Darn Tough Vermont is a leader in the sock market, consistently delivering products its consumers are drawn to. With Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver here, the company’s president and CEO Ric Cabot talks expansion in Northfield, Vermont, and the challenges ahead.
What are the big initiatives for the back half of 2019 and early 2020?
“Next month, we’re introducing the updated Light Hiker. Because we offer an unconditional lifetime guarantee, we’re able to analyze returns and use that data for improvements. We own our mill in Northfield, Vermont, which allows us to rapidly prototype and make adjustments. For the new [style], we created 31 prototypes through the course of development. [And] in early 2020, we will launch our new athletic line of socks with a collection called the Element that will showcase clean styling in four heights and three colors, while featuring the enhanced performance properties of wool.”
How is Darn Tough addressing the issue of sustainability?
“We place a high value on [it]. In support of our journey, we just hired our first sustainability manager, Matt Jacobs. He will lead efforts toward improving sustainable practices across all departments, working internally and externally with customers and suppliers toward future goals, and supporting the brand’s strong focus on community development.”
You also hired a chief technology officer and human resources director in May. Why were those important additions?
“These new senior positions were created to drive and sustain Darn Tough Vermont’s expansion well into the future. Jim Decker (CTO) was hired as a trusted strategist and technology visionary who brings over 25 years of experience leading technology systems and teams. John LeBourveau (HR director) will maintain and elevate a culture of purpose and high performance. He also brings over 25 years of experience overseeing human resources for premium, high-growth consumer products brands and social impact-minded companies. As we continue growing and expanding, we’ll be adding key positions throughout all levels and departments.”
How will the company’s expansion, which includes a new packaging and distribution building, impact the Northfield area?
“It is the sock capital of the world. We don’t claim to own Northfield. Rather, it has shaped us, helped us rise over our years of growth and we cherish the opportunity to now be in a position to give back to our community. An output of the Vermont state-run Regional Economic Model highlights the effects of Darn Tough Vermont’s commitment on Northfield. For every employee we hire, we support an incremental 1.18 workers in the area. We are now in three facilities in the town, which includes a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Nantanna Mill that now houses our finishing operation.”
Where are Darn Tough’s biggest opportunities and challenges?
“We’re continually innovating to make a more comfortable, durable and better fitting sock. While Darn Tough is best known for hike and lifestyle, we make socks in 10 different categories. We will continue to expand in all, and will be doing so across brick-and-mortar as well as online, both domestically and internationally. [Challenge-wise], we are located in a state that has one of the lowest population growth rates in the nation. As we continue growing double digits while adding capacity to support that growth, we need a quality work force that we can recruit and retain over time.”
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