Although generic non-slip socks can be found everywhere today – even at your local Woolies supermarket – a decade ago, it was a unique product. It was in 2005 that physiotherapist-turned-entrepreneur Luke Goodwin embarked on a search for socks that would be suitable for adults to wear not only whilst exercising, but also as a falls prevention safety measure in hospitals, nursing homes and even around houses with tiled or timber floors. His search ended abruptly, after realising that non-slip socks weren’t available in the market – at least not for adults. But in true entrepreneurial spirit, he decided to create his own solution – Gripsox.
Goodwin explains that he initially created Gripsox for his pilates clients who were complaining about slipping whilst performing their pilates exercises. This was not only affecting their performance but also presented a safety hazard.
After he came up with the idea for non-slip socks, he drew up some sample designs of how the socks should look and feel. At first, Gripsox was offering small to medium sized socks made with cotton (95 percent) and elastane (5 percent), with non-cushioned rubberised soles. He got the samples produced so that they could be trialled with clients at his Melbourne-based exercise studio, Health & Wellness Physiotherapy Centre. After receiving positive feedback, Goodwin sent the designs off to be mass manufactured.
“Whilst awaiting receipt of our first delivery of GripSox we prepared our marketing and advertising campaigns so that we were ready to hit the ground running once the stock arrived,” says Goodwin.
“An initial mail out with samples to local physio and pilates businesses created some early interest. The development of our website and online advertising created further awareness both nationally and overseas and it wasn’t long before we were getting enquiries from physio/pilates businesses around the country and overseas wishing to place orders.”
Although Gripsox’s initial target market was the pilates/yoga exercise industries, it is currently selling a large bulk of its products to hospitals and aged-care facilities where falls are a major problem.
Added to that, new national accreditation safety standards state that hospitals must be doing something to prevent patient falls. As a result of numerous successful independent clinical trials, GripSox’s product range is now used by many organisations as part of their falls prevention programmes.
One clinical trial comparing GripSox’s standard socks and bare feet was conducted at John Fawkner Private Hospital (JFPH) in Melbourne, which showed a 73 percent reduction in patient falls. The trial, which used the company’s REDuce Falls Sox product as part of the hospital’s High Falls Risk Management Protocol, reduced the hospital’s falls rate from 7.15 falls per 1,000 bed days down to 1.80 falls. The success of the trial eventuated in JFPH winning the 2010 Healthscope Service Recognition Award for Quality Improvement.
“We also find that many people who are given GripSox whilst in hospital, then go online to our website to purchase some more GripSox to wear at home,” says Goodwin.
The business has experienced healthy growth since its inception almost a decade ago. Working alongside his wife who is an intensive care nurse, Goodwin has been able to diversify his offering from two items (black GripSox in size small and medium) to 13 different GripSox lines, including his latest addition GripSox Stretch Top socks for individuals with swollen feet and legs.
Gripsox’ sales have increased 20 percent this year compared to the same time last year. This follows annual growth gains of 40 to 45 percent during the 2011/12 financial year. Goodwin says he expects the company’s growth to accelerate over the next three years, as he recently signed an agreement with an undisclosed company that will distribute GripSox throughout North America. He’s also currently engaging in discussions with a prospective distributor in Asia.
“Both of these parties can see huge benefits in my GripSox product as a falls prevention safety aid for the ever growing ageing population and healthcare industry in these regions,” Goodwin says.
At the moment, the company leverages multiple selling channels. Firstly, their product range is sold online via gripsox.com, with orders coming through almost daily according to Goodwin.
“As with many businesses that have an online presence, our online shopping cart means that people all around the world have access to purchase GripSox at any time of day. It is always great to wake in the morning to an inbox filled with GripSox orders,” adds Goodwin.
But there are also over 200 retailers in 10 countries around the world that stock Gripsox’s product range on its shelves. Businesses that distribute Gripsox include physiotherapy clinics, pilates/yoga studios, health clubs, pharmacies, clothing stores, medical aids and appliances stores, podiatry clinics and hospital product distributors.
According to Goodwin, the biggest contributing factor to the success of Gripsox has been his determination. He says, “Our highest turnover has occurred in the last 2 to 3 years so it was very important to be determined and to persevere in the early days of the product when people were a bit sceptical about the benefits of the product.”
Successful clinical trials also played its part in boosting the company’s sales and credibility. “This allowed us to show this important information to prospective new customers,” says Goodwin.
While funding is a problem for many entrepreneurs with audacious goals, Goodwin was already running his day-to-day physiotherapy and clinical pilates business. This meant he had a consistent stream of income which he was then able to invest into Gripsox without burning his hip pocket.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges. Goodwin points out that his background is in health science; and so his lack of experience in product development presented difficulties in the early days.
“However, as I set up my own physiotherapy business at a very early stage, I learnt many valuable business lessons along the way that stood me in good stead to launch a new, unrelated business,” Goodwin says.
The proactive entrepreneur that he is, he wasn’t going to let his limited knowledge on certain subjects barricade him. Goodwin dedicated time to researching topics that were completely foreign to him like clothing manufacturing, importing/exporting, foreign trade, online marketing and sales, intellectual property, managing inventory and working with a long list of retailers and distributors. And it wasn’t long before he became well-versed in all these areas.
So what does the future hold for Gripsox? Goodwin always keep an open mind about adding to the company’s existing product range. In fact, they’ve been developing a brand new product called Bounsox which are non-slip safety socks targeting the trampolining leisure market in Australia and overseas. They’ve trialled several samples and are ready to launch the product into the market.
Goodwin also notes that after a decade of near-incessant hustling, he is ready to go on holidays in the near future.