NEW YORK (TheStreet) - "If I had to choose one word to describe my Swiftwick socks, it would be unbelievable. I wear them day in and day out as well as for training and racing, and they don't break down. They stay put on my leg, even the tricky mid length 7". Wash after wash I keep expecting to find holes or tattered edges but no, these socks hold up! Forget about the lifetime warranty, I'm not sure I'll ever have to use it. Thanks Swiftwick!" - Trapper Steinle
Whether it's on Facebook (FB), through Twitter (TWTR) hashtags or even article comments like the one above, it's easy to see why Swiftwick socks is the performance sock of choice for serious and professional athletes.
The secret for this growing Brentwood, Tenn.-based manufacturer is first and foremost the quality of product that's creating a fanatical fan base. However, there's more to the story.
Not unlike other small-business success stories, Swiftwick has a passionate entrepreneur steering the company. Entrepreneur Mark Cleveland, CEO and co-founder of Elicit Brands, bought the Swiftwick brand and design rights in 2008.
And so he started growing the business that way, making socks for companies like RadioShack (RSH), Sun Life Financial (SLF), the University of Purdue and others. But he also knew he could sell retail.
Retailers are moving to "micro-customization," Cleveland told TheStreet in an interview this month. "Here's a company whose reason for existence were small lines of customization. I knew I could make black white and grey socks to sell at retail stores. I knew that we could scale it."
The 25-employee company operates within a tight niche, with little interest in expanding into lower priced, mass-merchandised products that would distract the company from focusing on its target customer even if it did add to revenue. Swiftwick also knows that serious athletes like to shop in specialized stores as opposed to big-box retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods (DKS) or Sports Authority. The company is methodically expanding in the retail space to only those stores.
|Swiftwick CEO Mark Cleveland is looking to change the sock industry with performance-specific socks.|
Swiftwick is owned by Elicit Brands, which describes itself as a "technical apparel" manufacturer of antimicrobial socks in medical and military applications to specialty athletic socks and performance apparel. But it is best known for the Swiftwick socks.
The company has more telltale signs of today's small, yet vibrant companies - its emphasis on being environmentally friendly by striving to reduce energy use and its overall carbon footprint as well as being 100% Made in the U.S.A., both in terms of material and the workers who assemble the socks.
Before that Swiftwick, was operating as a commercial company that made custom logo-printed socks primarily to be given out at promotional events - races, charity events and corporate events, etc. Cleveland also owns Dirt Sweat & Gears, a company that promotes 24-hour mountain bike endurance racing that used Swiftwick socks as a giveaway during one race. He was so impressed with the sock, he bought the Swiftwick brand.
(Among other professional endeavors, Cleveland was part of the management team at Truckload Management when it was sold to Affiliated Computer Services in 2004. ACS was acquired by Xerox (XRX) in 2010. Cleveland had left the company before then.)