MEET THE MOMPRENEUR® OF THE MONTH
Meet: Eileen Gesser
Chappaqua, New York
Mom of Harrison (age 7)
What I do: Founder of EZ Sox: The “I can do it” Sock
Business birth date: January, 2010
Inspiration for my great idea: Like many young children, my son, Harrison, struggled with getting dressed in the mornings. Putting on his socks was extremely challenging and frustrating. One day, while patiently watching him get dressed, I decided to sew two little loops on the top of his socks. After sewing on the loops, I put a little animal face on the top so he knew which way was up. He immediately pulled on his socks! It’s an amazing feeling to see that magical “AHA” moment when your child gets it. He yelled, “I can do it”. And that’s how we created EZ Sox, The “I can do it” Sock.
Focus group for little feet: After coming up with the idea, we Googled it and discovered that there was nothing like our socks on the market. We were pretty surprised, because it seemed like such a simple idea. So I made up samples and gave them out at my son’s preschool and karate school. They were a big hit with the parents and kids.
The name game: My husband Ronnie and I were brainstorming for a catchy name. Our son came to us and said, “Mommy, I don’t want hard socks, I want easy socks.” “Easy” was taken so we spelled it “EZ” like a child would spell it—phonetically.
My first big feat: We e-mailed the T.V. show “The Doctors” on CBS. To our surprise they called and asked to put EZ Sox on their show as one of the “Top 10
Trends in 2010! This was a huge breakthrough for us—we were then approached by Lindsey Biel, OTR/L and author of “Raising a Sensory Smart Child” to test our socks in an occupational therapist setting. Everyone loved them.
Taking baby steps:
• I made a more “official” prototype and tested it out again with my son and niece to make sure it worked
• We asked friends if they knew of anyone who manufactured socks
• We wrote a business plan with financial projections for the first two years.
• We found a manufacturer who helped us develop and perfect the loop design of the sock
• We hired an intellectual property attorney to proceed with the trademark and patent approvals
• After designs were approved, we ordered 100 pairs of EZ Sox
• We took the 100 pairs and went door-to-door to boutiques in New York City. We sold out in the first day
• We put up a small amount of money from our savings to start our company
Riding the learning curve: We had no idea of the amount it costs to break in a new product—especially if you want to get into the giant retailers.We started off just selling to the specialty stores and we were able to handle these financially by ourselves. Once the larger stores and catalogs started approaching us, we had to ramp up manufacturing. We needed enough inventory to cover our current orders as well as enough inventory for at least 120 days or reorders.
Our factory in China—like most Asian factories—required that we pay 100% upfront. Manufacturing of EZ Sox requires 30 days for the dyeing of the fabric, 30 days to make the socks, and 45 days to travel by long boat to New York and get through customs. We had to factor in that the language and cultural differences with our factory in China would lead to delays—it had already happened. But that meant that I was paying for my shipment for 45-60 days before it was even in my warehouse! And most large retailers and catalog houses require at least net 30 and most want net 60. This means I am floating my money for at least 90-120 days, which can cause major cash flow problems.
Lesson learned: The first thing we did was negotiate with our factory to pay 100% on Receipt of Goods (ROG). This was a major victory, saving me approximately 45 days of floating my money. Once the factory was paid, our relationship started moving in the right direction. They knew they could count on us and we were able to earn extra time for payment of inventory.
Crossing the crossroads with a little bit of luck: The first few large orders went fine—we were able to float net 30 and net 60 to our new retail customers. But as larger orders came in, we did not have enough capital to keep cash flowing and our business going. This is the crossroads that many businesses come to as they start to grow—a crossroads that can lead to financial failure. We looked into all our options—business loans from banks, borrowing from friends, selling a piece of our business. Then we came across a wonderful opportunity.
While doing a trade show at the Javits Center in New York City, I met Isaac Ash, the owner of one of the premier hosiery companies in the U.S. He loved EZ Sox and we immediately hit it off. After a few months of negotiations, we had a license partnership with his company, United Legwear. This enabled us to keep 100% ownership of our company and still have control over its direction while having a fantastic license partner with years of experience and success. United Legwear takes care of the larger retailers while we take care of our Web business and specialty stores. The partnership gave us a wonderful team to work with and much needed capital. You make your own luck by being in the right place at the right time but we got extra lucky.
Keeping on my toes: Starting your own business pushes you to the max. Balancing family, friends, work, dog, fish—and finally yourself. Thank goodness for my husband, who has been my partner and biggest supporter in this venture. We tag team and delegate jobs that fit our skills. It took us about 6 months to figure out our roles in the company, but my son always comes first. When he gets home from school, I put on hold whatever business is happening for the day and focus on him. After he’s in bed, I will work until all hours of the night. My husband and I remind each other to take time for ourselves and get
that much needed hug from each other.
I feel that I have a great purpose and try to remember that purpose everyday. Being a mom is one of life’s great experiences. Creating a business and a product that helps kids makes the work that much more worthwhile. I enjoy both roles!
Advice to newbies: When you own your business, the expression “What doesn’t kill you
makes you stronger” takes on new meaning. There are so many challenges. But if you believe in what you are doing and you wake up each day loving what you do, just keep going, no matter the obstacles. You learn from your mistakes, but give yourself credit for something that went well. And always keep a positive attitude around the workplace to inspire the people you work with.
Next steps: We launched EZ Sox Adult in September, 2011. This product is an aid for adults with arthritis, severe back pain, hip replacements, pregnant moms, or anyone struggling with the simple daily necessity of putting on socks.
In 2012 we plan to launch a line of EZ Wear children’s apparel. I feel the potential is limitless!