39 Creating a platform for positive change… with John’s Crazy Socks

John and Mark Cronin of John's Crazy Socks sit down for an interview on Alone with Peter for this artwork of Alone with Peter Season 2, Episode 22
Alone With Peter
39 Creating a platform for positive change… with John’s Crazy Socks

Welcome back for part two of our podcast interview with father-son duo John and Mark Cronin. In the previous episode, we explored the origin story of John’s Crazy Socks a multi-million dollar social enterprise with a mission to spread happiness. We talked about the incredible emotional response people have had to their business and we started to see how selling socks has become a platform for change. 

This episode of Alone with Peter is brought to you by Sagebrush Coffee

Sagebrush is an online coffee roastery with a wide variety of single-origin coffees you can order from the comfort of your home knowing that your coffee is so fresh, it isn’t roasted until after you order.

If you’re interested in learning more about the world of coffee, Sagebrush is a great place to start. You can find their website online at Sagebrushcoffee.com and for a limited time from now until August, you can save 10% on your next order of coffee beans by visiting sagebrushcoffee.com/awp10 or by using the promo code awp10 at checkout.

38 Spreading Happiness: The Origin Story of John’s Crazy Socks

If you want to explore the previous episode or others in the archive, head on over to peterkersting.com/podcast/38. You can check out transcripts for different episodes, links to content mentioned and guests featured in the podcast, as well as stream episodes in their entirety. 

In today’s episode, we’re continuing the conversation around business as a force for good. We’ll explore how John’s Crazy Socks has used their platform to testify before congress, educate other businesses on the benefits of hiring the differently-abled and so much more. 

Don’t miss our giveaway with John’s Crazy Socks. Follow AWP on Instagram!

Be sure to follow Alone with Peter on Instagram for highlight clips of the latest episodes, previews of upcoming guests, and other goodies. Follow along, and send me a DM to let me know what you think of the show!

Get 10% off your next sock order with promo code PETER22

Looking for your daily dose of happiness? Follow John’s Crazy Socks on social media and get 10% off your next order of crazy socks using our promo code PETER22.

Website: https://johnscrazysocks.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/johnscrazysocks

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JohnsCrazySocks

LinkedIn: MXC  https://www.linkedin.com/in/mxcronin/

LinkedIn: JCS: https://www.linkedin.com/company/11171456/admin/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/johnscrazysocks/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/Johnscrazysocks/

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@johnscrazysocks

Enjoy part 2 of our interview with John and Mark Cronin of John’s Crazy Socks

*Transcripts may contain a few typos. With interviews ranging from 1-2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors.

39 Creating a platform for positive change… with John’s Crazy Socks

Peter Kersting: Welcome to Alone With Peter. I’m your host, and on this podcast, you’re going to hear interviews with entrepreneurs, artists, digital nomads, and people seeking personal growth. We’ll dive deep into what set them on their journey, where they are now, and how their story can impact you, including any helpful insights if you aspire to take a similar leap of faith, no matter where you are on the journey. Thank you for spending some quality time Alone With Peter.

Peter Kersting: This episode of Alone With Peter is brought to you by Sagebrush Coffee Roastery. There’s nothing quite like a good cup of coffee. That’s why I’ve always made it a point when traveling to try out the local cuisine and find the best coffee shops. From the Instagrammable coffee of East Asia to the classic cafes of Western Europe, I’ve tried a lot of coffee, and let me tell you something. Nothing has quite hit the spot like Sagebrush coffee.

Peter Kersting: Sagebrush is an online coffee roastery with a wide variety of single-origin coffees. You can order from the comfort of your home knowing that your coffee is so fresh it isn’t roasted until after you order, but what makes Sagebrush so special is their dedication to the farmers and producers who make the coffee. Sagebrush’s goal on a fundamental level is to allow the hard work of those producers to shine and to be rewarded for it. If you’re interested in the process of coffee, while becoming a more conscious consumer, Sagebrush is a gold mine of information.

Peter Kersting: Along with their selection of coffee beans to purchase, Sagebrush has an extensive archive of free educational blog posts that are built into their website to help shed more light on the world of the coffee industry and how your purchasing power impacts that world. You’ll learn the history of specific countries of origin, see breakdowns of various coffee terminology and find quick blurbs about family business updates. If you’re interested in learning more about the world of coffee, Sagebrush is a great place to start. You can find their website online at sagebrushcoffee.com. For a limited time from now until August, you can save 10% on your next order of coffee beans by visiting sagebrushcoffee.com/awp10 or by using the promo code AWP10 at checkout.

Speaker 2: (singing) Alone With Peter.

Peter Kersting: Welcome back for Part 2 of our podcast interview with father-son duo, John and Mark Cronin. In the previous episode, we explored the origin story of John’s Crazy Socks, a multimillion-dollar social enterprise with a mission to spread happiness. We talked about the incredible emotional response people have had to their business, and we started to see how selling socks has become a platform for change. If you want to explore the previous episode or others in the archive, head on over to peterkersting.com/podcast/38. You can check out transcripts for different episodes, links to content mentioned, and guests featured in the podcast, as well as stream episodes in their entirety.

Peter Kersting: In today’s episode, we’re continuing the conversation around business as a force for good. We’ll explore how John’s Crazy Socks has used their platform to testify before Congress, educate other businesses around the benefits of hiring the differently-abled and so much more.

Peter Kersting: You guys have testified in Congress. You’ve done TEDx talks. Can you speak to that part of it? What is it that you’re trying to change in the world?

Mark Cronin: It’s based on show, don’t tell. We want to share our experience, so we’ll tell you it’s about showing what’s possible. More broadly defined, it’s what entrepreneurs can do and the positive impact. We want to share the power of social enterprises and more narrowly, it’s we want to show what people with different abilities can do, and so we look for all sorts of ways of doing that. That’s not what we expected to do when we started.

Mark Cronin: When we started, it was John needed something meaningful to do. For us to do it, it would have to produce income. I remember the first time someone asked us to speak out of town. An event organizer called us up and wanted us to fly to Cleveland to speak at a fundraising event. We said, “Oh. Well, sure.” She said, “Okay. What are your fees?” I said, “Fees, huh? Well, you’re going to have to pay for our travel.” She says, “Yes, of course we will, but what are your speaker fees?” “Speaker fees?”

John Cronin: Why don’t you give us a beer?

Mark Cronin: I normally got to buy somebody a beer to get them to listen to me, but here’s an example of what the platform allows us to do and then the obligation it creates. So you’ve mentioned that we’ve testified now before Congress, and we’ve been down there other times. That’s one thing. Elected officials will take our calls and listen to us, so because of that, it’s important that we advocate for certain legislative changes and policy changes to advance the rights of people with different abilities.

Mark Cronin: We’re down there one day. A customer from Houston calls our office and says, “My mom works on Capitol Hill, and she’s a big fan of John’s, and I see that Mark and John are down on Capitol Hill. Do you think my mother could meet them?” Our colleague said, “Sure. Here’s Mark’s cell phone number. Text him Mom’s contact information.” Well, who was mom?

John Cronin: Nancy Pelosi.

Mark Cronin: Nancy Pelosi, so we get an audience with Nancy Pelosi. One thing that is unfortunate about where we’re at today, we so vilify many of our elected officials or people we oppose. In the past week, there were people voting in favor of the Supreme Court Justice and opponents saying, “Well, therefore they support pedophiles.” We’re like, “Come on now, what are we doing?” That’s the world we live in, but here we go meet Nancy Pelosi. Forget wherever you are in the political spectrum. Nancy Pelosi is an 80-year-old Italian grandmother. Let’s start there, and she sees John, and she’s so warm and lovely towards him and took out pictures of socks that she had given former President George H.W. Bush because John had somewhat famously become sock buddies with the former President, so it was a nice exchange, right?

John Cronin: Yeah.

Mark Cronin: You guys are talking and taking pictures, but now that we have this opportunity, we have to make use of it, so it’s like, “Well, Ms. Pelosi, now that we’re done with the pictures, we need to talk about eliminating the sub-minimum wage that allows upwards of 400,000 people with disability to be paid as little as five cents an hour in our country.”

Peter Kersting: Holy cow.

Mark Cronin: Because if we get that opportunity, you have to make use of it, so yes, the business has evolved where you’re willing to have us on the podcast, where we do a lot of speaking engagements, where we are able to meet with elected officials. That gives us an opportunity to further our mission, to show what’s possible, and to show what people with different abilities can do.

Peter Kersting: Well, I appreciate a couple things in what you just said, and I’d like to unpack them a little if that’s okay. First, something that I think is dearly missing in our society right now is to treat every single person you meet with dignity and respect, no matter what your relationship is to them, so you’re right. In that sense, it’s become so polarized. It doesn’t matter if that person is treating you well. It doesn’t matter if you agree with what they’re doing or not. You can advocate against what they stand for even and still treat that person with dignity and respect, so that’s very important.

Peter Kersting: I also appreciate that there’s so much negativity in the world. Not that you ignore it and pretend it away, but to focus on the positives the way that you are creating common ground with people from across the spectrum. You’re also through your actions showing what people with differing abilities can do, but there’s not a louder statement you can make than being a multimillionaire sock tycoon, John. Someone can’t look at you and say, “Oh, he’s not capable.”

Mark Cronin: Let’s pump the brakes a little. John’s not a multimillionaire. Our business is doing millions.

Peter Kersting: Multimillion dollar business. Fair.

Mark Cronin: We’re not the jet set. We are the old shepherd led set, as the song goes.

Peter Kersting: Fair, fair.

Mark Cronin: Yes, always show, don’t tell. When we talk about showing what’s possible, there are two sides to that coin. One is we want to show students and other people with the differing ability, there is hope. There are things they can do, so we host tours for that reason. We’ll go speak in the schools. It’s more than just, “Oh, you could do this,” but we want them to see. Here are people that look just like you doing meaningful work, doing jobs, and that has an impact.

Mark Cronin: I’ll give you an anecdote. We got a call from a teacher one day after she had brought her high school class in for a tour. One of her students who was on the autism spectrum, and she said was frequently difficult to reach, came in the next day and printed out a picture of him and John together, went up to the teacher and said, “You see, I can do anything.”

Mark Cronin: One side of that coin is showing students what’s possible, but the other side is showing other employers and politicians, elected officials what’s possible, what people with different abilities can do, so we’ll invite other businesses in here. We’ll go speak to them. It’s one thing to say, “Oh, it’s a good thing for you to hire people with different abilities.” It’s another thing to show. “Hey, look at how good our fulfillment operation works. Look at how we’re able to fill every job when you can’t find enough good people. Look at how successful the business becomes because of whom we hire.” That’s more powerful than me talking about some theoretical possibility.

Peter Kersting: Words have meaning, and you constantly share this quote. “Hiring people with differing abilities is not altruism.” First of all, I want to touch on why you use the phrase differing abilities, specifically, and then also, what do you mean by that’s not altruism, and how are you helping other businesses? Since we’re talking about show, don’t tell, what is your relationship with those other businesses because I’ve noticed in your social media even there is a lot of different businesses that are doing something similar and are successful. I know that’s a couple different questions there.

Mark Cronin: Okay, so let me take one at a time.

Peter Kersting: Yes.

Mark Cronin: First, why differing abilities? I don’t think there’s a single term that one can use, but it’s an opposition to the word disability or disabled. We use that term because it’s a legal term, because it defines a population, but that speaks about limitations from what you can’t do. There’s an educational theorist at Harvard named Howard Gardner, and Howard Gardner has a theory of multiple intelligences. We measure two in schools, verbal and analytical capability, but in fact we have a physical intelligence. We have a social intelligence. You have a management intelligence. He started off, I think, identifying seven and now he’s up to nine.

Mark Cronin: He’d portray them if he did a profile of somebody with a bar chart, and you might be strong here and not as strong over here. So I think of my partner, John. John has 400 distinct intelligences, and some of them he’s off the charts and some he’s like a two-year-old, and I think that’s true of all of us. So we don’t ask John to do our finances. It turns out John has difficulty with abstract reasoning, so if I ask you your favorite subject in school, what do you say?

Peter Kersting: Math.

Mark Cronin: But John has to do math by counting digits, can’t do abstractions. We run into a problem because similes and metaphors don’t work with John, very literal, but there are some things. John’s organizational skills, his problem solving, they’re off the charts. So to say he’s got a disability, that’s not right. It doesn’t speak to what he’s able to do.

Peter Kersting: That makes me so excited to hear that. I want to pause that just because that’s not just true of people with differing abilities. That’s true of all of us.

Mark Cronin: All of us. Right?

Peter Kersting: Yeah.

Mark Cronin: So then you move on to business, and there are two lines. There are a lot of lines I repeat, but hiring people with differing abilities is not altruism. It’s good business. The reason that we try to drive that message home is a lot we’ll run into businesses that think, “Oh, we should do a good thing for the community. It’ll be good for my church. I will feel good.” All of that is true. If you hire people with different abilities, you will feel good and you should, but the reason to do it and want to be hard-headed about this is because it’s good business. We can walk through lots of examples of why it gives you a competitive advantage when you hire people with different abilities.

Speaker 2: Alone With Peter.

Peter Kersting: If you’re feeling inspired by this episode of John’s Crazy Socks, and you’re hoping to get a pair, you’re in luck because for a special period of time, we have a promo code. If you enter Peter22 on your checkout, you can get 10% off your next pair of John’s Crazy Socks, a great business with a great cause, spreading happiness. If you’ve been getting a little joy from listening to Alone With Peter, I ask that you take the time to rate, review and subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you get podcasts and follow us on Instagram at Alone With Peter. We’ll be doing a giveaway with John’s Crazy Socks in the next week or two, and I don’t want you to miss out on this amazing prize, so follow along, and until then, let’s get back to our show.

Mark Cronin: It gives you a competitive advantage when you hire people with different abilities.

Peter Kersting: Maybe you can do that for John’s Crazy Socks. How has that made you successful to hire so many people with different abilities?

Mark Cronin: Here’s some examples, right? We run our own pick and pack warehouse. What do we call our pickers?

John Cronin: Sock wranglers.

Mark Cronin: Sock wranglers, so there are a couple things going on. Certainly in this area of the world, in Long Island at least, but in much of the US, there’s a growing labor shortage. Employers will tell you all the time, “We can’t find enough good workers.” Last fall, last holiday season, Newsday, the local Long Island paper, or I should say the big Long Island paper ran a long article about how employers couldn’t find people, and it was hurting business during the holidays. We had a surplus of candidates because we brought in the pool and said, “We’re not going to arbitrarily exclude people,” so while others couldn’t find enough employees, we could fill every job.

Mark Cronin: Be really clear here. We’re not dumbing down our standards, and we’re not paying people less, but you want to get good workers. Again, in our specific warehouse situation, over the years, we have drawn from basically three labor pools. People with differing abilities, Moms. There’s some Dads in there because we schedule people on four-hour shifts. Now some of that is an accommodation for people with different abilities who may if they’re collecting SSI, they can’t work more than a certain number of hours, or they’ll lose their benefits. So we schedule people four-hour shifts, so Moms like it because you come in the morning. Put my kid on the bus in the morning, do my work, go home, pick my kid up in the bus in the afternoon. Then the other pool are just general laborers who are looking for a $15-an-hour job. By far, the best labor pool for us are people with differing abilities.

Peter Kersting: Now with that, I have a question. I am imagining, and maybe you can tell me how you do this, you’ve become very good at recognizing what people’s strengths are. You were talking about different intelligences and how, for example, John is really great with problem solving and ideas. How are you able to assign the best role to people in your business?

Mark Cronin: Okay, these are different questions, so let’s start with the most common position we have here is the sock wrangler. I’ll walk through the hiring. First, you don’t start the hiring on the day you have an opening. Our overall approach, backing up now, is drive the mission that drives the brand that drives our sales, but we’re always wanting to advance the mission, so therefore people get to know more about our business. We hold those tours for school groups and for social service agencies, so they get to see the work we do. We host workgroups from social service agencies and some schools, so they can bring people in to get a taste of what work is like. They get to see us. We also, by the way, get to see them and get to start to identify people that, “Oh, they may be really good,” so now when we have an opening for a sock wrangler, we’ve already prepared our soil, if you will, to reap some benefits and some growth.

Mark Cronin: We’ll share first to our community through social media, through our colleagues here. We’ve developed relationships with schools and universities. They get to know us and know what the environment is and the people we’re looking for, but let’s be really clear about the sock wrangler job. Once you come in, you meet with John and me. We want to make sure you know our mission and our story and our values. We want to make sure you want to be here. You’re not here because Mom or Dad want you to be.

Mark Cronin: Then we give you your training. Our current sock wranglers do the training, and they love to train people. Then to get the job, you have to pass the sock wrangler test. You have to pick six orders in 30 minutes or less, nothing extraneous. Show us you can do the job. You pass that test, you have the job. Now, once you’re in here, now we are going to explore and see what your other talents are, see what else we can use.

Mark Cronin: Miranda would work in the office and help us with filing and with shredding and scanning. Riley organized our kitchen. Matt wrote sock descriptions and product descriptions. Part of what we try to do is let’s see what the job requires and hire for the job and not get confused with extraneous demands. If I’m putting together a basketball team, I probably want, what do you want to say? LeBron James, Kevin Durant on my team. I don’t care what their SAT scores were. I don’t care if they speak French. I want to know, can they play hoops? Frequently, employers will not even talk to people for arbitrary reasons that have nothing to do with the job.

Mark Cronin: For more complex jobs, oh, we just hired three new people, a happiness creator who works directly with our customers, a web designer … We’re a small place … who’s also doing graphic arts work, video editing, and our community organizer. Maria stops us from flying off the earth. Well, there are certain skills that you want to make sure they have for that job, right? Naziro, who we hired for the web design, she’s got to be able to know how to use Photoshop. She doesn’t have to be the best Photoshop person in the world. Then we want to make sure you have the right character and cultural fit for us, that you understand the type of place we are and you’re going to work well in here.

Mark Cronin: We’ve learned. We’ve gotten better at how to do that. I had a conversation yesterday with a guy who runs an employment agency. We’re friends and he comes along, but we don’t hire through him. We hire our own people. He was saying, “Well, a lot of companies, they don’t want to do it. They don’t want to take the risk.” We spend a lot of time on that interview process. You go through multiple interviews. You talk to everybody in the place. We want a lot of eyes on you, but we also want you to know everything about us, so we get a fullness of character. Does that make sense to you?

Peter Kersting: Absolutely. The reason I asked for you to do that breakdown is because I think a lot of times employers are trying to fill a position rather than find somebody that they align with, with their values and then finding the right position for them.

Mark Cronin: That matters so much more. I can think of in previous businesses. I spent much my career in the healthcare field in organizing, managing healthcare management firms. I can remember meeting a woman when I spoke. I was a guest lecturer at the Columbia School of Public Health. We hit it off. I got to learn more about her, and I spent two years trying to figure out how to bring her into our organization because I knew I wanted her to work with us. I wasn’t sure what the role would be, or Gail, whom we just hired. The first cut. Someone else had done a first cut on resumes, and hers was not in the pile of people for us to start to interview, but I checked the reject file, if you will. I said, “Wait a second. Look at what this woman has done.” The response was, “Yeah, but she’s never worked customer service before.” Who cares?

Peter Kersting: Right.

Mark Cronin: That might even be a positive.

Peter Kersting: Yeah. Well, you get to train her from the ground up. I mean, there’s so many things, I don’t know how much time we have to talk about this specifically, but it’s worth highlighting because I’ve done quite a few different jobs over the years. I interview people more often than I’m interviewed on podcasts, but I was thinking about this the last time I was on a podcast, which is that if I tie all the different jobs that I’ve had together and go, which ones were great and which ones did I not enjoy so much? The people that I loved working for, for one thing, I felt like they cared about me as a person more than about the job specifically that I was completing, so I felt very comfortable working with them because I felt like they cared about me as person. But second, they were looking at, “What is Peter capable of doing and how do we make him succeed because that’s what’s going to make us succeed?”

Mark Cronin: Yes. My own bias is to hire people who are coming up the learning curve, and I find that more interesting than somebody who’s already been there, done that. There are a couple things there, and I’m fully agreeing with you. Hands down, culture matters more than skills, but let me hit on two points. One, okay, we’ve spoken about our business. We’re a small business, a unique type of place, maybe, so let’s consider another business.

Mark Cronin: You may have heard of them. They’ve got a software company based out of Redmond, Washington. They’re called Microsoft, so they’re in fierce competition to hire programmers and people with high technical skills. Well, they pick their heads up one day and say, “How come we don’t hire anybody with autism, particularly since so many people with autism have great technical skills?” Well, the answer is easy, because maybe those people with autism, they don’t shake your hand the right way, or they may not look you in the eye. Microsoft figured out that was their problem, so they changed their hiring process. Now they hire lots of people with autism and guess what? That gives them a competitive advantage because they said, “Let’s look for what really matters.”

Mark Cronin: I want to jump to what you said about somebody recognizing you as a person, so we could talk about our five pillars. One of them is we want to make this a great place to work. I mean, some of it’s simple. If we’re on a mission to spread happiness in the community and amongst our customers, we have to start here. Our colleagues have to be happy working here, but what I’ve also learned is you get the right people. You put them in the right position. You point them in the right direction, and everything will take care of itself. Right?

Mark Cronin: We have a five component piece about making this a great place to work. One, offer people a mission worthy of their commitment, something that people can believe in. They get to decide. You don’t get to decide, but you get to offer them what that mission is. It can’t just be, “I’m going to give you a paycheck.” It’s never enough. So you offer them a mission that they can believe in that can motivate them, and that’s their part, right?

Mark Cronin: Then two, make sure everybody knows why their job matters. There is no cognitive machinery. There’s no make work. As a business, we cannot afford to have people that are just going through the motions or their job doesn’t really matter. If it doesn’t matter, why are we paying them? Make sure everybody knows how their job, it matters, and it’s fulfilling the mission. You can go to every single person here and ask them, “What’s the mission?” They’re going to tell you, “It’s spreading happiness,” and how do you help do it? They’re going to tell you.

Mark Cronin: Third, put people in a position to succeed. Don’t ask people to do what they can’t do, and give them the supports that they need. So, Naziro, the webmaster, web design person we just hired. “Naziro, what type of computer do you need? We’re in the Microsoft world.” She goes, “Well, I prefer Apple and this is the type of device.” “Okay. We’re going to get it for you.” To be clear, we don’t have endless resources, but give people the tools they need.

Peter Kersting: Right. Well, especially with that, you’re talking about return on investment, right, because if she has to learn a whole new system, that’s totally different?

Mark Cronin: Yes, but if people are motivated and you’re taking care of them, everything will follow. Four, recognize the work that people do. Here’s a simple one, Peter. You put a lot of time into this podcast. You worked up outlines and questions, and you had to spend time thinking about how to structure this. Well, just say, “Thank you. Hey, I saw you do that.” Recognize. “Hey, this was great work.”

Mark Cronin: You talk to people today. We had a call with one of our charity partners, and they were talking about email and the problems that they have getting people to even open their emails. We shared what we do with my colleague, Christie, who handles our email, who was there. We were able to say, “Listen, here’s our approach. We’re not experts. Here’s our approach, but we have a 43% open rate.”

Peter Kersting: 43%? I think the average is like 18% or 20.

Mark Cronin: Yes. It’s off the chart.

Peter Kersting: That’s insane.

Mark Cronin: But make sure that I give the credit to Christie and in front of other people. So, you say thank you. Some of that is make sure people are paid fairly. That doesn’t mean you have to pay more than everybody else, and pay to me is never really an incentive, but it can be a disincentive. If you think you’re being underpaid, that’s going to stick in your craw because that’s saying they don’t respect what I do. Then the last thing, stay the hell out of the way. Let people do their jobs.

Mark Cronin: If you do those five things, you’re going to be in a good place. Part of it is also, and I hear this from other business owners, treat people the way you would want to be treated. Treat people with the same respect and the same freedom. “Oh, no, no, no. They’re different than me,” as if they’re adversaries. Well, if you go into it thinking they’re your adversary, you are going to have a problem.

Peter Kersting: Yes. Yes. Oh, man. There’s so many different things we could touch on. Maybe we’ll have to have you guys back on the podcast a different time because there’s too many questions I’m not going to be able to get answers from in this three-part interview. Oh, man. I just want to say, I couldn’t agree with you more, on all of those things. For one, I have quit jobs that have paid me better to take jobs that pay far less, simply because I didn’t get those other things that you were just talking about. Pay, you said it. I couldn’t say it better. It’s not an incentive. It’s a disincentive if anything, and it’s only because they’re not getting paid enough.

Mark Cronin: We just had somebody come back with us, so it’s not all perfect. We’ve had our ups and downs. Things go wrong. Our first two years we were booming, profitable, but our second year in particular we had a bunch of viral experiences and ridiculous media coverage. Third year, we come crashing down. We got no money. I’m running out of money. By the end of the year, I got to let everybody go. We’re in virtual bankruptcy. I mean, having a comical conversation with a bankruptcy firm telling me, “Oh, you need to declare bankruptcy. We’ll handle it for you, but we need $50,000 upfront,” and me saying, “Hell. If I had $50,000, I wouldn’t be talking to you,” but anyway, we had to let people go. Now we’re stabilized. We’ve got our strategic partner. We’re growing back.

Mark Cronin: I hear from somebody we let go, Maria. She said, “Mark, I just want to come back because I was never so happy when I was working there.” She took a pay cut to come here. She had a good job at another place, a big hospital system. She says, “I was just a cog in the machine.” It makes me feel so good. Maria has been back with us a few months, doing great work, already indispensable, but just to see her walking around and smiling and feeling so happy, but she does great work. It’s not play. If you get to know us, you would find out that John here is a very nice guy, very nice. Right? I am not. If you are going to work here, you got to produce.

Peter Kersting: John, I think of you as the fun master, and I want to ask you a couple questions. Okay? Number one is you’re basically a celebrity, right? People notice you on the street. They want to take your picture. They want to hang out with you.

John Cronin: Yes.

Peter Kersting: But you might also be a superhero. Who’s Sockman?

Mark Cronin: Who is Sockman?

John Cronin: I am.

Peter Kersting: Tell me about Sockman.

Mark Cronin: You like dressing up as Sockman?

John Cronin: Yes. I love dressing up as him.

Peter Kersting: Who is he?

Mark Cronin: His own superhero.

Peter Kersting: I watched that video of you dancing as Sockman, and I was jealous because that costume is so cool.

John Cronin: Thank you.

Peter Kersting: I’ll have to share the link to the video when I post this episode, but you like to have fun. What are some things you do for fun at work? How do you make the workplace a fun place to be, John?

Mark Cronin: Well, what do you do every Tuesday afternoon?

John Cronin: I host a dance party every Tuesday 2:00 PM Eastern Time. I am a dancer.

Mark Cronin: You host a dance party, right?

John Cronin: Yeah.

Mark Cronin: Well, first of all, you got to understand. They used to say that James Brown is the hardest working man in showbiz. This is the hardest working man in Sockdom. You just love that, but listen. Here are things we do. Every Tuesday is Bagel Tuesday. Every Friday we have staff lunch. You picked staff lunch today, right?

John Cronin: I did.

Mark Cronin: Where’d you bring it in from?

John Cronin: Burger Village.

Mark Cronin: Burger Village, but that’s a good thing. We all sit down and break bread together.

John Cronin: Excuse me a second. I’ve got to talk nice things about my Dad.

Mark Cronin: Nice things about me?

John Cronin: Yeah. Is that okay with you?

Mark Cronin: That’d be fine. That’d be nice.

John Cronin: My Dad pushed me. He knew that I could have success. My Dad is a proud father. I recently said that to him because I came. I’m learning a lot. I keep learning. I talk to him and as many persons I can, and he permits me because I’m learning a lot, at a learning curve.

Mark Cronin: You’re easy to believe in.

John Cronin: My Dad is very easy.

Mark Cronin: Right. Yeah, my boy.

Peter Kersting: That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing that, John.

Mark Cronin: We’ve got the social enterprise, social and a business drive. What’s the mission?

John Cronin: Spreading happiness.

Mark Cronin: Spreading happiness, and we’ve built it on five pillars.

John Cronin: A spirit in hope, giving back, find products that you can love, make it personal and make it a great place to work.

Mark Cronin: We already spoke about how we go about trying to make it a great place to work. The making it personal, we’re always looking to make connections with our customers. We’re looking for relationships, not just transactions, and that drives everything we do, and it’s made manifest in everything we do, so it’s simple, right? It’s the thank-you note and the candy in every package, but everybody buys in, so I’ll give you a couple examples.

Mark Cronin: We sell socks for diabetics, these high compression socks. One day, one of our happiness packers comes and says, “You know, we’re sending socks to diabetics and we send them candy. What’s wrong with this picture?” So now we have a supply of sugar-free candy that goes with the diabetic socks, or if we see an address from a military base, that’s a different package.

Mark Cronin: Take email. We mentioned we’ve got this 43% open rate. Well, any business, for one, you’ve got to know how important your email list is because you own that, and we have 240,000 Facebook followers, but that’s a phony number because those people belong to Facebook. We can’t directly contact them, but when people give you their email, they’re trusting you. You’ve got to use it right, but at the same time, most every business, if they’re honest with it, they’ll tell you. Every time they send out an email, they get a little blip in sales, so it’s very tempting to send a lot of emails.

Mark Cronin: There are businesses I get four emails a day from. It’s crazy, so we’re very careful. We only send emails to people that want to open them. If you don’t open emails, we stop sending them to you. You don’t even have to ask. We don’t want to bother you. We send out two a week. One of them is just a message from John. It’s just John sharing what he’s up to. We’re not selling you anything because we’re looking for that long relationship.

Mark Cronin: We do our own fulfillment. People segment their email to be able to more personalize it. We do that. We segment our fulfillment. We have five different base packages. They all have the same ingredients, but if this is your first order, you get one package. If it’s your third order, you’re getting a different package. Anything we can do to make that connection work. Then fun products you can love. How many different socks do we have?

John Cronin: 4,000 different kind of socks.

Mark Cronin: 4,000 different socks. John now owns the world’s largest sock store.

John Cronin: That’s right.

Mark Cronin: At its heart, we have to be a great business. We have to have a great website, a great selection. You got to have great products. We have over 29,000 5-star reviews. 96% of the reviews we get are 5-star reviews, and you got to have great service, so we do same-day shipping. An order comes in today, it’s going out today. Your friend over there at Amazon, Jeff Bezos, he’s not putting a candy and thank-you notes in those packages. Then it’s the giving back, so that’s baked into everything we do. We started by pledging 5% of our earnings to the Special Olympics, and why the Special Olympics?

John Cronin: I am a Special Olympics athlete.

Mark Cronin: Yes, you are. We wouldn’t be here without the Special Olympics. John would not be in this position to own a business without that, but we’ve gone on to create products that celebrate causes, raise awareness and raise money for those causes. So what was the first awareness sock?

John Cronin: First one is Down Syndrome Awareness socks.

Mark Cronin: Who designed those Down Syndrome Awareness socks?

John Cronin: I did.

Mark Cronin: They celebrate people with Down’s Syndrome and they raise money for the National Down Syndrome Society, but we have Autism Awareness Socks, Cerebral Palsy. Today we were on the phone with the people from the Williams Syndrome Association. We created Healthcare Superhero socks that raised $50,000 for frontline workers. We make donations, and we sponsor an Autism Can Do Scholarship. It’s not, “Well, if we make money at the end of the year, we’ll write a check.”

Mark Cronin: You got to engage, so we’ll promote these causes and work with our charity partners. We’ve now donated over $500,000 to our charity partners. So you see, he is a philanthropist, but then most of all, the most important pillar is showing what people with different abilities can do. So, we start with John. John has Down’s syndrome. Well, we don’t put him in the back. You’re the face of the business. It’s your business.

John Cronin: Yeah. Right.

Mark Cronin: We’ve created 34 jobs. 22 of those are held by people with different abilities, and that’s not enough. We’ve been talking of we want to show, so we create content to share on our social media platforms. We now have a podcast. We host tours and workgroups from schools and social service agencies. We do speaking engagements. It’s one of the reasons we’re so grateful, Peter, that you have us on your podcast. Then we do that advocacy work, so all that rolls up to being John’s Crazy Socks. It’s what attracts our colleagues and our customers because when you buy from us, yes, you’re going to get great socks. You’re going to get great service, but now you are part of it. You are helping us hire people with different abilities. You’re helping us give back. You’re helping spread happiness.

Mark Cronin: This can segue … I know we will do another conversation … into actionable items. I think every business … I can share our experience, mine here and elsewhere. You have to know what you’re about. You got to know your purpose. You got to know your values, and you have to believe. You can’t just pay lip service. You have to have a deep conviction, and then it becomes manifest in everything you do.

Mark Cronin: So we talk about spreading happiness and personal connections. How do we answer the phone? First, our happiness creator, names, words matter. They don’t have a script. They’re not following a strict protocol. They’re going to get things done, and they’re going to have a human conversation with you. Our return policy is open-ended. We guarantee. You’re not happy, we’ll give you your money back anytime. Somebody called three years ago. They didn’t even open the package. They just opened it and said, “Oh, I don’t like this.” “Okay. We’ll give you your money back. We’ll send you new socks.” Guess what? Our return rate is 0.5 of 1% because you take care of people, but you’ve got to know what the values are. You got to know what your purpose is, and you got to have conviction.

Peter Kersting: Thank you for sharing that, Mark and John, for being on the podcast. This is a lot of fun, and I’m excited to hear you guys give some actionable tips. I’m learning a lot more about who you two are as individuals. I think the big takeaway from this particular episode to me is by starting with the values, starting with the way you want to treat people, those five pillars you just mentioned, everything else is based off of that. It’s made John’s Crazy Socks a place people want to work. It’s made it the place that people want to buy from. I certainly have enjoyed getting to know you two, and I’m excited to have you back on in a little bit.

Mark Cronin: All right, Peter. Thank you.

John Cronin: Thank you.

Peter Kersting: That’s a wrap for Part 2 of our interview with John and Mark Cronin of John’s Crazy Socks. Tune in next week for actionable and practical tips if you aspire to take a similar leap of faith, and thank you for spending some quality time Alone With Peter.


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