Feet First

Take a heritage brand with nearly a century of success and add a visionary leader with big plans for his beloved company, and it’s easy to see why Trimfit’s next act may be its most impressive yet. Here, CEO Mark Mexicott reveals how the industry mainstay’s next moves will carry it far beyond legwear. by […]

Take a heritage brand with nearly a century of success and add a visionary leader with big plans for his beloved company, and it’s easy to see why Trimfit’s next act may be its most impressive yet. Here, CEO Mark Mexicott reveals how the industry mainstay’s next moves will carry it far beyond legwear.

by Audrey Goodson Kingo

Socks and hosiery may not be the most thrilling segment of the fashion market, but don’t tell that to Trimfit CEO Mark Mexicott. After a 30-year career in the children’s legwear industry, the self-described “sock guy” still waxes nostalgic when discussing the category—and especially when talking about Trimfit’s 93-year-old heritage within that category.

Then again, it’s a pretty compelling heritage. How many brands can say they once partnered with Shirley Temple? Or that they’ve sold enough socks to make it to the moon and back? And yes, that’s a figure Mexicott determined after doing the math. “I actually worked that out one day,” he confesses, with a laugh. “I went back about 25 years, and if you were to put all the socks end-to-end that we sold over the last 25 years, you could go to the moon and back a few dozen times. We’re literally talking hundreds of thousands of pairs—actually tens of millions of pairs. It’s a figure that’s mindboggling if you put pen to paper.”

What’s even more mindboggling is that the number doesn’t include the millions of socks Trimfit sold before its peak in the mid-’80s, going all the way back to the brand’s beginnings in 1921. It all started when the Kramer
brothers, Arnold, Harry and Robert, realized they could wholesale hosiery to merchants in Manhattan. Ten short years later, the company had a 13-member sales force and annual revenue of more than $500,000 (roughly $7.7 million in today’s dollars).

Trimfit’s biggest break came later in the 1930s, when the aforementioned Shirley Temple allowed the company to create a line of legwear bearing the beloved, be-dimpled star’s name. “That really catapulted Trimfit into sustainable volume, and helped us grow as a company,” Mexicott notes. The growth continued during the boom years of the ’40s and ’50s, when the brand manufactured its socks and stockings in the U.S., at a state-of-the art facility in North Carolina. By the time the ’80s rolled around, however, Trimfit had followed the wave of manufacturers forced to move overseas to keep costs low. But the brand made sure to maintain the same manufacturing techniques and commitment to quality its customers loved.

Like many a children’s manufacturer, the opulent ’80s were good to Trimfit. “We were without a doubt the most recognizable children’s hosiery name in America,” Mexicott attests—and the brand even has an Earnshaw’s Earnie Award to prove it, for the Most Outstanding and Recognizable Name in Children’s Hosiery. “Back in the mid-’80s, we were in almost every department store in America. At one time I believe we had a sales team of 60-odd people in America and in Canada. We were certainly in our heyday.”

It was a good time for Mexicott, too, who began his career with Trimfit as a sales representative. “I was actually working for a jobber in the early ’80s, selling a lot of little babies’ accessories, like diaper pins, bows and booties, and one of the accounts that I called on was a specialty store in Grosse Pointe, MI, by the name of Connie’s Children’s Shop,” he recalls. “I developed a friendship with the owners, Sid and Maxine Kort, and it was Sid who said to me, ‘Mark, there’s a sock company by the name of Trimfit that I think you ought to get in touch with.’ And I did.”

The rest, as they say, is history: Mexicott’s sales territory began gradually increasing, from all the accounts in Michigan to all the accounts in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. He left Trimfit for a time in the ’90s, but he missed the company that helped propel his career, so he returned seven years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Of course, the retail scene has changed quite a bit over the years, and with it, the Trimfit brand. “As the retail consolidation started happening and private labels came on the scene, it diluted our endeavors at that point in time,” Mexicott acknowledges.

But things are definitely on the upswing again, he’s happy to report—a development credited in large part to the company’s purchase by The Lieberman Group in June of last year. “It has been one of the greatest things in the history of Trimfit,” he asserts—and with the company’s rich 90-year history in the industry, that’s certainly saying something. But Mexicott feels confident that The Lieberman Group provides just what the brand needs going forward. “They bring marketing savvy, additional sourcing capabilities and an aggressive spirit that’s going to propel us for the next 90 years,” he predicts.

So far, it looks like Mexicott’s faith in the company may be right on the money. Right away, The Lieberman Group helped implement several big changes that have already made Trimfit more profitable, from rebranding its logo to expanding into the underwear category. By September, Trimfit will be back on the shelves at Macy’s, and by Fall ’15, the Trimfit name will adorn a range of kids’ playwear, activewear and sleepwear, thanks to a licensing agreement with the Safdieh family.
It’s certainly a lot to tackle in just a few short years, but Mexicott, who was named CEO shortly after The Lieberman Group took over, may be just the man for the job. As “a farm kid from Michigan,” Mexicott is no stranger to hard work. “Both of my grandparents were farmers, and I spent a fair amount of time hoeing rows of corn,” he remembers. “If I’m not mistaken that was how I earned my money to go to the county fair. We had a row of corn that was probably 10 or 12 New York City-blocks long, and I got 10 cents for every row I hoed. But I did get to go to the county fair, so it was all good.”

In fact, “It’s all good,” could be described as a personal motto for the perpetually upbeat CEO, who has been dubbed “Trimfit’s cheerleader” by his employees. His favorite coffee cup, he admits, sports a peace sign and the phrase “life is good.” Of course there’s plenty to smile about for Mexicott: Even if the Trimfit brand isn’t as ubiquitous as during its heyday, it still commands a sizeable portion of the children’s hosiery market, with a presence in more than 1,000 specialty and department stores in North and South America, as well as a booming private label business and growing international sales in the U.K., Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

Even the challenges that lie ahead—particularly when it comes to branching into so many new brand classifications—he views as opportunities. “We’re not going to be just a sock company or a hosiery company or an underwear company. We’re going to be so much more in the future,” he asserts. “That’s our challenge. Our challenges are the opportunities that present themselves.”

Do you think your sales experience helped in your new role as CEO?
I think everything in my personal history has helped. Also, I view Trimfit as a company that runs by committee, so to speak. I rely on everyone—from my sales department to my marketing team. Hopefully they give me the information that’s necessary to ultimately make a decision as to the direction we need to go. We really have a strong, dedicated workforce that assists me 24 hours a day. I’m not afraid to ask their opinions, and most of the time if their decisions make sense, that’s the direction we’ll go. It’s not a directive coming down for me. I’m not that person. Everyone has a skillset in our office, and that’s what we have to rely on to move ahead and go forward. And The Lieberman Group brought another skillset and view, because they look at Trimfit from an outsiders’ perspective. I use all those considerations in the decision making process.

Tell me more about the changes The Lieberman Group made after purchasing the company.
They wanted to rebrand Trimfit, to make it more relevant and to freshen it up, and we’re right in the process of doing that now, with marketing, product and new sourcing abilities. We’ve also done some tweaks to the logistical end of our business, and we’ve become much more efficient. We’ve become much more profitable with some of the things we’ve done in the past 12 months. The marketing savvy that the Liebermans bring to the table is nothing short of greatness. We’re also going to start advertising again. At one time, we spent a tremendous amount of energy in the advertising marketplace. We were in the front of numerous magazines during the ’80s—from Teen to Vogue—and we’re going to reinvent the brand once again. I can’t wait.

UPCLOSE with Mark Mexicott

What are you reading?
I travel extensively so if I don’t have two or three books on the plane it’s a bad day. Right now I’m reading something by Steve Berry and another novel by Dan Brown. Don’t ask me their titles—I buy books based on how thick they are. [Laughs.]

What’s your favorite way to spend a free afternoon?
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that my absolute favorite way to spend the afternoon, morning and evening would have to be with my wife, Yvonne. Whatever I’ve done today, I couldn’t have done without her at my side.

What superpower would you love to have?
You have to remember I’m a sock guy, and socks come in pairs, so you have to give me two superpowers. I want invisibility, and I want the Zach Morris time out [from Saved by the Bell].

What three things could you never live without?
There’s nothing you really can’t live without, but thanks to the ease of communication provided by technology today, I would have to say my computer or an iPad. Besides that there’s not so much I couldn’t live without—unless you want to toss my coffee cup in there.

How are you freshening up the product?
The change isn’t really apparent in the product itself. We certainly aren’t changing the integrity or the quality of the brand, but what The Lieberman Group brought to the table is additional sourcing capabilities and additional product classifications. Within the first six months of The Lieberman Group ownership, we expanded into the underwear business for children. That was a new classification we added almost immediately. We do have something coming up in the immediate future that will be huge news.

Can you share the big news?
In fall of 2015, Trimfit will expand into children’s clothing, thanks to a licensing agreement with the Safdieh family. We will offer cutting-edge fashion at competitive pricing, and we’re going to target the upstairs market and better specialty stores. We will offer sleepwear, playwear and activewear. It’s a vision I’ve had for almost 30 years. I’ve always believed that Trimfit has an opportunity, if not an obligation, to be much more than we are today. And my vision is finally turning into reality, thanks to The Lieberman Group and the Safdieh family. As we continue down that path, I’m certain we’ll talk about brand extensions to play into the mid-tier market and wherever else that we have to do tweaks to extend the brand into a greater marketplace.

Congrats! Can you describe the new clothing line?
We’re not close to that point yet, but there will be a synergy between the Trimfit brand as you know it today and the Trimfit brand going forward. We have a 90-year-heritage that’s tried and tested and a very loyal customer base who understands that Trimfit is about quality, value, design and consistency. All of those attributes are definitely going to be integral to any classification we go forward with, whether we do it internally or whether we do it through a licensed agreement. None of that is going to change.

Do you plan on making any changes to your retail strategy?
This is not so much a change, but we do plan to encourage our retailers, from the national chains to the mom-and-pops, to expand their product classifications with us. If we’re selling the girls’ line to a certain account but we’re not selling the boys’, we certainly want to sell them the boys’ collection, too. We want the Trimfit customer to start at infancy and grow up with us.

What’s the secret to staying ahead of the competition?
Business today isn’t easy. You have to have the right quality, the right design and the right price. All of those components are necessary to make an attractive product for the consumer. There are a lot of socks on the marketplace, and we have a lot of competition. But I like to say that we actually compete with our competition as opposed to against, because I think competing against the competition fosters secrecy and control and all those negative aspects of business. When you compete with your competition, you learn something every day. I’ve been in this business for 35 years, and I’m still learning things every single day. If we can learn from our competition and it makes us better, that’s great news. We love it.

That being said, how does Trimfit stand out in a crowded marketplace?
I have to fall back on the design, quality and value—and without a doubt the heritage—that Trimfit represents. For today’s customer, her mother bought Trimfit socks for her. And her grandmother bought Trimfit socks for her mother. We may even be able to go back another generation and say her great-grandmother bought Trimfit socks for her grandmother. That’s the heritage and the loyalty that we hope separates us from other brands. But of course, you still have to have the right design and the right colors. You still have to have quality that’s not questionable. And in today’s marketplace, you have to offer value. It doesn’t do any good to have everything under the sun and be priced out of reality. Value is a huge component. And we certainly believe that we bring all of those attributes to the table.

Would you say value is the most important consideration for parents today?
I don’t know if it’s the most important consideration. There are different consumers inasmuch as there are different retailers in the retail industry today. Value may be the highest consideration for some. To others it may be design. And to others it may be quality. I don’t want to say value is number one, but I will say it’s a healthy component.

How do you stay ahead of the curve in terms of design?
We spend a lot of time on trend analysis and color development, and we try to be right for all of our segments, boys, girls and infants. And by all means, in every spring and fall season, there will be certain styles within those categories that everybody has to have because they’re so right on.

Are you making any changes to Trimfit’s digital strategy?
Absolutely. We are in the process of creating a new website, which will likely include an online store. It won’t offer everything we make, of course, but there will be a small e-commerce component. We are also linking up with all the social media avenues, and our marketing team is looking into partnering with some bloggers in America and around the world.

How was business this year?
We’re doing fine this year. Like every company, we have to watch our pennies, and the economy has made things a little difficult, but we’re definitely holding our own. I hope that the economy continues to progress upwards next year and the year after. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to do what we do best and continue to promote the Trimfit brand. We’ll continue to bring additional classifications into the brand environment. We’re going to continue to grow, we’re going to continue to prosper and we’ll cross every bridge as it comes.

Looking ahead, where do you see the company in five years?
As a children’s lifestyle brand. And then at 10 years, as a lifestyle brand, period. I have incredible hopes and a big vision, and that’s the path I’m going down until someone knocks me off it.

How about the children’s industry in general?
I think there are great opportunities in the children’s business—it’s one of the friendliest parts of the apparel world. I think it’s going to do nothing but get better as the years progress. Just look at the technology, data and information that we now have, as well as the online venues that are opening up the retail marketplace. All of those components of the 21st century are making us smarter, and they’re making our decisions much more intelligent. They are assisting not only people on our side of the business, but people on the retail side of the business, as well. I think everything is going to be just fine.

That’s a refreshingly optimistic outlook.
Some folks here have said that I’m Trimfit’s cheerleader, but in reality I’m a farm kid from Michigan. What you see is what you get. I don’t pull too many punches. But I have definitely been a Trimfit supporter since the early 80s, and I have a vision that I know within the next few years is going to turn into reality, and I’m just enjoying the ride.


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