We caught up with Stance’s Director of Product Education, Randy Sheckler at ISPO. Randy’s a larger than life personality whose quality control background spans everything from airplane wings to Rolls-Royce engines, missile guidance systems and most recently, socks (and underwear + tees)! Stance have just launched INFIKNIT, their latest proprietary technology that comes with a lifetime warranty for their socks and Randy (AKA Poppa Shecks) flew in from America to educate the trade show audience through workshops.
We spoke with Randy about his background, how he came to meet the team at Stance and just how crucial his role is within their booming wholesale channel, while they continue to grow their D2C business. Interview by SOURCE Editor, Harry Mitchell Thompson.
Tell us about how you first ever became involved with Stance. You started off your career with airplane wings?
I have a degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in business from Cal Poly Pomona in California. I went to work for McDonald Douglas Boeing aircraft as a young engineering scientist working on over wing lifeline supports, which are still in effect today. I also worked on the mechanical mechanism where the emergency slides lock into on all of the entry doors and the over wing doors. I left that company to work for a high end metallurgical testing laboratory, where I tested all of the critical metals associated to aircraft engines; helicopters, Rolls-Royce, aircraft engines, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, crazy stuff.
From thereI went into electronic component manufacturing and ended up starting my own company which I ran for 20 years and sold it. After I sold that company, I was building frequency controlled timing devices, which are based on quartz crystal technology. So anything that required synchronous timing; you sending a text message, that has to time with another phone in order for it to receive, your garage door opener, missile guidance systems – I would provide the timing solution so they would hit their target. Then I worked with a human tracking company, GPS systems for felonious offenders of the law and one day I got the call from one of the founders at Stance, Taylor Shupe. He said, “Hey, we’ve got to improve our quality.”
I knew Taylor because he owned another promotional goods company and I was helping him with some correspondence with some of the high-end athletes like Rob Dyrdek and a few other people.
So very quickly I had to make an adjustment from mechanical engineering into textile engineering and that’s where I’ve made a home for the last six years.
And you’re now Director of Product Education?
Yes, I’m responsible for some engineering aspects of all of our technologies, but I’m more responsible for actually teaching everyone around Stance, how to articulate what we do, the features and benefits that we’re actually deploying.
I’m a consummate quality control professional. When you walk around Stance, you’ll hear people saying, “Poppa Shecks, how’s that DIRTFT?” It stands for, ‘do it right the first time’. So I’ve got everyone around Stance, living and breathing and drinking this acronym of DIRTFT.
The Stance brand over the years has always been synonymous with top athletes and amazing collaborations with artists, musicians etc, but there’s also the high end premium product attributes, things like Butter Blend and now INFIKNIT – How important is it that Stance pairs the marketing side with the premium product innovations and what’s your role there?
It’s hugely important for us. We’re trying to listen very carefully to the users of our product, the consumers. And when we can identify a perceptive pain point that the consumer has, for example, Butter Blend: we knew they wanted something softer on their feet. We wanted to go out and buy yarn that was softer, knit socks, sell them it and be done, but we couldn’t do it. So if we can’t buy it off the shelf and incorporate it to handle the perceptive pain point of the consumer, we start engineering it and that’s when we started to look at casein, which is a milk protein. And then we went into lyocell, one of the components from sustainably source seaweed. And we blending with modal and with Pima cotton. We start doing everything that we can to make that happen. So it’s everything for us to pair the consumer with what they’re looking for. And that’s pretty much been our whole existence. People hate holes in their socks, so we’ve come up with INFIKNIT and for this we had to create a proprietary blend, which actually outlasts the competition.
My first impression of INFIKNIT’s lifetime guarantee was that it sounds like a salesman’s worst nightmare! But you say that as long as you keep doing new collaborations, new colourways etc, your consumer – and especially the sneaker freaker type – is always looking for the next cool trend, so it doesn’t matter if they last forever, they’ll want the next hit, the next marketing campaign…
Yes, we have to be careful when we talk about INFIKNIT, it’s important to delineate that INFIKNIT is 100% an all performance sock, but it is not going to be 100% in all casual socks. It’s only in selected styles. So when you make reference to the sneaker freaks, we are still cognizant to what their needs and demands are. And we will still be providing those quick hit styles that ultimately will build on scarcity so that they can have them, keep them. And we know that they’re not overly interested in if it will last forever. They just need to make sure that the colour doesn’t come off in their shoe!
Could you talk to me about how a product tech such as INFIKNIT comes from concept through to realization and then how you communicate that through to your marketing managers and your retailers?
It starts with the consumer pain point; our data analytics provided a need for us to provide socks that didn’t have holes in them. Once we started to engineer it and started to look at different ‘off the shelf items’, we realized that ultimately we had to create our own nylon and we had to put an outer texture core around the outer core so that we have that good lock-in. Once we finished testing, we realized that we were going to exceed our internal durability standard, then it was a matter of trying to market it.
We had to be very sensitive to the potential price increases when we started marketing it to both Europe and the USA, because having a lifetime guarantee can’t really be for free, but yet you can’t price it all the way outside of what people are willing to pay.
So then we had to do ‘willing to pay’ studies. Our data analytics people came back with “what is the willingness to pay, if you have a performance sock, that won’t get a hole in it?” And then we would go through product marketing and then traditional marketing. And then that’s where we are today now here at the trade show.
With the swing towards D2C, how important is your role in ensuring Stance continues to support its wholesale channel?
The ‘direct to consumer model’ is still there and it’s a huge and viable part of our business but we have 23 stores in the USA, 2 stores here, and then we have a huge plethora of wholesalers. So my job is to articulate the features and benefits of everything that Stance does and to get it into concise educational pieces. So now my role is moving into more of a digital network to where I’m preparing retail episodes that teach people how to sell our product for all of our stores and everybody here in Europe.
I’m delivering what I call my KNIT university, which is six episodes of a very detailed in depth look at the chronology of Stance, life over the years and then all the way into product, quality and reliability as well as material science and then an elaborate display of all of our products and the features and benefits. The episodes are anywhere from 12 minutes up to 22 minutes long, but it’s a very good educational piece. Every employee in Stance is required to take my KNIT university and pass the course with 80% or better, or they get a call from HR and possibly the president. No kidding, that’s a true story!
So my role as a Director of Product Education is to make sure that we all have a singular vernacular in the way that we speak about Stance. At the end of the day, someone’s got to pay more money for Stance and I want them to understand what the features and benefits are.
And could you talk to me about the Sheckler Foundation?
Sheckler Foundation is one of the greatest loves that I have. It’s become a living, breathing animal of its own. Ryan (Randy’s pro skateboarder son) has had it since he was very young – he got called to a Make-A-Wish where a young lady was dying of cancer. Ryan showed up with Tony Hawk and the lady went right by Tony and said, “Oh my God, you brought Ryan Sheckler.” And it was from that point on that his heart became so open and he just wanted to fulfil a legacy bigger than what he does on a skateboard. So he is systematically raising millions of dollars every year for children with paediatric cancer, children with autism, and also men and women in action sports that have been injured that don’t have enough money to get by. It’s very awesome to see his philanthropic mind-set actually coming to life.
Ryan’s mother is the CEO of the foundation. Ryan and I started the foundation 11 years ago and I have been outside just doing promotions for a lot of the events that they do, keeping the hype alive.