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The Path To Entrepreneurship With Josh Wintermantel From Hype Socks (MFGMonkey Episode 20)

MFG Monkey | Josh Wintermantel | Entrepreneurship


On this week’s episode of MFG Monkey, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Josh Wintermantel, the owner and CEO of Hype Socks. We talk about Josh’s path to entrepreneurship, and how he’s turned his high school side hustle of customizing socks into a major business. Based in the US, Hype Socks is a hosiery manufacturer and distributor specializing in the design and development of odor-resistant, moisture-managing performance socks for athletic programs or other organizations and special occasions. Josh takes us through his battle with Nike, dealing with manufacturers, how his business adapted through covid, and more!

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The Path To Entrepreneurship With Josh Wintermantel From Hype Socks

We are here with Josh Wintermantel. He is the founder and CEO of Hype Socks, a US manufacturer. You tried connecting with me a couple of months ago, but I ignored it. We finally connected about a month ago and hit it off. Thank you so much for coming in.

I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me, Dustin.

Origins Of Hype Socks

It is a funny story because we did hit it off well. We started talking about US manufacturing and got into your sock company because I started looking up a little bit about you. I was intrigued by your age and the things that you’ve done so far with the manufacturing of Hype Socks. Tell us a little bit about Hype Socks. 

Hype Socks is my baby. It’s like one of my children. I was 28 years old when I started Hype Socks or started selling socks. I started that movement of hype Socks about ten years ago. I was eighteen years old. I was in high school wanting to be a college basketball player at the time. It was in the spring that I saw a Nike product and it was that Nike Elite sock with the stripe down the back. That ended up being a $1 billion category for Nike.

Hype Socks is my baby. It's like one of my children. Share on X

I took it. They only made eight colors, black with white stripes down the back. I and some buddies in high school figured out how we could dye this sock. We figured that using the basic Rit dye at Kroger or whatever is super inexpensive. You heat up on your stove and you can dye those socks.

I made a hundred different color combinations. Nike ended up coming after me legally and said, “Maybe you’re tarnishing our brand. You’re selling all these Nike socks.” I said, “I’ve made you guys this much money.” I had to get an IP lawyer. I was scared. I was young. I found this amazing attorney who ended up winning me a lawsuit several years later in the IP law category. I had found him back with this. We always joked around when Nike came after me. I said, “I made you a bunch of money, but we’ll do whatever you want.”

You could be a huge customer. 

That was my first thing with socks. From there, I was sitting on the bench. My team, I remember, we were ranked fifth in the country. It was D3 Emory. We were playing in the school. I’m sitting there on the bench. The school is Navy and they have royal blue socks on. They weren’t able to get their hands on Navy socks. I’m like, “This is ridiculous.” I was in the sock market or whatever. My friends are like, “Is there a sock market?  Can you have a sock company?” They’re making fun of me at this point.

Everyone else on the bench is thinking about drinking and girls after the game.

Manufacturing Journey

The guys at the end of the bench maybe put some vodka in the Gatorade bottle or whatever, but here I am sitting there and I can’t get over that. I’m like, “That’s a huge market, matching these team uniforms.” I eventually got away from selling that Nike sock because I didn’t want any beef with them or whatever you want to call it. I began to sell my own socks. To do that, I had to have the sock manufactured. I was going to the Finish Line using a 20% off coupon.

I was like, “You guys are retailing me. How are you going to send me this letter?” I’m making them all this money. I would go to the Finish Lines and say, “I want every one of these socks that you have.” I’d walk out with trash bags full of them. I’d dye them, like everyone I could get my hand on that I could sell. I was selling them for five times the retail price on eBay just because they were black with orange instead of black with white, for example.

Back to making that transition into the team business, there happened to be this town that was two hours away, Fort Payne, Alabama. When I googled US sock manufacturers, at first I didn’t understand that there were geographic locations where a lot of these sock manufacturers were located or a lot of these industries had concentrations of certain industries. I understood Akron made tires. That’s where I grew up in the North Canton area. I had an idea of that but I didn’t understand that something like socks would be like that.

I began to make some socks with one factory in Fort Payne. It was a mom-and-pop, super small. Even being a nineteen-year-old, I was a huge customer for them. I remember I went over with three of my colleagues or my three employees. They are the ones I had at the time. They’re my main people. We went over with suits into this town. I had never been to Alabama before.

The town has 10,000 people. No one has a caller, much less a suit. When we go there, the first thing we do is on the way into town, we stop at a town of 400 people. We have the suits. It was a mix of concern and questions for these people. They hadn’t seen someone walk into their little diner in years in a suit, “What are you guys doing here?” We met with all fifteen factories in this town in two days to save costs. Being a young company, we don’t want to stay there for four days, “I want you guys back in the office selling socks.”

We go over there and we have these hour-interval meetings and meet with every factory in this town. We ended up working with about six of them for a couple of years. No one took us under their wing. Maybe because we were young. Who knows? We didn’t have enough respect or whatever. We were in the seven-figure category revenue. We were barely getting up there at this point. What we realized was we had to put it all under one roof.

Growth And Scaling

In 2015, four years into it or about six years ago, we opened up our own plant. We still worked with some of the other places. We still work with that same mom-and-pop place I told you about. She has six machines and she gets us a great deal. We’re happy to work with her and give her some business that helps with some of the knitting, but 97% of our socks now are knit in our own place. Fast forward to 2017, we moved out of the building that we were renting and bought a 20,000-square-foot building. We moved all the equipment and we had reinvested our profits back into that.

That’s where we are now. We manufacture the socks there and are able to make sport-specific socks to sell to basketball teams.  We’ve researched and developed a sock for each sport. It’s a sport-specific catalog. If you’re a volleyball coach, you can go to the volleyball section and check out for your team. That’s been huge for us. We’ve made a huge transition into being a fundraising company. I would say that about 35% of our revenue now is fundraising and only 65% sports. We do a lot of elementary school fundraisers.

They send home that little piece of paper that Tommy and Billy send home. What’s great about the elementary schools is if Susie needs one, Beth needs one too. They don’t like to leave the kids out. We see some of the biggest orders participation-wise from these elementary schools. It’s a fun item. It’s unique. They have a t-shirt or two that they’ve got from the different events that they’ve been a part of.

The socks are something different. Because it’s a workout pair of socks, it’s very practical. People don’t have 40 pairs of workout socks. They have 40 pairs of socks and people workout maybe every day. Relative to the amount of socks that people have, a workout sock is going to be something a little more effective than a t-shirt. People always have extra t-shirts.

When you started talking about your story when we first met, I fell in love with it. I resonated with it. I wasn’t smart enough to understand my own product like you were. I  made my money selling other people’s products and going at it that way. It’s been a lot of fun. I always envied somebody who could see a need and make a product, and then make it successful, especially at a young age. Many people want to do it. Nobody grasps how to do it or what to do. Some people spend their entire lives trying to figure that out.

Entrepreneurial Mindset And Challenges

At that time in my life, I was looking for business opportunities. A lot of business opportunities continue to come but that was a situation where because I had my eyes peeled and I was hungry or whatever. It increased my chances of getting lucky. I think there was luck involved. This town is two hours away. Some people are like, “Josh, are you kidding me? What are the chances?”

At that time in my life, I was looking for business opportunities. Because I had my eyes peeled and was hungry, it increased my chances of getting lucky. Share on X

There’s no correlation between me going to school in Atlanta and having this town in Alabama be a two-hour drive. I still fly into that Atlanta airport when I go there. It’s quicker to do the nonstop there than the one-stop to Chattanooga. We fly into Atlanta. What are the chances of this being almost like an Atlanta suburb where all these socks are made? That is lucky. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, because I was keeping my eyes peeled at that point and inviting to these different opportunities, it made a higher chance for that luck to occur.

I agree with that. I’m a big believer that what you think about will come. You can almost blow yourself into what you want. If you work hard enough, you’re driven enough, you think about it enough, you lose sleep over it, and you work your ass off, it’s going to come. I am a big believer in that. I love that they put their personal life almost at risk, where they’ve screwed some things up personally because they’re so driven to do something successful that they have different hurdles that they get over.

I can relate to that. When I was growing up, I was a good student. I wanted to play Division 1 basketball. I was getting recruited by Yale, Columbia. To be competitive academically in basketball, you want to play D-1 and you also want to go to a good school. When I got letters from those places, that was where my interest was. They didn’t end up wanting me from a basketball standpoint. I didn’t end up being good enough to play at that level. When I went to their recruiting places, that’s where Emory saw me. At the time, they had the third-best undergrad business school.

When my mom told me that school called, I had the undergrad business school rankings memorized at the time. I was like, “That’s number three.” I mean, at least the top twenty when I say rankings. There was a huge situation for me where I went five semesters to a school where the average ACT was 33. I had all these super smart friends. For me, I got in because of basketball. I still got a high test score but I probably would have not been able to get into this school without basketball. I felt like basketball had gotten me to that point.

I was giving up that dream of the academic world and that world where I would get a good job with a good company, low risk, and medium reward. I gave that up to pursue this sock dream. Some people said, “What’s he going to do? Sell socks for his whole life?” Here I am now. It’s been fun. It’s been a category that I never would have imagined that I would have been in. It has led to other opportunities and other businesses within the sock market, and other ways that we’ve vertically integrated and created businesses off of the different values that we’ve created.

It’s been fun for sure. No regrets, I wish that I would have had the opportunity to play basketball all four years. Those relationships that I established in freshman year, the worst part of it were not getting to finish things out with those guys. It was a situation where I didn’t have enough time to do it all. The business was the most important to me. I made some sacrifices and decided I didn’t see myself going in and getting a job for these companies at entry level. I’d rather see where the sock thing can go. Why not start now and save $70,000 for my senior year?

At the end of the day, you made the best economic decision. Everyone probably thought you were screwing up when you made the decision. To me, that’s the funny part about it. I think you get to a certain level that you have those people in mind. For me, it was my uncle telling me that if I didn’t go to college, I would never make anything of my life. I would dig ditches and I would never make any money.

My uncle and I have a great relationship. I love him to death and I ended up not finishing my bachelor’s degree until 2018. Part of the reason why is that I wanted to prove him wrong that I didn’t need my bachelor’s degree to be successful in life. That’s the way he is wired still today. We joke around about that because he telling me that also drove me harder to prove him wrong.

He made you a lot of money.

Not only that but he also made me resilient. There were a lot of times when I would go sit down in a boardroom. I was sitting down with people from Yale, Denison, Carnegie Mellon, and all this. Everyone is going around the table, “Where did you go to school?” I’m like, “Piqua High School.” They’re like, “How the hell did you get at this table?” I’m like, “I don’t know. How the hell did you get here?” I do think that certain things happen in your life that propel you in a way that drives you harder to succeed.

Navigating Criticism And Doubts

There are some comments people have made along the way that I keep etched in stone and I don’t tell them. I thank them for it in a weird way.  A lot of times, they are people that you’re close with, people that you love even. I have three older sisters that I love dearly. That’s a lot of women to get mad at you if you do something wrong. “You’re dropping out of this good school, Josh. I don’t know about that.”

I lectured a class at the University of Alabama and I told them, “Of course, your parents want a low-risk, medium reward. Of course, someone cares about you.” Dustin, the way that you and I created this business, a lot of people would think that you could not do that and they would call you out, “You’re being too risky. You should get that college degree, follow the rules, get in line, and do what everyone else is doing.” Those people are super motivating a lot of times. They might not know it, but it’s different stuff. Certain people might doubt you or whatever. That’s what drives you every day. That’s huge.

I think that a lot of self-doubt starts setting in. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that at certain times in my life, I had buddies that were the corporate guys, they worked their ass off, and they were making great money. They were moving into big homes, getting married, having kids, and driving nice cars. There were times when I struggled and struggled.

I was like, “Maybe I need to go back and get a job. Maybe I’m doing this wrong.” There’s some self-doubt there. When you stick with it, you keep trudging forward, you get through all the muck, and things start breaking loose a little bit, you’re like, “This is why I sacrificed those things. This is why I drive a ten-year-old vehicle.” It is rewarding when you make those sacrifices for sure.

There could be two voices inside of you. You’re moving forward. That voice is saying, “Maybe these people are right.” You have this other voice that’s a strong one and it’s like, “This is how I got here. It’s the one that put you in that place in the first place.” Sometimes you have to dig deep and find that other voice to move forward in the right manner. It’s easy to listen to that other voice for a few days and get caught up in that, lose motivation, or doubt yourself. No matter what scale you get to with your business, that always happens. There are always a few people who would say, “Should I have sold my business?”

No matter what scale you get to with your business, there will always be voices of doubt. But you have to dig deep and find the voice that got you there in the first place. Share on X

I’ve packaged my businesses for growth right now. I have no plans to sell my company. It’s exciting. I could have created a nice little package with a bow on it and retired. That’s not why we’re here. I’m much more competitive than that. I’ve got everything ready for growth. I guess that’s what we’re most excited about.

I completely agree. Going back to those voices along the way, I’m guessing that you cut certain people out of your life because they were too negative. Everyone that I talked to has been in a similar position. You end up in life with 3 or 4 good buddies and the rest of it is all noise. You still talk to those people. The people that are positive and supportive, you keep them in your life. I think especially at a certain age. Once you get to that age, you’re like, “I don’t I don’t need you in my life. You’re too negative. You’re grabbing the bucket. You beat me down every day. Why would I continue talking to you?” You move on. I’ve had a few people get upset that I ghost on. I don’t owe you an explanation. You beat me down for four or five years.

Company Culture And Team Building

The term that I like to use is “good vibes only.” It’s funny because maybe that’s something that certain people would use for all kinds of different reasons. For me, it’s good vibes only with business too. It’s only worth so much money working with everyone. Everyone is only supplying so much value. If you’re going to make it difficult on me or if you’re going to come in and I’m having a meeting with you about something, I can tell that it doesn’t matter and you just wanted to make the conversation difficult. I noticed that stuff. That’s why I became less tolerant of moving forward because I’ve noticed that other people are a pleasure to work with. The one thing that I always think of as one of the best parts about going to that school is trying to have my degree but also the networking. Those individuals are easy to get along with. They’re motivated and successful.

They mean well, they’re happy. They’re moving everything forward in a good spot. When you don’t have that, it was very apparent to me as I tried to recruit people into my own company who are those types of competitive people. It’s difficult to find someone like that, but when you have someone who isn’t acting that way, you have to be quick to cut. There are a lot of people who can be entitled. I’m going to set you up with a decent compensation plan. Depending on who you are and what you’re doing for me, I’ll make it worth it for you. I’ll pay you all kinds of money. This is a private company. You can make or save me all kinds of money. We’re not venture capitalist-backed. I’m paying you out of my back wallet. There has to be value provided. It’s not I pay you a whole bunch of money and hope that you provide value.

It’s performance-based.

For my company, we offer a salary and then we do a quarterly bonus. The quarterly bonus can be huge. That’s where I got that drive that I had back in elementary school, going around shoveling driveways with kids to make money. I would call my buddy, trying to go make some money. There was a certain drive about that or a certain passion that I had with that where I’m going to go out and make money shoulder to shoulder with my friend. That comes back to that quarterly bonus.

That’s what I feel. It’s like, “We’ve made money. Let’s put it up there. That’s how much money we’ve made. Here’s a quarterly bonus for you.” For me, I’ve had people who are getting even the majority of their compensation in that quarterly bonus. It’s not to say that we have rewarded people for doing well. In the same token, we’ve had people that we’ve hired that haven’t carried their weight. Of course, we don’t have any extra for you or maybe that person had to cycle themselves out or whatever.

Find happiness elsewhere.

In some companies, some jobs are not for everyone. People are made to be managed. There are different personality traits that people have. Different people are going to work better with different people. It’s not worth having someone beat you down for five years. That’s what I’ve learned recently. Quick to cut. It’s better for everyone. If it’s not going well with a certain person in a position, see if you can use their abilities elsewhere. If not, it’s going to be better for them to not be in a position where they’re not able to move forward. They’re not making the company or the owner happy.

Everyone is miserable a lot of times around them. They’re a cancer. It’s a horrible analogy because cancer is so awful. You have to cut it.

It’s a contagion. These new people I’m hiring, I’m building my team back up from COVID. I’m looking for good people. We have to have good people. If person number six isn’t good, how is person ten going to be good?

COVID-19 And Business Restructuring

You brought up an interesting point when we were talking the other day. I thought it was cool because you guys went through a lot of COVID stuff and ended up cutting down to the bone and restructuring. The thing that stuck with me was you use it as a positive spin to rebuild, reinvent yourself, and get rid of some people that you probably wouldn’t have gotten rid of if it wasn’t for COVID. Maybe you were buddies with them a little bit and they were around, but this was a chance that gave you a clean slate to restructure a little bit. I thought that was an amazing mindset to something extremely negative to restructure and rebuild. It sounds like you guys are making big headway now that you’re getting back up and running.

I appreciate that. We’re selling a couple of million dollars of custom socks to schools. If our average revenue let’s say is several hundred thousand dollars per month, we have a situation in April 2020 where we went down to $6,000 in total revenue. We went from a couple of hundred thousand dollars to $6,000. We weren’t able to even do the PPP program. We were eliminated. We had some people who had been with us for a couple of years. It was a situation where if you took our highest-paid people, how many of them do we need to make the business go forward tomorrow? It’s less than half.

Why were those people still being paid in that position while we were trying to grow the company? I think that there was a period of a couple of years where there was no growth being added by these people. For that reason, they were paid a little bit too much. I think that it was a loyalty thing. It comes back down to the passion with the shovel in the driveway. These people went shoulder to shoulder with me in the trenches. Even if they’re overpaid, I didn’t fire them. They knew they were overpaid. I did. We had people making salaries that I lost to people who were surprisingly selling custom socks. It’s all off of inbound leads.

We were able to restructure. Going down to the skeleton crew and then building back up was what we needed to do. We needed to reset the organization of the business. That’s what we’ve been able to do and recruit some new people in with some expertise that’s a little bit different. We had five people that were the same expertise, the same skills, the same strengths. They were salespeople. We needed some more creativity in there. We needed some more marketing people.

As we restructure things, we’ve built more of a sales funnel and the situation has allowed us to restructure the organization but make it to where the sales force is a little bit more horizontal. Before, we had one person during the whole sales process. Now we have perhaps the same amount of people eventually that will be back with us. You have one person who’s a retention expert. One person who’s an expert in the initial process of introducing the designs. One person who’s an expert in social media. Some stuff like that.

We’re now recruiting for more specific talent compared to just all these generalist salespeople who were passing the leads. They had to go through the whole process and it was more manual. Now it’s more automated. Our senior inside sales manager whom we’ve promoted to the position is Luke Griffith. He’s done a great job going through and creating that sales funnel and transitioning us to where we could have five from where we’ve had thirteen people who are spooning up all the leads and working on them too. This team is attacking the leads in various ways more horizontally.

Your sales model is more corporate-type sales, not people going and buying consumer based on a website. Your sale cycle is way different. You’re selling to schools, companies, and all those types of customers.

That’s exactly right. For example, we would take a list of every high school football coach. I have to decide at what point in the year I want to hit these people with marketing. The July 10th blast, the one the week after July 4th that we do every single year, is the most important. That is the highest revenue-driving campaign that we do marketing that runs the entire year. It’s all about the timing. We have all of the fall coaches. We organize it like that. We look at the fall season. For example, we have football, men’s and women’s soccer, and volleyball. There are men’s teams and women’s teams even here in Columbus and across the country.

It’s everything down to badminton. We have a database for it. We have water polo. You have Thomas Worthington and some of these teams. Crew, Upper Arlington, and these different teams have bought from us. We’re not going to hit water polo. There’s a certain amount of money that we lose. We have a lot of swim teams buying from us, which is funny because they can’t wear them, but they’re wearing them before or whatever.

They’re walking around the pool with socks on and flip-flops.

We’re hitting that coach. The coach is our customer. Our average sale is around $800, $900, let’s say. A football coach is going to spend maybe a couple of grand. Your basketball coach might spend $1,000, or $1,500, depending on if he’s getting for the freshman. You have tennis. Those teams buy $400 worth of custom socks. We’ll do college golf teams. Every market buys from us, which is fun.

I think that it is a fun industry to be in. Your marketing approach, which not many manufacturers get, is the analytics behind the marketing. You take it to a whole other level where, with MFG Monkey, we’re coaching a lot of manufacturers on how to market, when to market, who to market to, how to market to who, and all those types of things with the different media. You take it to another level with the analytics which I’m a nerd about. I love looking at the numbers and digging into the analytics.

In our industry with metal fab, machining, welding, and heavy industry like that, the number of comments that you’ll get on something is pretty limited. You could probably deal with hundreds if not thousands of comments on a post and dig through those. How you’re evaluating those things and then adjusting your marketing according to the comments in the post is a whole other level of marketing that we’re now getting into. Maybe not just getting into but we’re understanding it more now than we did when Instagram first came out. How old is Instagram? I don’t even know.

At this point, maybe eight years or something like that. It’s one of those situations where no matter what you’re selling, your competitor in that industry has done a lot of work for you. Whether they’ve put paid ad dollars into adding traffic to their site. I might do an Antonio Brown giveaway where you get 10,000 followers from his page because they follow you for a giveaway that he’s doing. There are all kinds of ways that will enhance the following.

With Instagram, it’s a situation where your competitors have already done that work and they have all of the different engagements and they have the likes. Let’s say we’re selling socks. If you go to a different stock Instagram page, you have your competitor on there with their customers liking the page, people that are engaging them. We like to go through and market to those people. Something newer but having software that can go through and extract all of your competitor’s social engagement. You can run ads for them. I suppose that’s against Instagram’s policies.

Something where you can do that. There’s so much data that you can build, phone numbers, and email that you can attack using Instagram. For clients that I work with, we can create content and good-looking posts. If people understand that side of it, they do that themselves. Everyone runs a content Instagram page and has one for themselves. They get that. That’s not that confusing. I like to use it to do direct marketing campaigns to more direct responses. Hitting someone with the call to action, whether they’re filling out a form, going to a landing page, or responding to your email is a lot more effective.

We’re able to target a lot of coaches. We have a whole business that we run on Instagram selling these custom socks to coaches. A lot of coaches have “coach” in their handle, so it’s easy to go to some of these pages by typing “coach” in. For example, I have employees who are in charge of sending 100 messages per day. We normally send about 100 messages per day per account. Right now, we’re working on scaling. We’re working on, “These are the 400,000 that we want to send a direct message to. How many accounts do we need to hit that?” This one account can hit, for example, 36,000 or whatever per year or whatever. We’re doing that math and figuring out how to attack all of that extracted data that we can get from Instagram.

People freaked out a little bit when Google AdWords were so hot for quite a while and then that fizzled away. People are like, “What are we going to do now? Google AdWords, you can’t pay a penny and get 10,000 leads anymore.” It’s ever-evolving and it’s a matter of where you look. I think that manufacturing is so old school. We had a group on here called MLP Group Manufacturing Legacy Partners, and they know these statistics. I forget what percentage is of US manufacturers owned by adults over the age of 60.

Generational Shift In Manufacturing Leadership

Those guys or girls are retiring. They’re getting out of it. They’re either going to shut the business down because they can’t sell it. They bled to death and they didn’t upkeep any of the equipment, or Jimmy is going to take over and he’s going to spend Dad’s money or it’s going to be the third generation. It’s interesting how that’s going to shake down. What I find the most interesting is the big well-run companies that are very strategic in handing over their company. They’re third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh-generation manufacturers that have been around since the late 1800s, and they’ve done a good job grooming their children and grandchildren to take over the business.

You get people our age. We’re getting people 40 years and younger or 45 years and younger starting to take over the helm. They’re starting to get it. They’re right on that cusp. Anyone older than me or my age and younger gets it. They have an Instagram maybe. I have a lot of buddies who don’t even have Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. My buddies who are coaches have Twitter, but they don’t have any other social media because they don’t want the exposure.

They don’t like the noise. A lot of these business owners also don’t want it. A lot of older CEOs who are running $100 million companies don’t want to be in the public eye. They don’t care. They don’t want to be, but then you get into younger people who are taking over. They get that it’s a necessary evil to grow because they either do it and they’re ahead of the curve or they’re still way behind the curve of society. Manufacturing in the US is behind the curve because we sold out in the ‘80s to overseas. We became a service-based industry and now we’re trying to rebuild.

Manufacturing in the US is behind the curve because we sold out to overseas in the ‘80s. Share on X

Social Media And Manufacturing Marketing

Manufacturing in Ohio is hot. It’s hotter than anywhere else. We’re very proud of it here in Ohio. There are so many manufacturers in Ohio that are doing great things. A lot of people are starting to understand if I grow and I want to reach more people, it’s on social media. It’s not the old Thomasnet book. Thomasnet is probably going to send me a nasty gram, but even a Thomasnet directory back in the day, they were the only game in town. If you needed a machine shop and you were in Anniston, Alabama, you got on to Thomasnet and looked up machine shops that were close to Anniston Alabama.

That was the only way to get those. It’s like the Yellow Pages for the manufacturing industry. Now, it’s everywhere. Instagram and LinkedIn are probably the two biggest mediums, in my opinion. There’s probably another one out there that you know of that’s probably hotter. I do think that people have to pay attention to those things even if it’s from a branding standpoint. I think that if you understand your target market, for us it’s a buyer, procurement agent, or an engineer.

Connor sits in there and he needs to go find somebody or find something, I walk in and he’s got pictures on the screen. I’m like, “Connor I’m curious, what are you doing?” “I’m looking for a supplier.” I’m like, “Okay, cool.” How is he looking? That’s who’s looking for stuff that we sell. He’s like, “I google what we need, and then I go to images. I look for what I want and I click on the image, and then that typically takes me to a website. If I see what I need, it takes me to the website. They’re selling whatever that is. That’s how I search for things now.”

Now my mind is spinning a million miles an hour because if all the alt tags and everything for images aren’t correct on your website or Instagram, you could have that picture of exactly what they need, but you don’t show up because Google doesn’t know what to call those images. The marketing piece is so interesting to me because it’s a psychological mind game of how people want to buy. It’s super interesting. You’ve taken it to a whole other level.

The marketing piece is so interesting because it's a psychological mind game of how people want to buy. Share on X

Technological Tools For Supplier Discovery

One thing that we’re doing right now, speaking of suppliers, I’ve found an unbelievable tool. I’m going to show it to you after the show. We could tell the audience too. It’s a way that you can get anyone’s suppliers. What I’ve done is I went up with a whiteboard and I put together a supply chain of the yarn and the materials going with the socks. I started a company maybe two years ago now, Hype Yarn. We have Hype Socks and Hype Yarn. Everybody knows me as Hype, this young guy who came out with a variety of socks. Some people want to close the deal with me. They’ve seen us grow. Hype is our brand so we did Hype Yarn.

With this tool that we use, we’re able to go in and see who anyone’s suppliers are. You might be able to use this in your industry, but if you type in any company, it shows all of the imports that they’ve had that year. We’ve been able to find a lot of these material suppliers. It’s funny because you mentioned how a lot of the manufacturers are above the age of 60. A lot of them aren’t savvy with this type of thing.

It’s an example where we’ve been able to go and shake up the supply chain. It’s funny. We call them on the phone and we’re like, “We know you guys are getting it from here. We can sell it to you now because we’ve got it from there.” It’s all kinds of different stuff. It’s funny because, with these different technology tools and using the internet, it’s so valuable.

Reshoring And Domestic Manufacturing Trends

I love that. I can’t wait to see that. We’re doing a big thing on reshoring and kids working on this whole white paper on reshoring. There are so many white papers out there about reshoring. It’s almost overused. We want to make sure that when we release it, it’s new and fresh. It’s different than every other white paper out there on reshoring. That is very interesting because we’ve had quite a bit of business, especially through COVID, where we’ve been having trouble getting containers.

We still import a little bit. It’s probably 10% of our business, but we have a container right now that’s 30 days late. We push and push more and more for U.S. manufacturing but still, to this day, some of the technology isn’t there to be able to compete with overseas, even though container pricing is going through the roof. We got a quote for $9,800 to bring a container in, which is insane. It’s double or triple what it was. We looked at flying a container over and it was $100,000 to fly a container.

We had 4 or 5 different customers on this container recalling. We’re like, “You have this amount. We’re trying to break it down to be somewhat fair about it.” We’re like, “It’s going to cost $20,000 extra if you want it here. It is what it is. I don’t I don’t know what to do.” We approached it that way because we truly didn’t know how to handle it. We were stuck. It’s like, “If you guys want to pay the $20,000, we’ll share it or something. We’ll help and get it here for you.”

Cost And Competitive Challenges In Manufacturing

Now, it’s a conversation about “How do we how do we manufacture these things here for the same cost?” There are a couple of things that allow the Chinese to beat us at our own game. One of those things is the government gives a stipend for things that they sell to us. If we buy that glass that you’re drinking bourbon out of, we can make it here in the US for $10. The glass and the cost of the materials are the same here as what it is over there. The only differentiator out of that is if we don’t have a component or some sort of raw material here that you can only get in China. You can’t fix that.

If it costs the same amount to make here as it does in China, China’s government will say, “We’ll give you a 20% rebate to sell it. You can sell it at a loss and we’ll make it up to you.” The company is net and that’s how they’re winning the game, but then there are so many other things that go that with the kind tariffs that we’re doing and all these different things that our last administration tried to change and they were successful at a lot of it.

To be more competitive in the U.S., we have to figure out how. There are going to be things like the iPhone glass. There’s a component in the glass that can only be mined in China from what I understand. If I’m wrong, I’m sure somebody will tell me that I’m wrong. If we want to be able to make everything here, we have to figure out how to do it. There are some things that I don’t physically understand. We can buy them overseas for $5, here it costs $25. The materials are the same. It’s a very simple product. The labor is a big difference. China is starting to creep up in the labor pool a little bit.

Technology is interesting. For example, you can get knitting machines now for socks where the toes are automatically seamed. We’re cutting out our seamer. We have someone who sits there all day and seams the socks. If you get that piece of equipment, it’s cutting that out. For certain products in certain supply chains, because of the speed, it can be better to manufacture in the U.S. As different tariffs and different stuff change, that creates opportunities as well.

For us, it’s been the speed. You figure out who’s on your football team in July and your first game is in August, so that can’t be manufactured in Asia and a seat on a break.” That’s why it’s cool for me. It’s the best business decision to bring jobs back to that town in Alabama. It’s a situation where we’re able to feel good about it in this patriotic way, but it’s also good for our business. It’s the right business decision too. We’re not sacrificing our hard work or the equity that we built.

There’s not a football coach out there that’s pro-China. Every football coach, every lacrosse coach, or every women’s basketball team likes to know they’re buying a US-made product. That’s what they want.

They’re community-oriented.

They feel like they’re supporting the US, especially here in the Midwest. We’re so patriotic in the Midwest where there might be other sections of our country that don’t care because they’re focused on other things. I’m the same way. If I can buy something for 20% more because it’s made here, I feel like I’m getting a better and more robust product. I feel like the person who makes it cares more. I feel like that 20% extra is worth it.

A lot of times it is.

The qualities are better. The material that goes into it is better. Especially in the metal industry, if you’re buying a certain steel alloy, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have sockets, wrenches, and other crap that melted down with that alloy. When you buy it here and it’s domestic, you know that you’re getting what you pay for and it’s going to last longer.

Quality And Efficiency In US Manufacturing

We work with yarn suppliers all over the world. There’s one that we work closely with over in the US. I had a meeting with one of my main technicians, and he was talking to me about how that material that’s made in the US saves us a lot of labor costs because it doesn’t break while it’s going through the machines. While the string is being fed into the machine, there is no having to reset the machine back up when it breaks every seven minutes or whatever. That’s an example of sometimes that yarn is more expensive, but we’re saving money on the backend by having that higher quality. There are all kinds of different hidden advantages to getting higher quality components to the manufacturing process.

I’m sure even the machinery. I don’t know where machinery is made, but a lot of the US-made machinery, German machinery, or Italian machinery are more robust. You can see that with different things that you buy. You can think of something that you’ve bought that was made in China and you can feel it. It’s tangible. You can feel this product is better than this product. You could put a blindfold on somebody and they could go, “This product’s better.” It’s because of the material that it is made out of or how it’s put together and things like that.

I think our machines are from Germany and Italy. Those are the two different machines that we have. We brought in some new machines that were Asian and they’re sitting there right now. It is $100,000 or something that I spent on it and I’m a little bit frustrated. I’m having to fly someone from Asia over to Alabama. It hasn’t happened because of COVID. It’s been a huge issue for us where we have these machines that are ready to rock and roll, but it’s the capability of learning what we can do with them even if we learn how to use them.

You can buy equipment from Asia and learn how to use it, but different technicalities are involved with it that aren’t specific or aren’t comparative. These are other machines that we have. It’s a completely new system. There are some different things. For example, the quills that hold the different yarn cones are not as good. They’re providing extra labor work. We save some money maybe on the machines, but how much more labor are we going to pay now in having our technicians have to work on those?

McMillan Co bought the Preco machine which I showed you the last time we were in. We were a little late getting it. It’s part of our fault. There are a lot of things going on, but we were probably a good 60 days behind getting it. We needed to set it up and we needed to run production in 72 hours. I’m like, “I don’t even know how we’re going to do this. It doesn’t even seem realistic to me, but I’m going to think it’s realistic and therefore we’re going to make it realistic.” We bought it from Preco in Kansas City. It’s made in Kansas City.

Connor calls them, “You guys are going to fly somebody out here to help us set it up and run first articles and things like that. When can you do that?” They’re like, “We have you scheduled.” I forget when it was, but it was 60 days out. I’m like, “That’s not going to work.” We can’t buy this machine and have it sit here for 60 days and then put some product through it. We have to turn this thing on today. I talked to a couple of the guys there and they’re like, “We’ll figure it out. We’ll call you in two hours.” I’m like, “All right.”

Two hours later, they call and they go, “We’re going to have somebody there Monday. We’re going to fly them on Sunday. They’ll be there Monday morning.” I’m like, “Are you serious?” They’re like, “Yeah. We shoveled some things around. We got to hold some other customers that are not in the urgent situation that you are and we’ll make it happen.” They did. They were a little late because of all the snow and all that stuff, but they were here mid-afternoon Monday and had us up and running. It was awesome. We would have never in a million years got that service if we bought it from Italy or Germany.

It’s different to get someone up on the phone to level it a little bit and say, “Here’s my situation.” They understand that it’s vital that this person get it up immediately. They were able to help you.

Patriotism And Local Manufacturing

We’re going to have issues. We’ve never owned a machine like this. We immediately get it fired up. We run it. They were running great and then something broke. We’re like, “We have no idea how to fix this.” We call them and we get them on FaceTime, and they help us fix the issue. It’s that level of service that we can provide each other. I’m a true believer that we have to be on the same team in the US to be the manufactured dominator in the world again. We all have to play together.

We have to be on the same team in the US to be the manufacture dominator in the world again. Share on X

The way the SOC factories in Fort Payne work together is pretty incredible. Sometimes it’s very cool. We have blue of this material that you need and we do a lot of trades also. We trade materials and stuff like that where I have this order that we’re getting a lot from the customer. It’s worth doing and stuff. We need this certain polyester. We don’t have it in gray. One of our neighbors does. They’ll take some material they have. It’s one of the main whites and you can equal trade value. In Fort Payne, that’s what they do. There’s a lot of bartering. It’s a lot like, “My cousin is in this mill down the street and he has this.” That’s where I’ve seen these people that are working together. There is that team atmosphere within it.

I’m sure all these people know each other, and they’ve probably worked at all the mills or family works at certain mills. You said Fort Payne, how many sock manufacturers are left in Fort Payne?

Probably about fifteen.

Out of how many?

A hundred and thirty. There were even people who had sock machines in their garage that ran white socks and then sold them and worked from home. They knew how to do it and they had four machines. One thing that I realized about the area that I thought was cool is there are a lot of entrepreneurs. There are a lot of these people who were like, “There’s all these people in town manufacturing.” It’s interesting to see which individuals with which personalities.

We’re the ones who figured out, “If I own this, I don’t have to fold this stuff anymore.” A lot of it is old money or there’s a certain name and they’ve owned the sock factory. A lot of times it’s like Bill was a hustler in what he’s done and now he has all these machines he’s trying to sell me. It’s cool to see what people have done and to see how entrepreneurial a small town like that could be back in the day of manufacturing.

People probably see a certain thing that could be done differently. The company doesn’t want to change because this is our process. This is the way we’ve always done it. We don’t want to change. There’s probably a price stem from one stock manufacturer in that town. I don’t know if you’ve done this, but if you look way back to the conception of sock manufacturing in town, it was probably one person, one stock manufacturer, and then there’s a disagreement. They split off and somebody saves money.

More business sprouts off of that and you see the little mom-and-pop ones go out. People are running them out of their garage. It’s crazy situations like that.

That’s awesome though. In my hometown, there was an underwear factory. They made the long red underwear that was buttoned down and had the flap on the butt, so you have to take the whole thing down. It was such a random. I’m trying to remember if they were still in production when I was a kid or if it was always closed down, but we used to have the underwear festival, and everyone would wear the red underwear. It was very Midwest, almost like if you think of the movie Fargo. It felt like that when I was a kid. It’s so cool to see textiles like that still being made here in the US. Hopefully, a lot more of it comes back.

We also have our friends over in North Carolina. That’s nice to know too. There are people over there almost around Charlotte is where they are, They’re a pretty rural area over there. Hickory, North Carolina, and some different places that there might be another fifteen mills over there left too. In Alabama, it’s concentrated into this one town, and then in North Carolina, it’s almost like through a valley more or it would take an hour or two to drive from one side to the other.

That’s where all of it is, but there are some left. They’re still going. It’s interesting to see a lot of them. What are they going to do? How are they going to adapt? The ones that are left have adapted in some format. There are a lot who are older but they’re savvier in the sense that they’ve found some way to adapt since everything went overseas and they lost their accounts or whatever. They kept their factory up and running. There’s always some unique account or more proprietary, more specialty code that maybe they’re making somehow for someone. Maybe because of the turnaround or something like I’m doing.

I appreciate you coming on. It was so much fun meeting you and then it went like, “Let’s do a podcast together.” It was absolutely fun. I’m very fortunate that you came in and sat down and joined us. I’m sure we’ll be friends for a long time after this, just networking together and bouncing different ideas off each other. For our audience, how can they get in touch with Hype Socks and where should they go?, that’s where you can go on and request artwork for your organization whether you’re a business with a logo or a restaurant. We specialize in a high school sports team or youth sports organization perhaps. Our team will outfit you with tons of designs. We send free samples in the mail too. If you need some socks, contact us. We’re happy to send some pairs out. We’re excited about the future and leveraging our marketing campaigns into even some other products here. Stay tuned.

We’ll have to get our Monkey socks on order.

I have already closed on it.

All right, buddy.

Thanks, Dustin.

Thanks, everyone, for joining us for this episode of MFG Monkey. If you have any questions or suggestions for future episodes, please email them to us at


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