The Best Foot Forward

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The owners of a company that started with a competition between friends as to who could wear the craziest socks to work will kick off the 2014-15 Entrepreneurship Forum breakfast speaker series next month at Western Michigan University's Haworth College of Business.

Business partners Ryan Preisner (BBA '08, Marketing) and Ryan Roff of boldSOCKS will speak at 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 12, in Room 2150 of Schneider Hall. The event is free and open to the public and begins with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (269) 387-6059 or at Free parking is available in the nearby Fetzer Center parking lot.

The contest that sparked the idea for boldSOCKS was short-lived, as Preisner, a WMU college of business alumnus, and his business partners realized that bold-colored and patterned footwear was hard to find, especially for men. Having an interest in entrepreneurship and some experience with ventures in the past, the friends decided to try building a business for this niche market.

Piloting the endeavor with 15 styles of socks and a rudimentary website, the company sold just $3,000 of socks the first year but decided there was promise in the idea and sought to grow the business. Now entering its fourth year in business, the company has expanded its offerings to socks for women and is on track to do $750,000 in sales this year, with the recent addition of a wholesale division potentially pushing sales over $1 million.

Some of the challenges that the entrepreneurs have faced in starting boldSOCKS have been identifying the right manufacturer for their product, determining how to balance the capital investments with the need for cash flow and setting the cultural tone for the business.

The business allows young professionals to make a statement with their footwear. It also allows its owners to make a statement about a cause that they care about deeply. The founders have developed a private label, Statement Sockwear, for which a portion of the proceeds from each pair of socks sold goes to clean water efforts in Africa--efforts that the company owners have been involved with through Mars Hill Church. Each pair of socks purchased from the collection supplies one person in Africa with 100 days of clean water through the non-profit 20 Liters.

Having a higher purpose to the business is important for the owners, who feel that they have an opportunity to help others with their business. Knowing that many fellow young professionals are looking to make purchases in a responsible way, the young entrepreneurs feel that they can positively influence the market by building a social consciousness into their business model.

The Entrepreneurship Forum is sponsored by Educational Community Credit Union. Three additional Entrepreneurship Forum presentations are planned for the fall. The presentation dates and speakers are:

• Oct. 17, Cynthia Kay, Cynthia Kay & Company Media Production;

• Nov. 14, Norm Braksick, Foods Resource Bank;

• Dec. 5, Matt and Rene Greff, Arbor Brewing.

For a full list of events hosted by the Haworth College of Business, please click here.