Father and son business shows the world what employees with disabilities can achieve
Fun is the secret of success at John’s Crazy Socks, based in Melville, New York. “And candy,” adds Cofounder John Cronin, who puts Skittles and a hand-written thank-you note in each order. The father-son duo went into business together in part to demonstrate what people can achieve, hiring many employees with disabilities. Cofounder Mark Cronin reports that in its first two years, their business has gone viral. To handle rapid growth and big demand spikes, the company uses Microsoft 365 and Surface Pro devices.
Whether you like corgi butts, puns, or Edgar Allen Poe, you’ll find colorful hosiery to match your interests at John’s Crazy Socks, a small company that sent 43,000 orders to 44 countries in its first year. Whether customers choose socks that glow in the dark, have troll doll hair you can comb, or promote awareness around disabilities like autism or Down syndrome, if the order comes in by 3:00 PM, the company’s “sock wranglers” ship it the same day.
The combination of giving back to the community and offering personalized service helps John’s Crazy Socks distinguish itself and compete with big retailers. The company hosts up to six school visits each week to provide visitors with work experience and an educational outing. Its same-day shipping has a twist: each package includes a thank-you note and some Skittles from John, who also makes time for local home deliveries.
Cofounder Mark Cronin says he and his son, John Cronin, have plenty of new ideas, too. “We’re rolling out custom socks this year,” says Mark. “We’re also creating a John’s Crazy Socks network on YouTube and Facebook with shows hosted by or featuring people with disabilities.”
When John, who has Down syndrome, considered a career, he let his imagination run free. “Open a fun store,” was his first idea, followed by “Start a food truck!” There was just one problem with the second idea. “We can’t cook,” admits John.
He returned to the idea of opening a store, as he’d worked as a mail clerk at one of several businesses Mark had run in the past, and he’d studied retailing in high school. “I said, ‘I want to sell socks,’” recalls John. “I’ve worn crazy, colorful socks my entire life, for fun. I like to be creative. And to let me be me.”
“He kept going with that idea,” says Mark. “He had the name of the company and drawings of what a website could look like.” So the cofounders began in lean startup mode. “We built a website on the Shopify e-commerce platform and got some inventory,” he continues. “For marketing, we set up a Facebook page and made some videos of John talking about his socks. And he came up with a catchphrase.”
“Socks, socks, and more socks,” confirms John.
Success slides in on stockinged feet
When the company opened its doors in December 2016, most orders were from local friends and family. Scalability soon became an issue as John’s videos began getting lots of attention. A journal called The Mighty posted a video about the pair in February 2017. “The video got 10,000 views overnight; last time I looked, it had more than 20 million views,” says Mark. Multiple news outlets have done feature stories on the business growing overnight from 60 orders a day to more than 1,000, and promoting a message of happiness and inclusiveness.
Managing steep fluctuations in business and selling Monday Madness Mystery Bags of randomly selected socks are not the only unique business considerations. The company needed new tools for handling business data and helping its growing staff stay connected (John’s Crazy Socks went from 4 to 35 employees in 10 months). The cofounders hold after-work events for employees to help them have active social lives, but communication was slow. Many employees work part time to avoid losing disability benefits, and they lacked ready access to computers outside of work; most had never had email addresses before. Coordinating shifts and exchanging event information with family and guardians happened on the phone or in printed documents.
A variety pack of cloud services to fit all sizes
After evaluating a few cloud providers, Mark chose Microsoft 365 for its connectivity and power. Employees were already using Microsoft Surface Pro devices and all-in-one computers from Dell and HP, all running Windows 10. “I’d already used Office 365 in other businesses, and really liked it,” he says. “It made the choice easy.”
Mark handled the deployment. “It was a very easy implementation. I came in on a Sunday and did it all myself,” he says. “As a small business, we don’t have a dedicated IT person. We needed a solution we could get up and running quickly, that my employees are familiar with. That’s one of the reasons we’re using Microsoft 365: it’s low-maintenance and easy to use.”