Originally Published on AllBusiness.com.
The first time I saw them, I wrinkled my nose in disgust. They’d arrived in my FabFitFun subscription box, their garish pink color and 10 grippy toes mocking me. I had no use for such frivolity in my life, so I tossed them into my giveaway pile.
A few weeks later, I signed up for classes at a new Pilates studio in my neighborhood. The website read: “New students must have toe socks, which can be purchased in the studio.”
Wait, hadn’t I thrown out some of those? Given that they retail for $16 a pop, I was desperately hoping I hadn’t taken my giveaway box to the thrift store. I hadn’t. So I donned my neon pink, five-toed grip socks and headed to Pilates.
One year later, I’m a convert. What in the heck happened in the space of 12 months to change my outlook on ToeSox? Turns out the brand knows what it’s doing when it comes to reaching its target audience.
Lesson 1: Make your product collectible
As I got comfortable on the torture-chamber-worthy Pilates machine, I started to notice other students’ socks. 95% were ToeSox, and they came in every flavor. Stripes with toes? Solids in Mary Janes? Fun patterns in half-toes? The company has got you covered. I was starting to warm up to this brand.
Now, given my propensity for wanting to save money, I shopped on Amazon for a cheaper alternative but came up empty-handed. The competitors had less glowing reviews and certainly less fun variety. So I began amassing my small ToeSox collection.
At my studio, if you attend a class on your birthday, you can pick out a pair of ToeSox. I swear I was more excited about that than the blowout party I had to celebrate my 40th just days before. I spent five minutes browsing the available selection before choosing a pair with toes that suited me.
Just two days later, I saw a woman with the same pair with half toes (my favorite). Aw man! ToeSox envy.
The sock selection the company offers is mind-boggling. Dozens upon dozens of options. And because socks (or rather, Sox) don’t last forever, wearers have plenty of reasons to keep buying more and collecting all the “flavors.”
Lesson 2: Creating a market (or two)
While I wear ToeSox for Pilates, others wear them for yoga, running, barre, or dance. Given the number of exercise trends out there, these are pretty specific niches that ToeSox has aligned itself with.
I used to laugh at those FiveFingers running shoes, but now I can see the allure for runners. When brands like these create products that a) serve a specific purpose for a very limited population, and b) create cachet around the brand, they have a winning formula for creating a market.
Lesson 3: Rely on partnerships
Now, there’s no rule at my Pilates studio saying you have to wear ToeSox specifically, but as I said, students wearing them are in overwhelming majority. I don’t know whether the company works with studios, or whether the owner simply liked the product and decided to stock it, but either way, ToeSox has a captive audience at this small San Diego franchise. Multiply that across other fitness brands and you’ve got a sizeable portion of your overall revenues.
But the company goes one step further, working with what it calls “Ambassadors and Influencers.” These fitness celebrities (at all levels of fame) wear the product and take photos in their socks. Because they’re not blatantly advertising the brand, but rather endorsing it—presumably because they like the product—they’re more capable of capturing the attention of their own audiences.
Walking around with goofy socks has become a part of my fitness culture, where I could never have foreseen it. A brand capable of doing that, as well as creating a market, is one worth taking notes from.