Whether it's in your bedroom, on the tailgate of your car in the parking lot or in the locker room of your golf club, you probably don't think much about the socks you put on your feet before your golf shoes.
Sock-maker Stance hopes they can change that.
The company first got into performance socks some three years ago, eventually realizing that a number of pro surfers and action athletes, a core part of the company's image appeal, loved golf. After weighing the pros and cons of jumping into the sport, Stance's executives, many who love golf as well, decided to dive head-in and has been slowly expanding its golf presence.
Before coming to market, Stance spent a year-and-a-half researching and developing the socks, figuring out what they could offer in a performance sock that would make them stand out from the competition. The output is a fascinating mix of pizzazz and performance. The socks are cut symmetrically for each foot, coming in heights ranging from just over the heel to up the shin. Some of the socks have silicone anti-skid padding on the soles. They wick away moisture and have reinforced padding in the places where we put the most stress on our feet. They all have unique designs, ranging from merely color-coordinated to outrageous. In other words, each sock isn't simply a carbon copy of the last save for a different visual design.
Buyers liked what they saw from Stance's modest booth at the PGA Merchandise Show in January -- which I literally stumbled upon on the back of the show floor -- and awarded the company with one its three Best New Product awards.
Just as golf shoes have evolved dramatically in the last dozen years, Stance hopes its technology will bring a sophistication to the category.
Stance's primary competitor in the space is Kentwool, whose socks offer a comfort and durability that are tough to beat. However, for as good as Kentwool's socks are, they remain a brand that relies heavily on word of mouth from evangelizing golfers and repeat customers who, somewhat unfortunately, can hold out a while before they need new Kentwool socks.
Stance has somewhat of a built-in edge as an established brand that a good number of people under a certain age know. The problem is that the size of the Venn diagram crossing over the circles of people who know of Stance and also play golf is fairly small.
Further, golf is a conservative sport -- not only in terms of political values, which shouldn't influence sock purchases whatsoever, but also in terms of adopting new things. There were scores of golfers who held out on switching from persimmon woods. Tiger Woods was supposedly taking a chance when he played Nike's precursor to Titleist's Pro V1, giving him a big equipment edge for the better part of a year, which, in Tour terms, was worth a lot of money. Golfers jazz-handed with fear over golf shoes that looked like tennis shoes.
Then there's the matter of trying to get golfers to notice socks. Stance's designs might stand out on a shoeless model wearing shorts, but that's not typically how golf is played. Golfers wear pants a lot -- male pro golfers do it year-round -- so it's not as though a Stance-wearing golfer is a walking billboard for the company.
LeBron James had worn Stance's performance basketball socks during the NBA All-Star weekend, and the stark contrast became glaringly clear.
"I could pull up 2,000 press images of NBA players like LeBron wearing our socks at the All-Star game and millions of people saw them wearing the socks on TV," said Clarke Miyasaki, Stance's executive vice-president of business development, "but we can't do that in golf."
There wasn't going to be an overnight surge in demand, and there probably won't be a moment where millions of TV viewers see an unpaid touring pro point to their ankles on camera and inspire millions in sales.
He joked, "I wish the Tour would allow shorts for an event here and there, but we know that's not going to happen anytime soon."
All of these reasons convinced Stance it needed to play a long game in growing its business.
"We can't pay Tour players to wear our gear," Miyasaki said. "We're not going to do big ad buys. What we wanted to do was get the product into the hands of people, let them try it and then let the product speak for itself."
However, all of that calculation made, Miyasaki said the company hopes to be having a different conversation next year.
"I don't know if it's 12 months, 36 or 48 months from now, but I hope we're building a brand that can do for socks what Levi's did for jeans," he said. "I hope someone has their casual socks, their work socks, their running socks and their golf socks they wear on Saturday."