Stance Inc. sells self-expression on a commodity item few see unless in the privacy of one’s home.
The sock brand, a darling in skate shops and upper-end boutiques alike, has carved out a nice following of enthusiasts hungry to show off their personality on their feet. Actor Jason Sudeikis proudly showed his off — burgundy and gray to match fiancée Olivia Wilde’s gown — on the red carpet of the Golden Globes, while the entire NBA now dons its threads after Stance became the official sock of the NBA in April.
The holidays were good to the company’s two recently opened stores — an outlet in Livermore, Calif., and another in SoHo that bowed in October and December, respectively.
“It did remarkably well but of course it did. It was Christmas,” said chief executive officer and cofounder Jeff Kearl in an interview last week at the Agenda trade show in Long Beach, Calif. “We’ve really got to wait for a full year to see how it does.”
Store growth will be opportunistic so long as the right location pops up, Kearl said. But the expansion into retail is not seen as a one-off, marketing ploy for the brand as is the case for some companies.
“I think we have enough indication to suggest that we’re going to make money [with Stance stores] and I think the payback’s going to be somewhere around two-and-a-half years, which I think would be competitive for a lot of retailers,” Kearl said. “There’s an opportunity to do some number. I don’t know what that is yet.”
The rise of Stance can be chalked up to a few things. They’re good brand storytellers and have enlisted folks such as Rihanna, named contributing creative director last year, on collaborations via their Punks and Poets program that teams with artists, athletes and others. But Kearl sees the brand’s rise through the lens of technology and the only way to continue the trajectory is innovation.
“I would rather be more like Dyson than Red Bull,” he said. “[If] you think about them as a product company, it doesn’t matter whether they’re doing hand dryers or a vacuum, they come up with really cool inventions — a better way to do a fan — and the DNA strand is invention and innovative products and building something superior to all other brands versus something that’s pretty generic but has an amazing storytelling overlay on the top of it, like Red Bull does.”
It’s a strategy that will be impressed on the company as it continues to expand into other categories if it wants to continue the momentum.
The company launched men’s underwear in November and is in the middle of the product development cycle for women’s underwear, according to Kearl. An actual launch for the latter has yet to be determined.
T-shirts and what Kearl referred to as “first-layer” garments would seem like a natural path for expansion, but the company appears to be thinking a little more outside the box. To understand just how outside the box, he has mused at times about the potential in jewelry or luggage.
“When I look at a lot of the other market spaces that don’t have anything to do with socks or underwear, it seems like there’s a big gap between Claire’s and Tiffany,” he said. “And it feels like Tumi and Samsonite are old and tired….My favorite bags aren’t even made by luggage companies. So I look at categories like that and sometimes I wonder if we could actually make the world’s best piece of luggage or a very interesting lifestyle jewelry line that could be branded and differentiated.”
Stance is afforded the opportunity to bat around ideas on its own timetable as a private company not beholden to investors or at the mercy of analyst expectations on a quarterly basis. The team appears to be happy with that, especially considering the company’s raised $86 million to date.
“We are very patient investors and I think our view is there’s no rush to go public,” Kearl said. “Let’s build a brand that we’re proud of. We haven’t been strapped for capital. Traditionally, to be able to raise $86 million you would have had to be a public company 10 years ago to access that much capital. Today we can access that capital in the private market. So some day we will likely do [an initial public offering] but I think it’s quite a ways down the road.”
And while there’s a lot to talk about in the future, Kearl tempers all of that considering what’s come out of the company in the last quarter of 2015: Rihanna’s second collection; launch of men’s underwear; two retail stores, and getting every player in the NBA to wear its socks.
“Even though, it’s a little bit unexciting, I think 2016 is the year of optimization versus new things,” Kearl said. “We feel like we’re pretty full on new things to run.”