Stefan Lewinger, Founder and CEO of Sock Fancy, is a third generation entrepreneur who jumped into the subscription business over eight years ago and has grown from packing socks over a ping pong table to shipping hundreds of thousands of orders per month from right here at Saltbox.
Stefan’s mother was a teacher and an artist. When he wasn’t running his own businesses, his dad played in a folk band. And his brother? A ceramicist. It’s safe to say both art and business rubbed off on Stefan—which explains the wacky sock company.
Starting a business might have been in his blood but it wasn’t an easy choice. Growing up, Stefan saw how tough business could be on his father—late nights, stress, and trips abroad. He wondered how he’d handle things if he ever ran a business.
In 2013, he got that chance and started Sock Fancy.
Subscription services were hot in 2013. Stefan decided to see how he could apply himself there. He initially wanted to be the subscription service for sock lovers—but they’re a pretty discerning bunch.
Instead, Sock Fancy became the subscription service for the sock experimenter. People who wanted to explore the world of socks, but weren’t perhaps sure what they liked.
Stefan and his team embarked upon a rigorous design process. They tested everything from high-fashion socks to the more goofy ones. Every two months they’d all bring their suggestions together and whittle them down.
Another strategy they adopted was running an open exchange policy. That way they could see what socks people returned. They'd also see what socks got reviewed and received well by customers. And that information would inform the design process for the next month.
Most eCommerce companies did well during the pandemic. But a large part of Sock Fancy’s business came from corporate custom socks. Without trade shows and marketing events, this income dried up overnight.
Things weren’t looking good for Sock Fancy.
Then Stefan realized there was a huge shortage of PPE cloth masks. And his team had the logistics, the warehouses, the workers. They got to work and the reaction to their new, colorful cloth masks was fantastic. People loved them and they scaled quickly—something they couldn’t have done without Saltbox’s help.
Sock Fancy started in the glory days of the subscription model. Now a lot of that hype has died down, and a lot of those companies have left the arena. That’s because starting a subscription business is much harder than you might think. It’s all about:
A lot of companies couldn’t handle that. And as big as the subscription model boom was—so was the bust.
“Companies took a lot of VC money and now there are angry investors out there. We weren't convinced VC was the way to go. Growing at the speed required for venture capital?...You can end up just dropping the ball.” - Stefan
The subscription industry has matured now. Diversification is key to survival; companies don’t want to be reliant on the subscription model alone. It’s too seasonal. Stefan recommends companies in this industry open up to regular ecommerce sales and keep their eggs in multiple baskets.
eCommerce is always changing. Subscriptions were hot, now they’ve cooled. And it's hard to predict what’s going to happen next. Consumer behavior has changed fast. Pre-COVID, a lot of people didn’t shop online. But now? People are buying things online they used to go to stores for.
As for where eCommerce will be in the next five months? It seems like the only way is up.
Stefan needed a 3PL (3rd party logistics company) to help them scale, pack, and label when they were growing Sock Fancy. But as ideal as that sounds, it just didn’t work out.
“It’s a mistake to think someone can handle your brand like you can. A [traditional] 3PL is rigid, structured, and thrives on volume. Small companies are flexible, agile, and need to be able to turn on a dime.” - Stefan
They once had a week’s worth of orders delivered to a dead-end box. Customers getting the wrong gift messages. Halloween treats added to orders in February. So Stefan decided to switch lanes.
They tried handling it all alone but ended up turning Sock Fancy into more of a logistics company than a sock company. When you’re shipping 100,000 plus items per month, if one thing goes wrong, everything does. It’s like dominoes.
That’s when they heard about Saltbox.
It was a flexible solution that allowed them to scale up and down as needed. They had labor on demand, their own office, and warehouse space. But the main draw? Saltbox helped take care of the logistic stuff from end to end—so that Stefan could do the sock stuff.
Sock Fancy has continued to grow and expand in the Atlanta Saltbox location, and we are honored to be a small part of their amazing journey.
Check out Tyler’s full interview with Stefan here and visit https://sockfancy.com/ to browse their extensive selection.
At Saltbox, we want to grow your small business with you. Offering the key fulfillment services all businesses require across a wide variety of locations, Saltbox benefits your growing business by focusing on those personal needs that many 3PL services overlook.
Saltbox offers hands-on care when it comes to logistic solutions and fulfillment, letting owners take the lead on running their business and improving their marketing while we handle everything else. You don’t have to expand your business alone. Get started with Saltbox Fulfillment and let’s grow your business together.