Owners of local sock company put best foot forward at forum

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Photo of the founders of BoldSocks with their product.

From left: Preisner and Roff

KALAMAZOO—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 speaker series next month at Western Michigan University's Haworth College of Business.

Business partners Ryan Preisner and Ryan Roff of BoldSocks will speak at 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 12, in 2150 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 wmich.edu/business/e-rsvp. Free parking is available in the nearby Fetzer Center parking lot.

The Entrepreneurship Forum is sponsored by Educational Community Credit Union.

A bold idea

The contest that sparked the idea for BoldSocks was short-lived, as Preisner, a WMU college of business alumnus, and his business partner 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, where 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 nonprofit 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.

Future Entrepreneurship Forum speakers

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

Nov. 14, Norm Braksick, Foods Resource Bank.

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