Marcus is a marketing consultant, and set up The Oxford Sock Company last November with a former colleague. Run from a small space in Putney, as well as Marcus’s own flat in London, the first batch of socks sold out over Christmas and the company is now set to release a whole new collection. But why socks? And how did he go about doing this? We asked him about his double sock-based life...
Why did you decide on socks?
I want to make it a fun process and there’s a niche for it - socks aren’t exciting to buy, but we’re quite a fun cool brand. And the fact that it’s socks means the whole thing isn’t too complicated. Also, you can get stuff designed in Sweden, made in Turkey and, when I was doing my gap year in China, I saw how tempting it was to go and make stuff there, but it wasn’t the route I wanted to go down. We're bonafide, fun, British socks!
When did you come up with the idea?
After university, I did consulting for a year then quit because I really didn’t enjoy it. I had high aspirations and went off to start up an online retail business selling other people’s stuff - at the time I thought it was a good idea to leave my day job and focus on the business, but everything takes so much longer to set up than you expect and I ran out of money.
How do you divide your time?
It really depends. When it’s busy, every evening I’ll be packaging orders, which is one of the less glamorous side of things, but there’s no set rules to when I’m working and when I’m not. Sometimes I’ll be able to take the whole weekend off, sometimes I’ll work loads on Saturday and Sunday during the busier times. Packaging, website, photo shoots… we just do what needs to be done.
Best part of the job?
Satisfaction, definitely. Creating something out of nothing is so satisfying, and it really gives me the feeling that, if I didn’t exist, this wouldn’t exist. I go to work in the day and, if I wasn’t there, someone would be filling my job. The socks wouldn’t exist without me - they’re like my baby, in that sense.
Is it difficult running a business alongside a full time job?
The key is I don’t see the socks as work, instead it’s just loads of fun and I really enjoy it. After my 9-5 I actually look forward to doing it. Not that I hate my day job, but I wouldn’t call it a passion of mine, although it gives me the stability to run the sock business, so I don’t have to worry about money as much...
How do you keep costs down this time around?
I try not to pay for advertising, because I’m stingy, so we do a lot of things like trying to get bloggers on board - there are quite a few blogs championing British-made stuff, like Make It British, which is what we’re all about. It takes a lot of pushing online, but that’s mainly how we get the word out. And by doing a lot of it from my flat, we keep overheads to a minimum, which is key when starting out! Also my day job means that, if we need a cash injection, I know I can save and provide it. I don’t want to get investment because I’m a bit of a control freak.
Have you found it easy working as a pair?
Oh definitely, I would never do this on my own… it wouldn’t be very much fun. I met my colleague at my first consulting job, he sent me a message because I’d set up that online retail business, and he wanted to do something similarly entrepreneurial. I’d had an idea about socks. It’s useful to have someone else; when one’s away the other one can pick it up. We don’t divide up the jobs either, so it’s very much all hands on deck.
How do you come up with the designs?
The first collection was just block colours as we wanted to start off really simply. They were meant to be classic so we just chose some colours, which wasn’t that hard to be honest! Now we’re coming up with stripes and more fun designs moving towards summer-I look through other sock designs, fashion blogs, anything in the streets and pick cool colours that work together. I wanted the packaging to be really slick, which took a while. I went through a few options, designing something, going through, rejecting some. Imitation is the best form of flattery, which is good because I reckon we copy quite a lot.
What’s been the hardest part of setting up the business so far?
Finding suppliers! There are so few in the UK so finding a good manufacturer you can get for a decent price is tricky. Although I wouldn’t say the actual job I do is hard - in fact, it’s all so easy, getting off my ass and starting it is the hard part. Running a business isn’t complex, it’s just about organisation.
What’s the reaction been like?
The first batch sold out before Christmas, and the focus now is moving into wholesale, getting the socks in shops and department stores. We started just before last November and have been going for two months but, come Christmas, there were a lot of people after nicely packaged, cool socks. We got a lot of sales from that and it’s key to see what the response will be now. My flatmates think it’s great, they had the potential to be really annoyed when there were loads of boxes and crap coming in and out. They’re all on board, though. And they get free socks.
What’s the future for The Oxford Sock Company?
To be in every continent. This isn’t just about making money, this is British-made stuff going back out into the world; decades ago we were leading the industry but now it’s a fraction of what it used to be. Some companies are doing well, and I’d like oxford socks to join them…
Any tips for those wanting to set up their own business?
1.Don’t feel like you can’t start when you want to, because you have a full-time job. Don’t feel you have to quit, in fact keep your job for as long as is possible. When setting something up, there’s so much waiting around. You’re waiting on suppliers, waiting on contacts or loans, youre sitting on your laurels and if you start trying to take money out of your business, you’re going to kill it before it gets off the ground. Keep going as far as you can while having a job, and the added income that brings.
2.Just start! Everyone says this, but it’s the hardest bit. Start on a small scale, even if you think you need to get a £100,000 investment. The best way to really get feedback is if you can test it out first.
3.Do something you enjoy- make sure you’re really passionate about it. I’m not passionate about socks, but I love commerce and retail. If it felt like an extra job, I’m not sure I’d want to be doing it…