The Story Behind Rock ‘Em Socks: Easton’s First ShopLAB Store
Since its inception in 2011, Rock ‘Em Socks has been anything but conventional. In just seven years, the small business went from selling dip-dyed socks on eBay to opening their first retail store at Easton Town Center, inside our new ShopLAB space.
So, how did a company that sells socks become so successful in such a short period of time? We sat down with the Founder and CEO of Rock ‘Em Socks, Rob Starkman, to learn more about the company’s unique story.
How did the business idea for Rock ‘Em Socks come about?
In 2011, I was the manager for the University of Central Florida basketball team, and Michael Jordan’s son ended up playing for our school. At the time, we were an Adidas school. But once Jordan arrived, we switched to a Nike school overnight. Along with that came a switch in socks.
Because Nike didn’t have UCF socks ready, we had to make do with plain black and white socks. Our colors were black and gold, so I took the socks home and dip-dyed them to match our jerseys. Soon enough, all the players wanted to wear them, and people around campus were asking me where they could get a pair. That’s when I thought about selling them.
I started selling the socks on eBay, and when it started picking up steam, we expanded the color offerings. When that took off, I built a website and started moving the traffic over from eBay. Social media had also just started gaining mainstream appeal, so we built an audience there. Before we knew it, three months later, we had a brand being built.
How did Rock ‘Em Socks grow from what it was to where it is now?
When I was dip-dying socks, we were limited to colors we could find at the arts and crafts store. But I when I saw the process for making graphic tees and other decorated pieces of clothing, I figured out how to apply graphics to socks in a way that was never being done before.
I’d always been adept at Photoshop, so I started to make original designs that we could put on the socks. That opened up a whole new realm of possibilities with what we could do and expanded the types of stories we could tell on a sock.
From there, we went to local high school basketball teams and making socks with their logos. That grew into people wanting it for their university intramural teams, which snowballed into pitching the universities themselves.
In 2015, we signed on to work with several universities, including The Ohio State University. Those partnerships are when Rock ‘Em Socks really started to expand. We were able to use their logos on socks and open up our market to a legitimate fan base with legitimate licensed products.
Now, we have partnerships with more than 100 NCAA teams, 25 NBA teams, 20 NHL teams, the WWE and many, many more.
How did you come up with the name Rock ‘Em Socks?
When we first started, I remember writing name ideas down, and when Rock ‘Em Socks came up in my mind, it was like divine intervention. I immediately knew that was the name. The rock is a term for a basketball, and also means ‘to wear something’.
We also have name association with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, so it’s kind of on the tip of the pop culture tongue already. It was a perfect mixture of double entendre and the fact that the name was virtually untouched in the marketplace.
Where did your passion for Rock ‘Em Socks come from?
My passion comes from the fact that our socks are a blank canvas, and anything we’re interested in or passionate about is something we can potentially go after and put that story on a sock.
For example, most of our staff are passionate about sports, so being able to work with teams like the Orlando Magic, UCF Knights–my alma mater–or even The Ohio State Buckeyes is so cool to us.
I’m personally passionate about comedy, so we get to work with comedians to make their merchandise. I’m passionate about movies, so we’re coming out with movie-licensed socks. I’m passionate about music, so now we work with artists like Chance the Rapper and Fall Out Boy selling socks and hanging out with them on their tours.
So, the passion went into making the socks, and now being passionate about the socks makes the other interests so much more worthwhile. There’s a whole world of possibilities that I never knew could exist because of a sock.
Can you expand on any stories of getting these partnerships?
There’s so many! One of the stand-up comedians we work with is Tom Segura. We had approached him through Instagram and he was immediately into it - which, as a fan of his myself, was insanely cool and flattering. I also went to a comedy show in Los Angeles where Chris D’Elia was headlining. I was such a fan that I basically saw him on his way to the bathroom and asked him if we could make him socks, and now they’re selling them on his website.
A few of our staff members have been fans of the WWE forever. We were chasing them for years to partner with us, and when we finally got a meeting with them, I found a clip of myself in the audience on Monday Night Raw in 2003. That authenticity really brought a new angle to the storytelling and product creation and helped big time in granting us the license.
I’m also passionate about any type of art, and one day I saw the Broadway musical ‘Hamilton’. I enjoyed it so much that I talked to the manager after the show, and subsequently chased his team down for a full year to work with them. Now, we sell Hamilton socks on Broadway, which is crazy.
Finally, one of my personal favorites is our very first NBA championship sock in 2015, for the Golden State Warriors. We were the only sock manufacturer that could sell in time for their championship parade. We sold out in one day and ended up doing so well that the team gave Rock ‘Em Socks our own championship ring, which is now one of our most prized possessions.
What are Rock ‘Em Socks’ most popular designs, and do you have a personal favorite?
Our most popular designs, by far, are the Brutus mascot socks. In fact, they’re our best-selling sock of all time. Rock ‘Em Socks’ first store is in Columbus partially because we built such a huge fan base with Ohio State fans. We’ve pumped a lot of scarlet and gray in our socks over the years! Another best seller is our socks with Macho Man Randy Savage, a Columbus native. We can hardly keep those socks stocked on the shelves they fly off so fast!
My personal favorites are the socks I’ve put a lot of passion behind. The Hamilton socks, for example, are important to me since I’m such a fan of the play—and chasing it down for over a year made that first order so much more worth it.
What do you think is the reason behind Rock ‘Em Socks’ success?
Without a doubt, we’re successful because of the hard work that goes on at our office. Our team is incredible and comes up with amazing ideas. We do all of our production in-house, so we can come out with an idea and then produce the sock an hour later. Any of us could have the best idea in the world, but if it weren’t for the TEAM we have working here, we could never be as successful as we are.
Also, our authenticity and attention to detail really stand out to our customers. Where other companies might come up with a design and reskin it 100 times and call it a day, we put in the effort to understand the history of something like Brutus Buckeye and translate that ethos into a sock.
Those little nods to detail are things our customers pay attention to. We are fans of the socks that we make, so that authenticity gets passed on to the people that are tying their purchase to an emotion—a fact that brings us a lot of return business.
What’s next for Rock ‘Em Socks?
Our partnership with Easton Town Center is something big that we want to build out. Having our first store in Columbus makes the city, to me, the second home of Rock ‘Em Socks. With that, we want to solidify and expand upon our retail business and expose ourselves to customers who might not have known about us.
Columbus is a great market that has a big opportunity for a small retailer like us. People can visit our physical retail space and live the storyline we’ve been trying to tell online. Customers can see exclusive products they haven’t seen in our online store and interact with our people.
We put our heart and soul into every design we offer, but our Easton store is the best of the best. We’ve enjoyed a great reaction since we’ve been open and hope to parlay that into the holidays and 2019. I’m so excited to see where the Rock ‘Em Socks brand will go.
We hope the next time you come to Easton you'll stop by and visit Rock 'Em Socks. Their store is located in the Easton Station Building next to the grand staircase. In the meantime, give them a warm Ohio welcome and show them some support by following the company on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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