Debbie Lefkowitz of Hocsocx lives out the dual meaning of the phrase, “necessity is the mother of invention.” As a mother of five herself, Debbie invented Hocsocx when she noticed that one of her daughters needed new socks for her field hockey games. Whenever her kids played hockey, they would complain of itchy and painful rashes on their legs caused by their shin guards. Of course, Debbie could not just let her daughters suffer without trying to help.
With her pharmacy background, Debbie Lefkowitz knew right away that she had to replace her daughters’ shin guards. The shin guards would cause reinfection, and lead to the rashes and leg pains. And so, Hocsocx were born. She had no way of knowing, though, that her simple solution to her daughters’ worries would sweep the national sporting goods industry by storm.
After talking to other parents whose kids suffered similar conditions, Debbie Lefkowitz immediately realized that she needed to expand Hocsocx to help not just her kids, but other athletes, too. So, in 2012, Debbie started production of Hocsocx.
What are Hocsocx, anyway? Debbie Lefkowitz invented socks that were thin but also durable, which gave more support to the leg muscles, increasing their durability and enabling rapid recovery from leg rashes. For two years, Hocsocx operated out of the Lefkowitz family living room. But soon enough, Debbie decided to buy a vendor space so she could reach out to other athletes.
Now, Debbie Lefkowitz notes with pride that the USA Field Hockey Association has proposed making Hocsocx the official rash guard sock of Team USA. Of course, she accepted. The company grew two years later, which helped Debbie move on from being a full-time pharmacist and nutritionist to entrepreneur, running Hocsocx full-time.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Debbie Lefkowitz: Absolutely! As a mother of 5, my children were always involved with sports. My last two of the group (#4 and #5 as we like to fondly refer them) are my daughters, who ended up being the two who became the most serious and involved long term in sports and ultimately were the inspiration behind the creation of Hocsocx. Prior to the evolution of Hocsocx however, I was a practicing pharmacist. I was often taking my daughters to field hockey tournaments and shopping with them for field hockey merchandise at the vendors that were at those events. In between games, I would often hear the young athletes and their parents complain about rashes and itchy skin issues in the areas under their shin guards.
As both a mother and pharmacist, the health of my children and the other student athletes while in sports was important to me. I soon found a small sock manufacturer who was willing to sell a few hundred pairs of their socks to me and allowed me to private label their product just to see if the idea would sell. My living room became my labeling area. I reserved a tent at the vendor’s village at a national tournament where my girls were playing and gave it a try. Fortunately, it resulted in a very successful weekend!
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Debbie Lefkowitz: Both of my daughters became extremely involved in the sport of field hockey. In field hockey, athletes have to wear shin guards that cover the entire shin. Those shin guards have a hard, fiber glass material on the outside, with a rubber foam material on the inside. Since my background is in pharmacy, parents of athletes on the team would often approach me about the itchy, flaky rashes and pus-filled, bloody blisters their children were suffering through on their shins. They consulted me on what ointments or creams I would suggest. Many told me of stories of spending hundreds of dollars on doctor visits and medications. I realized my daughters weren’t experiencing any of these issues and that the reason was they wore a barrier. Neither of my daughters likes the feeling of the shin guard against their skin so they would wear a thin nylon sock underneath their shin guard. Although the nylon sock underneath was helping to prevent my daughters from experiencing a rash, I knew the sock was just too thin and not durable enough to last multiple practices and a season’s worth of play! It was then I had my “Aha Moment”! I needed to create a sock that was thin yet durable, fun yet functional, and had all the protection to wick away sweat and reduce irritation, ultimately providing a barrier… thus — HOCSOCX was born!
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Debbie Lefkowitz: I would say some of the hardest moments were just starting out and really getting people exposed to the product. For years, athletes either played with no under sock or purchased rash protectors from other companies that had no foot and ankle barrier, often causing it to just ride up in the shin guard and defeating the purpose of a protector. So, there were definitely moments of doubt — especially at tournaments when individuals would walk up to our booth and show no interest in our product. However, the drive for us to continue pushing through was the feedback we received from the athletes who would try our product. Those customers would rave to us and others about just how well Hocsocx worked and how good they felt wearing them.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Debbie Lefkowitz: Things are going GREAT. During our first year in 2012, Hocsocx was approached by the USA Field Hockey organization to became the official rash protector of the USA National Field Hockey Team and since that moment, we’ve continued to grow. We still promote the line at numerous events, which has led to relationships with retailers who also now carry our brand. Our collection is now the liner sock of preference for athletes in sports like soccer, field hockey, ice hockey, ice skating, and even for skiers!
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Debbie Lefkowitz: We were about to have a big Fourth of July sale. We wanted to promote Hocsocx in a big way. All our products were ready to go live on our website, but then we had a serious issue. Our inventory was a few weeks late and we were waiting for them to be delivered. We knew the shipment had left the factory 10 days prior, and usually it only takes about 5 days to receive them. This particular time, we were using a new, less expensive shipper. We had been trying for a few days, but could not get any information from them as to the whereabouts of our product. Finally, we received word that our stock was in Allentown, an hour away, and would be delivered in 2 days. Needless to say, we didn’t have 2 days.
My now VP, Melissa, and I decided we had to pull a “Thelma and Louise” and go on a mission to track down our stock and hijack it. We locked up the office/warehouse, rented a U-Haul van, and headed down the road. Thankfully, it ended up being a successful mission. We were able to track down the truck, get to the shipment, bring back our inventory, and comically save the day!
The biggest lesson we learned was that we had to have better communications with everyone involved in the delivery of goods, especially our shipper. We did have to shop around for a much better solution and stay on top of it. It took several attempts, but eventually we found the right shipper. We did indeed have other shipping mishaps, but none like that one.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Debbie Lefkowitz: In order to run an eCommerce business smoothly, I recommend a great inventory software, shipping software, and bookkeeping software. If you can have them all integrated, that is a bonus.
Right now, I am running our inventory and shipping though a software program called Shipping Easy and using Quickbooks Online as my bookkeeping software. These are all relatively inexpensive compared to others out there, and I have tried several. Shipping Easy is super user-friendly and integrates with my eCommerce platform and my Amazon store. All my orders come into one place and inventory is taken right out. I can also use the software to create purchase orders for my manufacturers.
Secondly, I would definitely recommend that eCommerce brands be active on social media and with that, finding the right audience through social media! Utilizing many of the tools social media has set up for business and advertising is very helpful. Especially in the situation the world is in right now. It’s key to connect with your audience on a regular basis. Social media can do that in so many different ways. Whether you offer funny content, informational content, unveil your new arrivals, post previews of sales, etc., engaging with your audience will keep your brand on their radar. In addition to social media, I would also recommend email marketing.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Debbie Lefkowitz: Consumers always love a discount or free shipping offer that will help lower the overall cost of their order. Immediately when a customer lands on our website, they will see a 10% off pop-up offer in exchange for subscribing to our email list that day. This is how we grow our customer database. Many of our sales come from email marketing. We also know that if a visitor subscribes to our email list, the next time we have a sale or send out an email for Hocsocx, they are likely to purchase again.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Debbie Lefkowitz: My mantra is “Customer Service is Key”.
We take pride in our timely customer service responses offered through our eCommerce site. We often receive compliments on our speediness to respond and help resolve issues or questions. Often times, the people who are actually ordering Hocsocx through our site are parents of student athletes. Not only do we want the athletes to love their socks, but we want their parents or guardians to be happy with the clear, accessible communication they receive from our customer service; in addition to being satisfied with the benefits the product offers their child.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!