do you think a home delivery is out of the question? We might love to make a home delivery, particularly because you folks with that Brexit, what a pain in the ass we broke down and then we’re able to ship again and now we got a glitch because to make the payments we have to make, which we don’t have any trouble making. We have to have a British-based bank account. So we’re a little company outside of New York City, you know, so I, you know, maybe I have to ring you up Thomas and say we open a bank account for us. It’s a bit crazy. Alright, well I’ve loved it. I really was looking forward to speaking to both of you. So I appreciate your time.

And any closing thoughts at all? Intensity go out and believe go out. You know what matters to you believe and make it happen.

John, Mark, thank you very much.

Thomas, thank you.