As part of a series highlighting some of the amazing brands we support, we interviewed our Start Up Loan alumni, Ryan Palmer and David Pickard, co-founders and Creative Directors of stylish sock label London Sock Co.
Ryan and David kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their journey so far, and how they found the Start Up Loan process.
What were you both doing just before setting up the business?
We were working in London for a large management consultancy called Accenture. Both Ryan and I had been there for 6 years, and became friends after we became part of the same team within the organisation.
What made you want to start your business?
We have both been entrepreneurial, with various businesses in the past. We had both joined Accenture viewing it as a stepping stone, to eventually get back to launching a start up. As it happens we became good friends and started talking about doing it together.
Did you identify a gap in the market?
Yes, we believe so. All of the data suggested there was a gap and a growing market. So far, thankfully, the fast growth we are experiencing is proving our research conclusions to be right. However we have barely scratched the surface of our potential market.
What is your brand’s USP?
I think it’s very hard for businesses to create genuine Unique Selling Points in today’s fast paced environment. Any new technological advance can be replicated very quickly. However the one thing it is impossible to replicate is you! Our London Sock Co. brand is unique and personal to us, and focuses on being the best in the market. We want to be the sock brand of choice for the modern gent who wants to enjoy luxury, stylish socks that above all else, they know will be noticed for the right reasons. We we work hard to deliver great quality experiences to our customers and members.
When did you launch and how was the response?
We launched in January 2014 and it was amazing how quickly things started to happen for us. In particular in the press and fashion industry, we have filled a gap and so we’ve enjoyed really positive support from the media. Above all else though, it’s our customers who have been our biggest supporters and advocates. When you have new customers telling you these are the best socks they’ve ever worn and to keep up the good work, you know you’re doing something right.
What is your route to market?
At the moment 90% of our sales are online, direct to customers. With the other 10% via wholesale.
Who are your key wholesale stockists?
Fortnum & Mason, Mr Porter and Harvey Nichols are our key retail partners at the moment and all doing incredibly well for us.
Who are your target customers?
We have customers of all ages, but primarily men from 25 years and above. Typically tend to be based in or around the main cities and want to dress well either for work, or during their personal time.
What are your business achievements to date?
We just achieved over 7 figures in sales for the year so far, which is definitely a milestone and testament to the incredibly hard work from our team. But I think more generally, the most important thing is that we’re making a product that people enjoy.
What so far has been your biggest challenge you’ve faced?
With any start up there are loads of challenges, all the time. One of the biggest and most interesting has probably been the steep learning curve of digital marketing – something neither of us had done before we started, but is such an important thing to learn quickly. The other challenge with any product business is supply chain and cash flow.
In hindsight, what has been the biggest mistake?
Hard to say, there have probably been so many regular mistakes. However if you’re not making mistakes then you’re not learning, so this isn’t really a problem in itself. I think we’ve run a pretty tight ship though overall. We have a team of really smart problem solvers, so when something does go wrong, we find a solution. Ask us again tomorrow and you might get a different answer!
What are your plans for the business in the next five years?
To keep doing what we’re doing. Our customer base continues to grow at a rate of 3X, which is incredible. That kind of acceleration can’t last forever, but so far we’ve only really marketed our brand in the UK, and specifically the south east of England. So international growth is a huge opportunity and something we’ll be focusing on over the next few years.
How did you hear about Fashion Angel and the Start Up Loan scheme?
An accountant we had met suggested the programme and connected us to the Fashion Angel team.
Did you find the one to one pre loan mentoring session useful?
Absolutely. We already had a very comprehensive business plan, but it forced us to go through the detail again and make sure we were considering all the key aspects.
When taking the loan out, what did you need the funding for?
Ryan and I had literally just left our jobs, so had no income. The loan allowed us to get our business off the ground from a standing start, until we were generating enough revenue to start taking some salary from the business to live on.
Since you launched and the business has grown, have you needed to raise additional funding ? And if so via what route?
Yes. We’ve raised around £1m in seed investment from private angels and VC. No matter how successful your start up is in the early days, it’s virtually impossible to grow as quickly as we have without lots of funding and support. In our case, we’re competing with big (but slow) retailers who have very deep pockets. Yes we’re nimble and quick, but that can only get you so far.
What would be your advice to anyone starting out?
If you’re confident that there’s a market for your idea and you think you have the passion and drive to go after it, then tell as many people as you can think of, get as much feedback as you can, then go for it. Don’t delay. There is funding support available at every step of the way, so what’s the worst that can happen.
Interview by Sadiyah Ismailjee
See how the Fashion Angel Start Up Loan Programme can help your fashion business.