“To be honest, growing up I never would have done this and I still can’t believe it sometimes, that I own a shoe company.”
The wisest man who ever walked planet earth once sang, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” It’s a timeless line and one I think about a lot when weighing the risk/reward proposition of change, the mantra I chant to myself as final judgement on why I should be taking the path towards something new. By nature, humans crave stability — a steady job, a lover to share time with, a routine to clutch when the world’s troubles get a little too heavy. That’s why the process of change is so fascinating, because there is no way to know the end result until it has occurred. It requires a faith that very few things in life require, the ability to let go of the past (or a dream) in hopes of a brighter future. And even strapped with Bob Dylan’s words as armor, the act of convincing yourself there’s nothing to lose is never easy.
By his own account, Kory Stevens grew up with internal wiring that craved security, stability, and longevity. People with this mindset crave a certain career path — management at a large company, building up a 401K, and taking yearly vacations to Hawaii. Upon graduation from BYU, Stevens planned on entering the world of management consulting. After surveying a landscape of less-than-appealing options, this never came to fruition. Instead, Stevens decided on a change in career arc that went contrary to all of his core concepts: “I just decided to start something on my own.”
That something is Taft Clothing, launched less than three years ago with a Kickstarter campaign for no-show socks that raised just under $50,000. He added shoes to the product line last November and yes, he still is a little bit baffled this is the career he’s chosen.
“To be honest, growing up I never would have done this and I still can’t believe it sometimes, that I own a shoe company,” said Stevens. “Anytime something goes bad, my subconscious is telling me go get a job where you won’t have to deal with these things. It’s something I’m constantly battling. It’s crazy and it’s not what I planned for my whole life, but now that I’m here, I love it.”
I’m sure every small business owner reading this is nodding emphatically right now, knowing that one of the toughest parts of starting a company is avoiding the sea of doubt. The natural questions is, how do you do it? How do you continue running a company when every instinct screams otherwise? For Stevens, it took awhile to find the oasis that dwells somewhere between confidence and doubt, but he eventually found it by defining where his focus should lie.
“Is it hard? Yes,” Stevens said. “Am I working more than if I were a management consultant? Absolutely. Instead of working 70 hours a week, I’m working 100 hours a week. But there are so many unique benefits that I’ve come to love. I work from home and I see my kids every single day. I have have an amazingly flexible schedule, if I want to go to the gym, I go to the gym, if I want to go on a vacation, I go on vacation. This lifestyle that Taft has provided me with is something I could not find anywhere else. Early on, I was more focused on the tough things. Now, I’m able to get through the tough things and focus on the amazing things that happen everyday as a small business owner.”
As with any company, some success is required to help keep doubt at bay. Taft took off quickly and was profitable within the first year, helped immensely by Stevens’ strategy of going all-out in the areas of customer service and social media. If that sounds somewhat simple, it’s not, I guarantee you every person on earth has countless horror stories of being treated terribly by a business. Don’t even get me started on T-Mobile….
Despite limited manpower (and by that I mean one dude running a business) Stevens embraced the mantle of excellent customer service early on, one of the main reasons he credits for Taft’s success.
“Customer service is what it’s all about,” Stevens said. “I do everything I can for my customers, I’m available on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, I have a texting line that comes right to my phone. I’m available to them because I realize that someone spending hundreds of dollars on shoes from a brand that they probably haven’t heard of before, there’s a lot of difficulties there. Great customer service can overcome a lot of those difficulties. If you go above and beyond, you’ll be amazed at the response.”
In today’s day and age, social media and customer service are deeply intertwined. Facebook and Twitter exist for many reasons, one of those being a vessel to reach out and let companies know when you’re pleased or displeased with them. Social media also exists to drive interest in companies, especially important to early-stage businesses getting their name out on the internet. Stevens realized this early and through the combined efforts of he and his wife, began building up Taft Clothing’s social media accounts and generating interest within the blogger community.
“I’m not a photographer, my wife is not a photographer, but now we are,” Stevens said. “From the beginning, we focused on creating great content and we didn’t just take pictures of our no-show socks….We had to get creative with how to market and how to put the product in front of people. We’d always couple the socks with cool shoes, I was going to Nordstrom and buying shoes once or twice a week then returning them after I photographed them, just to keep the content fresh. It was all about great content and then interacting. When somebody comments or has a question, answer back. If somebody likes it, go like one of their pictures. Really, really be involved with trenches of social media.”
Taft now boasts an Instagram following of over 288,000, I’m incredibly impressed by this because I have 34 followers on Instagram. Stevens also continues to be a one-man wrecking crew driving the company’s growth, responsible for millions of dollars in sales behind the one-two combination of customer service and social media. Taft Clothing started as a no-show sock company, is currently focused on selling shoes, and if the name is any indication, the future holds many options. Meanwhile, Stevens will continue to focus on the positives from an experience that has taken him through every possible range of the emotional spectrum.
“Taft is on a trajectory to have a great exit and a great storyline,” said Stevens. “Obviously, that’s really exciting and something I’m working hard towards….Taft is a men’s footwear company but it’s much more than that. Through our very intimate customer service, we can change lives and really help men feel better and look better. I love being able to have an impact on people’s lives.”