We’ve all done it – walk through the aisle of one store or another, haphazardly grab a bag of white or black ankle socks, count down to the buzzer-beating, game-ending shot and – a la Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Robert Horry, yesterday’s versions of today’s Steph Curry and Kevin Durant – drain a rainbow-arching three-pointer into the shopping cart to win it all.
“And the crowd goes wild,” we might whisper, with a mock arena-shaking crowd roar manufactured in our throats.
But the stands are empty, the fans have all gone home. Sock buying, with all the new intricate designs and modern-day pressures to coordinate the sock-tie-shirt and pocket square combination, is a whole new ballgame.
Hence a 98-year-old Triad sock manufacturer still churning out 2 million pairs of socks per day globally is working to innovate from within by investing in design and digital innovation.
Renfro Corp., a privately held sock manufacturing company headquartered in Mount Airy with offices in major cities around the globe recently occupied a 5,000-square-foot space within Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem. The office is inside the repurposed Bailey Power Plant, once owned and operated by R.J. Reynolds.
The symmetry of a near century-old company reinventing itself in such a space is not lost on Renfro CEO and President Stan Jewell.
“Where we are going with this transformation of our company, a really deliberate transformation of our company, I think being in Bailey Power Plant is really important both symbolically and actually the space itself has been transformed from an old power plant for a tobacco facility into this beautiful space,” he said.
Renfro Corp. holds the exclusive sock license to leading brands including Fruit of the Loom, Polo Ralph Lauren, and New Balance. It employs 5,000 people worldwide, with about 350 working at the Mount Airy corporate headquarters.
The company has added three executive positions in addition to a new graphic design staff focused on design excellence, along with digital, e-commerce and consumer engagement hires.
It’s too soon to elaborate, Jewell said, but the company is building two new brands. Vice presidents for each – both female – are joining the company Dec. 1. Also coming on board the same day is a new vice president of innovation.
Projected revenue growth from the new brands will have to wait until the first quarter of FY2019, Jewell said. But add the executive positions to the 25 to 40 full-time and transient staff based out of Bailey Power Plant, and the scope of the company’s reinvestment in innovation begins to take shape.
Renfro really had to up its game, Jewell said.
“What we were good at was making huge volumes of white, back, navy socks,” he said. “But the market had changed on us and we had not done enough to really evolve our skill set.”
The company had to become more agile, more responsive to market changes, and learn to develop better consumer engagement practices. The new winning strategy is best complemented by the new location, he said.
The proximity to incubators such as Venture Cafe and the region’s higher learning pipeline – Wake Forest University has its innovation center located right across the street – offers a competitive, or perhaps home floor, advantage.
“I’m really optimistic that this is going to be a huge opportunity for us, that our footprint will continue grow there,” Jewell said. “It’s a perfect fit for what we are trying to do in transforming our company. “