Brooke English had worked in the retail clothing business in Santa Cruz in college, learning the ropes before she decided to return home and explore a niche market — artistic and novelty socks.
English, a 1998 Arroyo Grande High School graduate, opened the Sock Drawer in June 2007 at 852 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo, where it has remained for the past decade.
Unlike some retail stores that have come and gone from downtown over the years, her store is thriving, she says, in part because of its large inventory — more than 2,000 different socks — and its online business that makes up more than half of the store’s revenues. Not all of the inventory is available at the store because of limited space.
“Our online inventory and offices are in a warehouse across town where we have the space to feature many more designs,” English said. “I try to rotate through styles in the store to accommodate the large variety of fun socks currently available.”
The Arroyo Grande native’s retail business is the only store in the county that exclusively sells socks. The Sock Drawer also began marketing its products online in 2011, initially as a way for English to work from home as a mom with two small children.
“I could work on my site at home during nap times and late into the night while my husband worked in the store during the day,” English said. “The great thing about online is that the sky is the limit. Your customer base is worldwide.”
Her biggest challenges remain finding a balance between being a mother, wife and business owner.
To promote itself, the company of 10 full-time and part-time employees uses email campaigns, paid advertising, and a carefully designed website with a high ranking on Google for those searching for socks.
“There’s a combination of elements involved to rank high for Google’s search results that are separate from paid advertising,” English said. “I have a talented team working behind the scenes to make that happen.”
English declined to disclose specific financial information about the company and how her team works to improve Google’s ranking.
Popular socks include the tacosaurus (patterned with creatures that are half-dinosaur, half-taco), a Frida Kahlo sock titled “Dia de los Frida,” elephant-dotted socks, the “Happy Camper” with tents and trees, and the “Stop Talking” sock to “send someone a not-so-subtle message in a subtle way.”
None of the designs are conceived at the store. English selects from designs targeting men, women and children dreamed up by vendors.
Sock prices range from $6 to $26, with many in the $8 to $15 range.
“We have benefited from a large increase in popularity of socks as a fashion statement within the past five years,” English said.
Her husband, Beau, used to work in the shop full time while she stayed home with their two children when they were very young.
“Over time, we passed the torch and I have gone back to working full time while he takes care of our boys and home full time,” English said. “It’s fantastic for me personally to see this business grow since 2007.”
Submit news and notes items for Biz Buzz. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @SLOBizBuzz; phone: 781-7902; fax: 781-7905; mail: Biz Buzz, The Tribune, P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406-0112.
Tell us your best business advice
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received? And how has it helped make you more successful in your business/professional life? Tell us in 100 words or fewer, and send it to email@example.com. We will publish them in future Biz Buzz columns.