Invested in the Sock Market

The following article appeared in the Kitchener Waterloo Record in April of 2006.


A small company located in a nondescript building on Cambridge’s east side is doing its best to uphold the city’s long history of textile manufacturing.


Simcan Enterprises Inc. is putting its best foot forward literally as it churns out what it calls “the world’s most comfortable socks.” That’s a bold claim but Simcan president Jim Simmons doesn’t hesitate to back it up.


About 70 percent of the company’s business is in the health market, he explains. People with foot problems need a sock that won’t cut off circulation and oxygen or fall down and cause pressure points and sores. Hence, the emphasis is on comfort.


“There’s nothing in a sock that will cure a health problem.” he says.”But a lot of socks will aggravate a problem.”


Simcan didn’t set out to specialize in the medical market when it first set up shop in December 1990. Jim had been a senior vice-president for a Toronto land development company, but when the real estate industry went through a recession in the late 1980s he began looking for something a little less cyclical.


His wife, Marsha already worked in the hosiery business at the former Rennie Industries in Guelph. where she had risen to become vice-president and General Manager.


Marsha already had experience in the industry, but what did Jim know about socks? “I wore them,” the outgoing and friendly Simmons says with a loud laugh.


The couple launched Simcan out of their Cambridge home, using their own savings.


Initially, they sold leftovers and clearings from Rennie-Marsha remained with the firm until 1992- to factory outlet stores. Eventually, however, they grabbed a toehold in the boutique market.


The demand for customized socks was not well served, explained Jim. Store chains such as Club Monaco and Big Steel wanted customized patterns, colours and yarns to match their clothing lines, so Simcan moved to occupy that niche.


Things progressed seamlessly until about ten years ago, when the Simmons realized they were not going to be able to compete unless they shifted production to China, but that didn’t seem possible. “We didn’t have the volume to secure production offshore,” says Jim.


About the same time, retailers were looking for a sock that would appeal to the growing seniors market. A retailer contacted Simmons about developing a wider sock for people with swollen feet and ankles. For the next six months, Simcan worked with one of its mills -to “engineer” as Jim says-a sock that would meet specifications for the medical and seniors market.


That led to the birth of The Simcan Comfort Sock, which today is Simcan’s main product in the health line.


As baby boomers get older, more of them are suffering from diabetes, arthritis, circulation problems and edema, which causes a swelling of the ankle, Jim says.


“We just said ’Yeah, this is the direction,” Marsha says.


While Simcan still produces fashion socks under other labels for such firms as Jessica, Tabi, Roots and Aldo, its medically oriented socks are made under its own labels.


One of the keys was making the comfort line affordable, says Marsha. Many medically oriented socks are priced at $18 to $25. Simcan’s retail for $7.99.


And growth has been “spectacular,” says Jim.


The firm long ago moved the business from their house and relocated a second time about eight years ago to their current lodgings at 120 Turnbull Ct.,near Sheldon Drive and Franklin Boulevard.


It leases about 5,000 square feet, but is “bursting at the seams,” says Jim, and will have to expand at the current address or find a new one.


The company has about 20 employees at the Cambridge plant where it finishes and packages the socks to maintain quality control. It then distributes them to customers in Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia.


The company produces about 750,000 pairs of socks in a year and turns over its inventory about 10 to 12 times in that time. It has five major product groups and about four styles within each group.


About 10,000 pairs a year are considered rejects and donated to thrift stores, charities and for disaster relief, such as hurricane Katrina victims.


Because the company is essentially a wholesale manufacturer, it markets its products to retailers by attending trade shows and exhibits. Simcan does not have a web-site, but is planning on starting one soon as the business continues to grow.


Simcan socks can be found in such stores as Sears, The Bay, Mr, Big and Tall, Marks Work Wearhouse and Walking on a Cloud.


Simcan is the dominant player in Canada in the affordable medical sock market, Jim says. In five years they would like to be in the same position in the United States. At present, U.S orders represent about 15 percent of their sales.


Jim,52, admits he works 60 to 80 hours a week, but makes no apologies. “I’m passionate about what I do,” he says. “I’m pumped about where this company is going.”


Jim says a customer called him recently from California to rave about the The Simcan Comfort Sock. People who have problems with their feet get passionate when they find a good sock and want to tell the world about it, he says. Those kinds of calls “just re-energized you.” he says.