The Vendor Roundtable focuses on supply chain issues, custom versus stock and fashion trends.
Sitting at the Table
Wilson Brown - Ashleigh Brown, Marketing and HR Director
OS1st - Josh Higgins, President and Owner
ASICS - Adam LaFollette, Sales Director • Kevin Powers, Director of Merchandising
Twin City Knitting - Brad Davis, VP–Sales
PearSox - Christian Stagg, National Sales Manager West • Jesse Baldwin, Sales Manager Eastern Territory
Drymax - Jack Vail, Team Sports Manager
Socks Quick - Luke Griffith, Sales Manager
Stox - Wouter de Keizer, CEO
LP Support - Maurice Wu
How has the pandemic impacted team sock sales?
Ashleigh Brown: The pandemic has brought awareness to how vulnerable the global supply chain is to disruption. That is not news to anyone, but as a U.S. manufacturer we have seen demand for our products increase substantially.
Christian Stagg: Early in 2021 we started to see more team business inbound and it quickly became a rush to get product in-hand. As we proceeded throughout the year, the industry experienced many supply chain issues. Shortages in raw materials for production created shortages in product availability and increased raw material costs by 40-50 percent. Disruptions and closures in the manufacturing process and lack of available labor yielded fewer products per work shift. Shipping, freight and delivery costs were also increased. This perfect storm did not allow suppliers to meet the industry demands well and created some chaos this year.
Wouter de Keizer: At the beginning of the pandemic, all team sports were on hold, which definitely briefly took its toll on team sock sales for Stox.
Josh Higgins: What hindered the sock business with the pandemic in the beginning has come back to sock sales quickly. There was a pent-up demand that’s created a nice boost for sales.
Has it put an emphasis on stock socks rather than custom?
Jack Vail: We’ve seen stock product sales increase as a percent of total mostly due to the instant turnaround time. Custom orders can take four-plus weeks to fill and because of so many lingering uncertainties most teams didn’t have that kind of time to plan ahead.
Luke Griffith: We have not put an emphasis on stock socks, rather than custom, as many competitors in the custom market have chosen not to continue or were unable to maintain their operation, with the loss of sales in the market.
Jesse Baldwin: I don’t necessarily think the pandemic has put more of an emphasis on stock any more than custom or vice versa. There is a need for both.
What are the design trends in socks these days? Is simple better or are they still decorating and getting fancy?
Brad Davis: There is definitely a trend back to the basics. Baseball is still very striped focused, but for everything else we are seeing a lot more solid colors with team logos.
Kevin Powers: The trend in socks continues to vary by sport. It is not so much the design, but the silhouette and way they are worn. Each sport is unique when it comes to socks.
Maurice Wu: The public still prefers simple yet stylish designs. That said, our design choices revolve around functionality. Sock structure, color, material and decoration are all centered on delivering the best performance. Different activities require different performance parameters.
Are there any significant supply chain issues in the sock business as we head into 2022?
Brown: All industries are affected, of course. However, we feel we are less impacted than most. Freight costs have risen tenfold and some of our yarns are imported. This has put pricing pressure on us. On the positive side, we have found we are again price competitive to manufacture in our own mill as compared to importing from overseas.
Stagg: Those manufacturers and suppliers who invested in themselves early have been able to find solutions to the current supply chain issues and continue to support the industry’s demand overall.
de Keizer: Stox are made in Italy and at the beginning of the pandemic our factories were closed for a month. This was a challenging time for us, but luckily we had enough product to get us through.
Vail: Yes, like most everyone else we have been impacted. Our biggest issue has been getting enough yarns to knit our products.
Are online team sales an important part of the sock business in 2022?
Adam LaFollette: Very much so. Socks are a great option to put on an online team store to help drive an additional sale. Athletes need socks, so they are either buying them from you or they are getting them elsewhere. This is where we see the online platform come into play in a big way.
Stagg: Online team sales are more important than ever. Customers are turning towards team stores and online platforms to place their orders from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Davis: Yes, the team dealers rely heavily now on online team stores. Socks have trended more towards a parent purchase, so the stores allow a team dealer to list our product and still get the sock sale.
Any tips for team dealers on how to sell more team socks?
Brown: Expand your customer base. Have you considered selling custom dress/casual socks to the local booster club or university development office? What local companies might have a need for compression or Merino socks? Stepping outside of your current market opens an unlimited amount of opportunity.
Baldwin: Team dealers looking to increase their custom sales should do their best to keep socks a part of the custom uniform conversation. Customers are always looking for fun, creative ways to customize their look and sometimes something as fundamental as a sock is overlooked. Suggest a custom sock. Socks are a relatively low ticket price to the end user and generally high margins to team dealers and those are two great reasons why socks should be a part of every custom uniform discussion.
LaFollette: Every sport is wearing socks and it is a great value add to the overall sale. Instead of shying away from it, embrace it and know that it is a need.
Griffith: Graphic design implementation for all customers is the easiest and most effective way to generate interest. Socks are unfortunately sometimes not the highest priority item, but will always be one of the easiest upsells. Use your sock provider and sales rep to provide graphic designs for all customers.
Vail: Team dealers often tie in sock sales with the uniform sale. Many also take that opportunity to upsell into a custom sock to match the uniform.
Finally, in what direction do you see the sock business headed in 2022?
Stagg: The sock business in 2022 will still feel the effects of shortages and supply chain issues, but with more time to plan and react those who book stock early and sell customs simultaneously will succeed.
Powers: Trends continue to be cyclical in this business. Generally speaking, crews continue to trend versus no-shows. With the massive boom in tennis and the return of fall and winter sports like wrestling and volleyball, we anticipate that trend to continue.
de Keizer: We’ve seen a global trend in post-pandemic fashion that emphasizes comfort and practicality. We’ll see the compression socks market expand even more, especially as consumer knowledge about the benefits of compression socks grows.