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“John’s Crazy Socks” Puts Disabled Employees in Positions to Succeed with Mark and John Cronin (Episode #144)

Listening to this episode will burst open a joyful place in your heart and will give you a leap in business savvy. Our guests are part of a flip in perspective in the business world that will change the future for millions. John Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome, and his father, Mark, are co-founders of John’s Crazy Socks, a business hiring people with differing abilities not as an act of charity, but a smart business move. 

Episode Highlights

About Our Guest:

John’s Crazy Socks was inspired by John Lee Cronin and his love of colorful and fun socks—what he calls his “crazy socks.”

He and his father, Mark X. Cronin started the company as a social enterprise with a mission of Spreading Happiness™ by offering socks that people can love… socks that allow an expression of one’s true self. 

There are many ways to measure their success, but from every angle I could find, they are knocking the ball of “Spreading Happiness” out of the park.

One of the clearest is that Johna person of differing abilitynow owns the sock company with the largest selection in the world, and in the process, he’s revealing a path of potential meaning and goodness in the lives of countless others. 

  • They’ve created 34 jobs, and 22 of their employees are people with differing abilities.
  • They’ve spoken twice at the UN and twice to Congress.
  • Their Giving Back program has raised over $600,000 for charity partners like the Special Olympics, the National Down Syndrome Society, and the Autism Society of America. 

If you ever need a quick reminder of all that is right in the world, then watch the two TEDx talks they’ve done. Too often, hiring people with a disability is framed as an act of charity, but that is a very outdated way of thinking. Here’s the flip side to consider in our own workplaces: 

Hiring People with Differing Abilities is Not Altruism, It is Good Business || TEDxLake Success Studio
The Power of People with Differing Abilities || TEDxFarmingdale

Mark uses real life examples from John’s Crazy Socks as well as small businesses such as Rising Tide Car Wash, Spectrum Design and Ventures ATL, up to the largest businesses in the world (Microsoft, IBM, EY and Comcast) to show the main business reasons to hire people with differing abilities, including:

  • Increased Productivity,
  • Improved Retention,
  • And improved ability to recruit workers and fill openings

Best of all, they have a moving story about how they’ve done this… and along the way, enriched the lives of countless people including us.

John and Mark are proving something we’ve been saying for years here at the Goodness Exchange:  

“Heroes are everywhere: For every major problem in this world, there are amazing, everyday people—just like you and I—who are championing courageous solutions.”

Resources Mentioned:

Corporate Giants Start to Care—It’s Great for Business! with Andrew Winston (Episode #122)

It’s easy to look at a daunting challenge – something so big that you know you can’t possibly finish the job – and then do nothing. It’s easy to just not start at it, somewhere. But our guest today, Andrew Winston, did the opposite. When experience started telling him how important it was that we make a fundamental, global change in how business is done on our planet, he committed to a life of fighting for all our shared futures. He is truly living up to the moniker of “change-maker” and we are honored to share his insights.

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
There are 3 Types of Thinkers. Which One Are You? With Dr. Temple Grandin (Episode #137)

Temple Grandin is a renowned innovator whose lifelong work and advocacy have shed light on the beauty and potential of every brain, regardless of neurological differences. Her insights into animal behavior, autism, and education have had a profound impact on many industries and have opened doors for countless individuals who may have otherwise gone unrecognized. Her new book applies to 40% of our population: people whose creative minds are going unsupported. Listen in and see if you may be one of those folks.

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

Show Notes

00:00 Intro & Welcome

05:02 Everyone Can Contribute

  • Temple Grandin, the most famous autistic person in the world,  appeared on Episode 137 of The Conspiracy of Goodness Podcast and spoke about how all minds are different and everyone can contribute.
  • The world would be boring and brittle if everyone thought in the same way.
  • Mark and John foster a unified workplace where people of different abilities feel welcomed.
  • Mark and John started John’s Crazy Socks in January 2017 and sales were slow.
  • When John’s Crazy Socks started, Mark and John didn’t know World Down Syndrome Day was celebrated on March 21st.
  • John’s Crazy Socks started by selling socks that other people made but they couldn’t find any Down Syndrome themed socks.
  • John came up with the idea of making their own Down Syndrome themed socks.

09:26 Language Matters

  • We all have differing abilities.
  • Some people use the word disability in an effort to take ownership of the word.
  • Educational theorist Howard Gardner speaks about 8 different types of intelligences:
    1. Musical-rhythmic
    2. Visual-spatial
    3. Verbal-linguistic
    4. Logical-mathematical
    5. Bodily-kinesthetic
    6. Interpersonal
    7. Intrapersonal
    8. Naturalistic
  • Schools focus on only two types of intelligence: analytical and verbal.
  • The staff at John’s Crazy Socks is divided into front end and back end teams.
  • Job titles at John’s Crazy Socks include “Sock Wranglers,” “Happiness Packers,” and “The Lord of the Socks.”
  • John’s Crazy Socks hires from three labor pools:
    1. Different Abilities
    2. Moms
    3. General Laborers
  • The best labor pool is by far the pool of people with different abilities.

14:09 Dignity in Work

  • All jobs at John’s Crazy Socks are earned and not given.
  • The National Down Syndrome Society argues that people with different abilities have a right to work.
  • The right to work does not mean that you are guaranteed a job.
  • The first paycheck an employee gets at John’s Crazy Socks is a physical paycheck and everyone celebrates it because for a lot of them it’s their first ever paycheck.
  • To become a Sock Wrangler you have to go through training conducted by another Sock Wrangler and pass the Sock Wrangler test to prove you can pick 6 orders in 20 minutes or less.
  • John is a Sock Wrangler and has trained several new Sock Wranglers.

14:09 Break

22:13 The Founding Story 

  • John showed entrepreneurial spirit from as early as High School when he made a proposal to his principal to do a school talent show then pulled the whole thing together.
  • John couldn’t find good avenues for meaningful work after graduating.
  • After not being able to find a job, John decided to create one by going into business with his Dad.
  • Mark and John discussed several ideas including a food truck.  The food truck was a great idea, except they couldn’t cook.
  • When John threw out the idea of a sock company it made sense because he loved socks and surely other people love socks too.
  • Mark and John took the idea of a sock company seriously and went the lean startup route and bootstrapped.
  • The marketing started with Mark making recordings of John talking about socks.
  • John came up with the catch phrase “Socks Socks & More Socks!”
  • John’s Crazy Socks opened on December 9th 2016 and got 42 orders for socks from customers in and around Huntington.
  • Mark and John personally packed all the orders and added thank you notes and Hershey’s Kisses to every box. John delivered them himself.
  • When deliveries were made, Mark made videos of John delivering the socks and shared them on social media.
  • People started ordering socks just to meet John.
  • John is a Special Olympics athlete and 5% of profits from socks sales go toward the Special Olympics.
  • John’s Crazy Socks has over 4000 types of socks making them the world’s largest sock store.
  • John’s Crazy Socks has created 34 jobs, with 22 of those jobs going to people with different abilities.
  • John’s Crazy Socks has now shipped over 420,000 packages to 88 countries.
  • John still does home deliveries for nearby orders.

32:33 Untapped Labor Market

  • People with different abilities are an untapped labor market.
  • There is a growing labor shortage in the USA.
  • We have to change the way we think about jobs and credentials in order to tap into the labor market of people with different abilities.
  • We have to work on overcoming the fear and ignorance about people with different abilities.
  • More and more companies are improving on neurodiversity in their hiring practices.
  • Many people with different abilities are screened out of the interview process because they may not make eye contact or give a firm handshake.
  • Many markers of a good interviewee really have nothing to do with actual ability to do the job.
  • Mark was formerly the founder of a software company and CTO of a health care management firm.
  • From Mark’s experience with tech, having a firm handshake has nothing to do with programming.

41:30 The Five Pillars

  • John’s Crazy Socks is built on 5 Pillars:
    1. Inspiration and Hope
    2. Giving Back
    3. Socks You Can Love
    4. Make it Personal
    5. Make This a Great Place to Work
  • Mark and John believe in ensuring that the company is built around a purpose and that all the jobs are meaningful and important.
  • People want to know that what they do matters.
  • Mark and John put people in positions to succeed by identifying what abilities people have and giving them jobs that allow them to do their best work.
  • People feel better when they’re doing a great job and when they feel appreciated.
  • If you give people autonomy and stay out of their way, they’re more likely to do a good job.
  • The leaders of the company are at the bottom and their job is to share a vision and put people in positions to succeed.

48:49 Preparing for the Unforeseen

  • The pandemic virtually shut down John’s Crazy Socks.
  • Many of the team members were vulnerable and lived with elderly parents.
  • People with Down Syndrome were 5 times more likely to be hospitalized and 10 times more likely to die if they got COVID-19.
  • John was hospitalized during Christmas and was not doing well but his health luckily took a turn for the better and he recovered.
  • Company tours were moved from in person to online and the online tours were kept when the world opened back up.
  • People from all over the world now have the ability to tour John’s Crazy Socks.
  • Mark and John went back to their vision: Spread Happiness, and came up with the idea of making masks as a way of spreading happiness.
  • John hosts an online dance party on Zoom as another way to spread happiness.
  • Mark and John started their own podcast called Spreading Happiness.
  • Mark and John are focused on their customers’ experience and ship packages with personalized messages, candy, pictures of the Happiness Packers, notes from John, discounts, and money back guarantees.
  • Andrew Winston appeared on Episode 122 of The Conspiracy of Goodness Podcast and spoke about the changing nature of corporations toward considering all stakeholders.

01:16:02 What Do You Wish People Knew?

  • The only thing holding you back is you.
  • Business owners can change the world.
  • Follow your heart, follow your dreams, work hard and show you can do it.

01:18:40 Closing

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