Growing beyond the expectations

Compression sock brand is ready to redefine comfort in a health-conscious category

Odd Duck Compression Socks co-founders Jeff McCoy (left) and Darren Hakker have created a brand they feel has lasting marketing transaction, a sentiment acknowledged by judges of the Chamber's Outstanding Business Achievement Awards in the Marketing & Promotions category.

Perhaps predictably enough, having a conversation with the founders of Odd Duck Compression Socks, the Sarnia-based company that came on top at this year’s Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Business Achievement Awards, began with at least some of the classic quips that have become part of the firm’s “quacky” language.

But we quickly got behind that to hear how Darren Hakker, a copywriter who came to Sarnia to work for a marketing firm before launching Graphite Marketing, his own branding company.

For Hakker, the common denominator is the words he’s come to see as his creative fuel (in his early career Fuel was another employer).

His partner in Odd Duck Compression Socks is Jeff McCoy, a professional photographer and Sarnia native who had spent a good deal of time serving as a bartender in various establishments before he and Hakker connected around a local publication before that ultimately folded.

But McCoy and Hakker stayed in touch and met probably once a month to catch up and discuss what they might be able to do together.

The conversations included some typical themes around how they might work together, incorporating some of the creative energy each brought to the table.

Hakker at the time was creating and selling (buttons) on Amazon buttons that customers would attach to backpacks, a nice little business but definitely not something that would necessarily provide something scalable, which is what both he and McCoy were ultimately looking to develop.

And McCoy, in particular, was pushing for something where he could leverage his time to create something of real value.

Somehow, and (remove word) both Hakker and McCoy are a little fuzzy as to the exact conversation where compression socks came to the surface, going through a checklist of what product would meet requirements like light enough to ship and virtually unbreakable was at least a good part of the exercise.

Eventually, the idea for compression socks became their eureka moment.

What got the founders particularly excited was the health benefits attached to a product that gently squeezes the calf muscles of the leg, improving circulation (the muscles are said by some to be the body’s second heart) while also giving the creative pair some room to grow and expand a business, especially using talents they’d been able to acquire over time.

One of the early challenges was to change how the existing market for compression socks had defined its customers.

“Most compression socks are produced by large corporations that command higher retail prices —at least $40—are considered something that only old people buy, and are generally very ugly, with choices usually only between black, white and beige,” notes Hakker.

“Clearly, we were out to change that.”

In fact, challenging and beating back those standard thoughts around compression socks was what Odd Duck’s founders were determined to tackle right from the start.

“You will never find anything boring at Odd Duck,” adds McCoy. “Everything we do in operating our business and promoting it to consumers and retailers screams “FUN”, “DIFFERENT” and “HEALTHY” in every way. We’re fun guys and we know that deep down most people will admit that they’re fun too!”

What both Hakker and McCoy also knew, from their knowledge of what was available., was that they could offer uniquely designed socks at a much lower price point than the competition.

That price point turned out to be $29.99 and once the pair began their research,  including identifying a manufacturer and launching the line with the help of their first local retailer, One Tooth on Front Street in Sarnia. (this sentence reads very strangely…… and maybe add Activewear after One Tooth?)

Within a matter of weeks from their launch in the fall of 2018, Hakker and McCoy began to see online orders from their simple and modern website

Those orders came in while every month the firm’s original retail partners requested speedy refills for their shelves.

“Odd Duck was hatched on the idea of standing out and it’s ingrained in everything we do through comprehensive marketing strategies for our three distinct target markets: consumers, prospective retailers and Odd Duck retailers,” says Hakker.

The company was able to immediately ship socks to online shoppers in custom boxes with a bold welcome letter and sticker – making the shipment feel more like an extraordinary present than a boring delivery.

Understanding the brand was also a priority, says McCoy.

“We’ve attended a series of national nursing conventions as far away as Huntsville, and we’ve used a series of unique and creative marketing partnerships to further those efforts.”

Both Hakker and McCoy say their marketing for consumers allows them to get the brand directly into the hearts and minds at a relatively low cost.

They also developed an eight-page “Take Flight” package to educate Canadian retailers on Odd Duck and the product line.

“We knew that with our strong product and marketing we would be successful, but we needed ‘face time’ with these retailers, so we developed a creative plan to reach out to them in innovative ways, including registering Odd Duck at a nursing convention in Huntsville, where we were literally met with applause and practically sold out of our inventory (that we had) brought with us. Using a retractable banner, easy-to-use POS phone apps, and a keen understanding of promoting this product to nurses who are on their feet all day, lead to record sales for our fledgling business. We pushed nurses to give information to their employers and local retailers,” said Hakker.

Trade Shows

A significant milestone in Odd Duck’s life was the massive Toronto Shoe Show in February 2019. In preparation for this show, featuring hundreds of the very best brands from around the world, the founders researched and designed a stunning trade show display at a fraction of the cost that many large corporations spend.

Hakker and McCoy sourced local craftsmen and worked with them to produce a 10’x10’ booth that wowed retail store owners who attended the show. Not only did this marketing method help to increase their retailer count from five to 15, but Odd Duck won the prestigious “Most Innovative Booth Award.”  (CAN WE GET A PICTURE OF THIS BOOTH??)

They also attended the local London Shoe Show and have plans to attend the world-class Thredz fashion trade show.

It’s those trade show experiences, where much of the buying for the boutique retail market takes place, that are so important to the future of Odd Duck.

“Retailers are very keen to see the difference of Odd Duck before their competitors do!” adds McCoy.

Once retailers make the decision to sell Odd Duck’s compression socks, the firm launches its full Retailer Marketing Plan, which helps to promote their retail store and the product in the best ways possible, with a combination of media releases, tabletop retail displays, retailer signage, a retailer sock tower display, mannequin legs, and a sales and marketing guide.

Even as busy as Hakker and McCoy have become building this business, they aren’t content to leave it as is.

“We love our community and we love how other people are working to make their communities better. That’s why we support a wide range of community initiatives through our ‘Socks That Support’ program,” said Hakker.

Indeed, (start sentence With) with less than a year in action, the initiative has already benefited many charities, including the Canadian Cancer Society’s local chapter, Ducks Unlimited, the Canadian Association of Nurses in HIV/AIDS Care, and the Parkinson Society of Southwestern Ontario.

“We’ve designed our brand, and the marketing behind it, so that we can expand our product offerings and help more people as we continue to grow across Canada and throughout North America,” added McCoy.

Perhaps we’ll let them have the last word regarding this powerful new brand.

“When you stand out from the crowd, it’s best to stand in comfort.”

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Lambton Shield magazine.

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