Success takes tenacity and never giving up. Today, we interview two energetic sisters — Shelby McKee & Christy Parry — from Cincinnati, Ohio. They share their story on how they used grit and tenacity to eventually land on Good Morning America, The Today Show, QVC, Shop HQ, Daymond Johns’ Shark Tank Group, and now going into Nordstrom’s — their life long dream.
Keysocks are knee-high, no-show socks that don’t bunch up at all due to their unique design. Keysocks are the only knee-high no-show socks that stay in place and out of sight. We’ll learn all about the lengths these sisters went to to get their products into retailers. This interview shows that nothing can stop you when you create a product that you’re passionate about. You’ll really enjoy their story!
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
The importance of connecting with other entrepreneurs and product marketers as you launch a new product
How to trust yourself through the entire process of creating a new business
How to market a product with multiple SKUs
What it’s like to work every day with your sister… family business 101!
And SO much more.
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Watch the full video interview with Shelby McKee & Christy Parry!
Check out the full line of Keysocks products at KeySocks.com, and get a 25% discount off your purchase using promo code “harvestgrowth”
Do you have a product that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of products that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Visit HarvestGrowth.com to set up a free consultation. And, check out InfomercialMarketer.com for educational content on all things surrounding direct-response marketing.
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript right here!
Host: Two engaging sisters from Cincinnati, Ohio, share their story on how they used grit and tenacity to eventually land on Good Morning America, The Today Show, QVC, Shop HQ, Daymond John’s Shark Tank Group, and now going into Nordstrom, their lifelong dream. You’re really going to enjoy their story.
Host: I'm excited to have you on the show with us today. Shelby McKee and Christy Perry, the founders of Key Socks, keysocks.com, K -E- Y- S O -C- K -S. If you want to check it out, if you're not driving while you listen to this, if you are check it out later, we'll have the URL in the show notes, for sure, to check out this product. I am really excited about this interview, as you'll find, as they describe the product. This is not really a product that I would use in my personal life, but having several women in my life, my wife, three daughters, I get it.
This is a problem that women face, particularly in terms of the types of socks they wear, no-show socks, et cetera. They've solved the problem in a very unique way that once they describe it, you're going to get it. Whether you wear them yourself or someone in your life does, you're going to know about this problem. I'm going to let them describe it and talk about their history a little bit. Shelby and Christy, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Shelby: Thank you.
Christy: Thank you. We were so excited.
Host: For those that might not be seeing the video, they're listening, you got the image or you got the actual product behind you on display, but describe for us what are key socks are and why'd you do develop them.
Shelby: Okay. Back in 2009, I was invited to a Bengals game. It was September getting a little chilly out and being a mom, I always offer just comfortable shoes because it's going to be chilly and I want to look cute, but I really couldn't that day because I'm going to be freezing. What should I do? I had a really cute pair of flats on I wanted to wear jeans and I never even own socks. Funny part is I'm like, no, don't like socks they don't work.
The notion of the footie's always off your feet, you get mustard, you're freezing. I was getting ready to go to the game that day and I pulled out of the sock drawer and knee-high socks. It was actually a tubed sock first, a white one. I was like, this is ridiculous, but I'm comfortable. Then I pulled a navy one out, pulled it all the way up, put it on. I'm like, “This looks ridiculous.” I was like, why don't I just flush scissors, cut a hole where I can't see the sock and literally went to the game. My last name is McKee. My friend that invited me to the game that day was like, “Oh, my gosh. Shelbie, She's like, that's not a MacGyver sock. What's called a McKeever sock. key socks, every key has a hole. There's a key. And that's the day it was born.
Host: Nice. I was going to ask you about how the name, that makes a lot of sense. That's great, and it is. As I mentioned, I got really excited to set up this interview. Just visiting your website frankly, and learning more about your product, because it is such a problem that everybody faces women everywhere at least wear these no-show socks. They do as you term it, they eat your socks, your shoes eat your socks. They get bunched up down there.
It's just an ingenious idea. Talk to us, I guess first, how did you, obviously you explained the simple design the very first time you did it, how'd you go to the next step of designing these socks so they would be functionally successful, so they would work well on women's feet?
Shelby: Great question. first off for the first three months we had-- everybody was like, “That is amazing. That is such a great idea.” I did all my research, Googled it, researched, it, went to the attorney's office. Our dad was just retiring. He was in non-food products to the grocery store. He is in sales, his entire life. He is an entrepreneur. He was retiring. I went to my sisters, my mom, my other sister, and showed them the idea. They just said, “This is amazing.”
I ended up one of the neighbor and she would sell the socks for us. We got samples made and then fast forward, long story short, my dad had a really good friend that had been in the textile business for years and he was moving to Shanghai, China. It took us about literally two and a half years just to get the right opening for the sock. It was--because nobody's ever made it and they're all hand cut. It's just was so many different sizes, so many different openings, so many different feet.
Fast forward, that took us about two and a half years. And we started off with one skew, one fabric, and now we're up to like six different fabrics, about 32 different skews started with one size. Now we offer standard and plus fits every different woman's leg size and it’s great.
Host: For those that didn't see you as they held up the example, there's a hole in the front. When you wear these, you were, it looks like no-show socks. There's this fabric behind covering and basically, your achilleas on the back of your foot saves you. Go to the website and check it out if you haven't seen this already. You can see that when you wear pants, it looks like you have no-show socks on, but I imagine the comfort level obviously is very different and the fact that they don't slip down. They stay where they're supposed to on your feet.
Shelby: Yes. Yes, and the fabrics, we've mastered the fabrics. They are unbelievable and it doesn't. People say, “Well, I don't wear a knee-high.” I said, “Well, I wouldn't either, but with these, with the fabric and everything that we have going on with them, you pull them all the way up the leg and then you pull it up, you move it around, and literally nobody knows your sock on it. It doesn't even feel like you have a sock on. Oh, and we do have really cute sayings on the bottom.”
Host: Stand tall. That one says in the bottom, right?
Shelby: Yes, stand tall, yes. This actually came from a teacher that loves them. I texted her one day, she ended up buying like-- As a matter of fact, she's from Denver. She said, “I walk to work every day and my flats and I'll tuck the sock up like this, and then I'll put my flip-flops on.” She's like, “It's a convertible sock.” She goes, “I put it back on. I get into the classroom. I put my flats on and I'm warm and I'm not bold freezing and feeling good.”
She messaged and I said, “We would love to have you put a say on the bottom.” She said, “What I tell my students every day is to stand tall.”
Host: Nice. Love it, love it. You've got a great product. We've established that. You're solving a need, but still, there are lots of products out there that get to that stage and then falter. They just-- they never make it past that point to be a successful product marketing business. Talk to us, how'd you first turn that corner of getting not just a great product, but turning it into a successful business.
Christy: I mean, I would say from the beginning, we launched our website and we were found by-- was it the Today Show? We're were Bobby Thomas' three girlfriend gifts and we were featured on the Today Show and then we were featured on Real Simple. What were some other ones that came up? Then we've been on Good Morning America several times and Deals and Steals, which has just been amazing.
Shelby: The struggle has been real. I mean, it's taken a long time. I mean, we lost in 2000-- I cut the hole in 2009. We launched in 2012 and you've got to hustle. You’ve got to reach out, and keep reaching. I mean, we have knocked on doors for 80,000 different ways to get a yes. It's unbelievable. I feel like I'm the spokesperson. I invented it, and then Christy, my sister, it’s like I go fishing, I reel it in and then I hand it to her and she puts it on the plate, ladders it, makes it look good. I mean, she does all the behind-the-scenes stuff, all the computer stuff.
Just really getting your rhythm out there. I have a good friend that I met actually at QVC. I went to QVC training and she said, “Shelby,” she's like, “Every time we think you make it, it's just a flash in the pan.” She's like, “It’s like, oh, my gosh, we made it. This is it.” It's like, “No, it's like every day you have to do consistency, gets your name out there.” Right when you think that somebody is going to take you to the finish line or you have someone famous behind your brand, no, it ultimately is our job to get us there. That I think is a huge thing, right?
Host: Yes. Absolutely. And that's a common thread. I think in most of my discussions with our clients and interviews we do on the show is, it is a struggle. So often it's fun to jump past the challenges and get to the successes because we don't want to hear that. We only see you hear how you made it, but along the way, everybody shares challenges. That was there are different. We don't share the same challenges, but it's difficult along the way.
It's a hard journey, but it's serious fun when you “get there,” as you said, you never really get there either there are you're constantly working to grow the business and make it even better, but it's become more tangible. As sales grow, you get no more outlets taking on, seeing people out in everyday life wearing your product, it's just those tangible successes that make it a lot of fun. Where are you seeing successes now? Ecommerce versus retail versus Amazon, where are your sales coming from?
Christy: We had partnered with Daymond John's Shark Group. Right before COVID hit, we went to a show in Las Vegas and we were going to launch into big, large retail, grocery, all those stores. We're going to do as seen on Shark Tank. Then, we got back from the show, we have the best feedback from all the buyers, and then everything went silent. That happened and we bought a ton of inventory, which we still have and we've decided to take a different direction. We've got some exciting things in the works. We've finally got a guest from Nordstrom, so we're going to be launching on nordstrom.com, I would say in the next couple of weeks. Until that, we've really just, eCommerce amazon.com, keysocks.com. We're on just a couple of other little specialty online sites, and then we're also going to be launching on Shop HQ, which is just a lower tier of QVC.
Host: Yes, absolutely. That's exciting. We get a lot of questions. We've had a few of our clients going to Shark Tank and everyone's results, it's funny how different the stories are whether they get deals or not. How did that work, where you worked with the Daymond John you made that step towards retail, and then the world of course blew up with COVID. Even though their original plan has now changed, I guess, did they stay involved, his group, Daymond John, or your experience from Shark Tank?
Christy: We weren't on Shark Tank, so I was actually on Good Morning America. They called me five years ago. They had a little spin-off of Shark Tank. I had five seconds to sell my idea live on Times Square. Daymond John was the judge. I won that and that was just a publicity thing. I just had chased him down and I said, “I wasn't on Shark Tank. We would love to work with you." We worked with one of the people that worked with the Shark Group and he was amazing. Then COVID hit. It was like, "Let's regroup. Let's see what we're going to do."
I, since 2012, always knew that Nordstrom will be the perfect way to start. We went through all these different channels thinking we were going to get in all these different ways because the ultimate goal and the ultimate intention is to get them in everyone's sock drawer. How are we going to get there? Which avenue are we going to take?' Right when you think that you're going to go in a certain way, something else happens. To get that yes from Nordstrom was just so exciting. Then, as you see John, the sock has to be told, and it's such a TV product.
You were talking about that earlier. When we were on QVC, we did amazing. To get on Shop HQ is really exciting. Now those two things for this fall is just, we couldn't be more excited.
Host: That's great. I would say that shows real tenacity too, of being able to work with anybody from Shark Tank. They make it very difficult where if you're not on the show- that's why I just assumed you'd been on, getting to that step, "as seen on Shark Tank or being able to work with any of the sharks, frankly, they make it very difficult. That shows real tenacity in your part to push past that, and get to the stage of getting their help. Even though COVID obviously changes, plans a little bit for everybody, but being able to adjust to that is again, continued tenacity.
Congrats on that Nordstrom deal for one. That's exciting.
Christy: Thank you.
Host: Not easy to do and it's, oftentimes the first massive step of even bigger success after that point. I've got to have, so a lot of inventors and product marketers we work with and talk to, they try to make their lives easier by inventing or creating a product that has a single skew. It's just easier to control. I don't have to worry about sizes, colors, et cetera. In the sock world you can't. I'm sure you'd love to have just black sock and that's it. That's not what people buy. You were forced into it. Once you have this great idea now you have to have-- is it 32 skews, is that right?
Shelby: We’re about 18 or.
Host: 18. Sorry, I don't write it down. I get it wrong every time. 18 skew is still a lot of skews to keep track of. How has that changed, I guess, the complexity of launching and growing your business. Just that the fact that you've had so many skews?
Shelby: I would say just trying to figure out what groupings to sell because online people want to buy socks in three packs. They don't want to buy single pairs. They do, but with our new launch on nordstrom.com, we're going to be selling in three packs. It's like, "Are we going to do a variety?" It's just interesting because we offer, an original, which is our thicker fabric. We offer a classic light, that's a little thinner, a barely-there that's nylon. Then we have a weekend cut. We have a low-key. Just figuring out what the consumer wants, and how to package those together. Some of them are.
Christy: Since the sizing is so different, because of having the knee-high part for standard size and plus size, that's why we had to add those in, to make sure that we got it for a variety of everybody. Having the three packs, I think, is key. Let me tell you, for somebody that didn't even wear socks, that didn't even know anything about them. Then just to go into this.
Shelby: It's funny, our dad, “Keep it simple. Why do you need more than that? You don’t need all this color?”
Shelby: Like, "No. We want stripes. We want pink, we want turquoise. We want this.”
Christy: Just keep it simple.
Shelby: That's what we've done.
Christy: I truly think though the biggest lesson for us is just to trust ourselves because we've had so many people come in that say they can sell the world. We've got a lot of money spent and just you learn so many lessons. If I could look back and say, "What did you learn the most?" I would say, "Trust yourself and trust your gut and what you believe, and where you want to go." It's like anything in life. You have to learn the hardcore lessons before you need to get where you need to go. Like Daymond John says, "An overnight success is 10 years and it's going to be close to that."
Host: Yes, absolutely. One of the reasons we do this show is to help some people get over hurdles a little bit by learning from others. Is there a hurdle that comes to mind for you guys, or a big challenge you guys face that you've learned from that, had you done it differently, it would've gotten easier, or it's something you would have changed in the past that might be helpful for some of our listeners?
Christy: I think, what Shelby just said, trusting, thinking that you're going to trust these people that come in and really realizing that you just never know.
Shelby: I think, just like you say, doing your research, asking questions. From where we are today, from 10 years ago when we started, we just instantly would trust somebody saying, "Oh, wow, you can do this for us. You can do that, and just doing your research, doing your homework, making sure that you really question.” Christy and I are such trusting people and we feel that most people are going to be like we are.
We just have big hearts and we just want to have women comfortable and feel good about themselves and sell a sock that has a home. That's a no-show knee-high sock that nobody even knows about. That's our intention, but just always trust your gut. When you feel a feeling that doesn't seem right, it's not right. It's not right. It's funny because it started to happen to us again a little bit, and we both looked at each other and we're like, "No, we're not going to go with that. We’ve already been down that path. We just need to keep it simple like you were saying and just trust yourself.”
Host: I've found that in running my business, your gut gets better too over time, of course. In the beginning, I like how you talked about trust your gut trust. Trust, yourself, ask questions of others. In the beginning stage, you may need to ask a lot more questions before your gut is trained. You really probe and find that out. After 10 years of doing this, as you shared just now you've got some experience of whatever it might be that you've gone through in the past. Like, “Okay, that happened last time, we've learned from it. Let's not do it again." Your gut really gets trained and improves over time, for sure.
Christy: Yes, it does.
Host: Are there any interesting stories? It's got to be interesting running a business as sisters. Is there an interesting story you've taken back to your family of running the business that was just to take back to home and share some of the challenges you're going through?
Shelby: I have a good one. Our parents live in Florida and my dad's been retired. He's 81, our mom's 76, and Christy and I are running this together. We're single moms. She has three girls. I have a boy and a girl and they're all teenagers. We're running this business out of my house. This is my house right here, and it's just been crazy. I had tried to get on Deals and Steals with Good Morning America. I loved Ray Johnson. I love everything about her. Her daughter is an entrepreneur. She is unbelievable. She's not in there with Robin Roberts.
I just think they're just amazing and their Deals and Steals is unbelievable. I had been emailing her assistant for what was it? Six years. Every three months, I'd say, "Hey, it's the annoying lady, Shelby, with the sock with the hole on it. When are you going to put me on? I need to meet you.” Kept emailing, kept emailing, I'm going to tell you, it was from 2012 to 2017. Finally, we're sitting at the office. Finally, all of a sudden, I get an email back. We had come out with a compression no-show knee-high. Nobody has ever come up with that. The only thing on the market is a knee-high compression or a sleeve. Nobody's ever thought of this ever, ever, ever. Isn't that crazy? In the compression world, it's insane. Here we are, just sisters doing this.
We finally get a yes. She emails me back and she said, "Oh, compression." I said I had just emailed her a week before, and then Good Morning America came on and it said, “These are the greatest compression socks.” I emailed her again and I said, "Oh my gosh, I hate to bug you again, but we have a compression." She emails back, she says, "Can you get it on--" I think it was April 17th. "Can you get on?" This was January something. I called our factory in China and I said, "All of the compression socks. Those socks need to be ready because we're going to be on TV." It gives me chills even to think about it.
She said yes, she gets us on. We get on and I can't even tell you the sales. It was insane. We're packing socks out of my house. It is crazy. They invited us on. I think we've been on five times. After five times being on, in 2019, the summer, she calls. I don't want to say her name. I want to, but she calls and she says, "Can you and Christy be up here? We want to get you live on television. We're picking three entrepreneurs. Can you fly up here tomorrow?"
Literally, we were at the swimming pool with the kids. I used to be a springboard diver. I have this recurring fear of diving off the high dive. I literally haven't done it in 20 years. Christy goes, "She just called. We're flying out to New York. We're going to be on live TV." I went straight up to the high dive and dove off of it.
Host: That's a great visual.
Shelby: It’s like, “I’m here.”
Shelby: It was like, "We're doing this."
Christy: It's such a surprise because we had been planning for two months. I worked with the back end to do the microsite. I'm on the phone. I get a phone call from New York. She's like, "Can you be up here in two days?" I call Shelby, I’m like, “See Shelby, they want us up at New York."
Shelby: We get on live television. We didn't tell our parents. We're going to surprise them. We're on live TV and my mom's like, "Oh, wait. Where did she get those shoes and that outfit? Jim, what is going on?" We had to call them. She’s like, "We're so confused." We're like, "Mom, we're surprising you. We're on live TV."
Christy: Usually, it's just the product.
Host: Oh, yes, right. That's very true.
Christy: They have team brands and they decided to pick three of the entrepreneurs to come up and be live. That's exciting.
Host: Wow. That's awesome. What a great story. I love the visual of the high dive as well. Please tell me you have that on video.
Shelby: I don't.
Host: Next time.
Shelby: Next time, I'll have to do a one and a half. [laughs]
Host: There you go. That is saying something. We have a client who was just on the last week actually on Deals and Steals. They're a 10-year-old business as well. They're about $20 million in revenue. They've been around for a long time, lots of retail, lots of eCommerce, very successful, and they just got on. It speaks something to, again, tenacity of just pushing towards this.
It's that overnight success that you worked with. You said five years of sending emails and constantly following up. Very, very infrequently, we get a yes, from whether it's a retailer or a big PR opportunity. So common it is that it takes work. Once that happens, that corner is turned, now we can grow the business and now it seems easy to the outsider. They see the success, they don't realize what you went through.
Christy: It's not, it’s not.
Shelby: It's just a nice little publicity to get the brand out there but-
Hold: It takes work to get there.
Shelby: -the day in and day out just doesn't stop.
Host: I love the product, I love the stories you guys shared. Is there anything that I didn't ask that you think would be helpful for our audience?
Shelby: I think that really reaching out to other entrepreneurs and getting that support. You mentioned that at the beginning where it's so fun to hear other people's stories and that's part of the reason why you love doing this. That to me has been one of the best parts, is getting to know our customers and also other entrepreneurs on the same boat. I'm a huge fan of Cindy Eckert who invented the Pink Viagra. Have you seen her?
Host: I have, yes.
Shelby: She is unbelievable. I just listened to a podcast with her and she said, don't quote me on this, it’s something like this. She said, "When you're feeling down or you're feeling discouraged," because she was told no, she went against the FDA. She is unbelievable. Sold for $1 billion. She's so down-to-earth and so amazing. She said, "You need to always go back to what your original intention was for the business." When I feel overwhelmed or I feel worried, I just shut my eyes and I go, "Okay, why did I do this? Why did I create this? Why am I wanting to do this for women for comfort?"
It's so much more than a sock. What can you put around it in your life to make it special and to make other people feel good and give back? That's something that Christy and I always do. We're always donating socks. Saturday, we're donating for St. Jude's, we're donating for Nurses' Week, our compression socks. People say, "Shelby, you give too many away." I said, "You know what, at the end of the day, it makes you comfortable. I want to get them on every woman's feet." My mission is to get them in every woman's sock drawer. I just think that's the key right there. It's more than your business, it's more than a sock. It's about making people feel good.
Host: That's great advice. I love how you talk about communicating with other entrepreneurs, other product marketers. Everyone's going to have a different situation, but you can learn from mistakes, challenges. As you mentioned, this is the reason that I do this podcast. It gives a chance for product marketers to hear from others and learn, and hopefully, make one change every time they listen to an episode in their business that's going to help them. It's meant to be inspirational and motivational.
Beyond that though, it's getting that one-on-one communication, reach out via LinkedIn or find a mentor, find somebody else in a similar situation. Even if they're a few steps ahead of you, even better. Learn from others because they've been down a very similar road. We're big believers at it in our company. I'm part of a mastermind group of just marketing agency owners. There's I think 60 of us or so that we communicate on Slack. I get so much help from them.
Even though their agencies are all different. They don't do product marketing or product launches like we do. Everyone's different, but they're in certain similar situations and circumstances. I can just learn a ton from them. I encourage our audience to certainly do the same, to reach out to others. Whether it's people that you hear on our show, find them on LinkedIn, hear their story, or whether it's finding other inspiring stories out there that you can follow and learn from, inspiring people.
The nice thing is there are so many great people in our community. Every time I have a chance to talk to a marketer, even if we're not connected in any way, they're open. We know we're in this together. We're in this small world of trying to make it successful and we want to help others for sure along the way. Again, I want to thank you guys for taking the time. I know how busy you are running a business. Taking an hour out of your day to prep for and to do this interview, Shelby and Christy, is a big ask. I really appreciate you guys taking this time.
I do want to encourage our audience, go to their website. It's keysocks.com. The link is connected in our show notes as well. They've been kind enough to share a promo code for a 25% discount. Check out the website just to see the product. If you like it and want to purchase it, use harvestgrowth, one word, for a 25% discount on their page as well.
Be sure to check out HarvestGrowthPodcast.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you like this episode, you want to learn more about how Harvest Growth can help your business, check out HarvestGrowth.com. You can book an appointment with one of our product marketing specialists right from our homepage. If you like to hear more shows like this great one, please be sure to subscribe to our show and leave us a review at iTunes or Google Play. Again, Shelby and Christy, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.
Christy: Thank you.
Shelby: Thank you so much.