Manufacturing, Retail, and Small Business & Startups

Rockford startup finds comfort in making socks

November 6, 2015
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Tom Klein’s dream is to make socks so perfect, “Your doctor could prescribe them to you.”

Klein is the co-founder of ACEL, a Rockford-based startup that produces high-performance medi-compression activity socks designed to reduce fatigue, increase foot performance and help wearers recover more quickly.

Klein, who also serves as ACEL’s vice president of marketing and merchandising, said he and fellow co-founder Erik Stanton started the company after realizing the “huge, growing market for them.”

“(The socks are intended for) professionals who spend a lot time on their feet — maybe a nurse who spends 12 hours on a shift. They are very popular in the nursing field, and it’s really growing in athletics, very popular in running and for people who travel. They help circulation in your toes to your heart,” he said.

“Medi-compression socks come from the medical profession. It wasn’t until the last decade or so that they began to grow into other markets, but they weren’t bringing the same quality used in the medical compression socks. These are medical grade compression.”

Klein and Stanton went into business together after frequently running into each other through mutual acquaintances and began sharing their mutual interest in medi-compression socks. They started working on the idea in December 2014 and launched their first product in June of this year.

When it comes to medi-compression socks, ACEL is looking to stand out in terms of quality work, Klein said.

“Ours are a little thicker, offering more stability, superior arch support. They’re designed very well for graduated compression, increasing the flow of your blood. They have a thicker sole that helps absorb impact. They’re just softer and more comfortable than other socks,” he said.

“(They also have) moisture wicking, which helps keep them dry. When you sweat, (the wicking) takes the moisture off your skin, (transfers it to the outside of the sock) and lets it dry out there.”

When the medi-compression socks were in development, Klein wanted to find a way to make them affordable, but he was concerned that lower costs would mean lower quality socks.

Affter trying out the product, though, many customers tell him the quality is the best selling point. Most medi-compression socks cost about $60, he said, but ACEL’s are just $34.95.

“It’s turning skeptics into believers. When (compression socks) first came to market at $60 for a pair of socks, I think people had a hard time swallowing that. And as people continue to hear about them … I think, over time, that word of mouth has gotten people to take that risk and buy them and try them out, and as they feel the difference, it’s making return customers of them,” he said.

ACEL currently sells its products online. It offers an all-season sock in five colors. Next week, it hopes to launch a line of thermal socks that initially will come in four colors but shortly will add a fifth color, Klein said. It’s also coming out with a camouflage print, which Klein believes is the first on the market that is made using 3-D printing.

“There’s no compression sock on the market that does 3-D printing; that is something with our manufacturer we’ve been able to achieve. The camo we’ll have is like military or hunting camo,” he said.

ACEL has an office space for meetings at 6769 Courtland Ave., Suite 300, Rockford. The company’s socks are manufactured in China.

Someday, Klein said he would like to open a retail space in Michigan. He’s hoping to grow the brand over the upcoming holiday season.

“Our goal is to go into retail — hopefully, next year — and grow into trade shows and sales teams. But right now, we want to grow this brand to be the best compression sock company and closely related products as best we can,” he said.

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