A Huntington father-son duo show the business world how accepting people’s differences as strengths can form a road map to success.
Mark Cronin and his son, John, have found the secret ingredient to happiness is socks. The pair started John’s Crazy Socks by offering 31 wacky styles of socks in December 2016 and have since grown to become an international seller offering more than 2,300 different styles.
The company started with an idea from John Cronin, a 22-year-old entrepreneur diagnosed with Down syndrome, who was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life after graduating from Huntington High School. Together, with his father, they built a business based on social enterprise.
“We have a simple mission of spreading happiness,” the father said. “Spreading happiness comes from doing things for other people.”
The Melville-based company currently has 35 full-time employees, 18 of whom are neurotypically different, according to the owners. To keep up with holiday demand, John’s Crazy Socks hired an additional 27 seasonal workers largely from the Town of Huntington, 23 of whom have different abilities.
“If we can have 35 permanent employees, why not 350?” Mark Cronin said. “There’s 80 percent of the disabled population that is unemployed. Yet they’re ready, willing and able to work.”
Dozens of employees dressed in Santa hats helped customers pick out socks, pulled orders from the warehouse and rang up sales at the company’s 2nd anniversary and holiday pop-up shop Dec. 8.
“With all the people with disabilities, it’s not disabilities anymore — it’s abilities,” David McGowan, a retired speech pathologist from North Babylon, said. “It’s beautiful to see them working in a place like this.”
The co-owners have built an atmosphere of inclusion where each workday starts with a 15-minute briefing at 9:30 a.m. for all employees. Each Wednesday, there’s a bagel breakfast and on Fridays a staff luncheon.
“It’s not enough to just sell stuff. You have to have a mission, a purpose and give back.”
— Mark Cronin
“Our employees make our business go each and every day,” Cronin said.“ We’re out there competing with Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target; yet we beat them in completing orders and shipping. They do a great job. There is no charity here.”
Well, that’s not completely true. Since launching the business, the father-son duo has held true to their pledge to donate 5 percent of the company’s earnings to the Special Olympics as the younger Cronin has competed in the program as an athlete since age 5. The co-owners celebrated the company’s second year in business by presenting a check for $49,751.25 to a Special Olympics representative.
“It’s unheard of and it’s something all corporations should start doing,” Kim Brown, of Huntington, said. “And he’s done it since the very beginning.”
Her husband, Dave, agreed with her.
“That should be the American mission,” he said.
In addition, John’s Crazy Socks has created a line of sock designs whose sales help benefit different charities including the National Down Syndrome Society and the Autism Society of America.
“It’s not enough to just sell stuff,” Mark Cronin said. “You have to have a mission, a purpose and give back.”
Through November 2018, the co-owners said the business has donated more than $200,000 to their charity partners in a little less than two years.
It’s not enough to donate money, according to the father, as they also frequently open up their warehouse to Long Island school districts and social service agencies. The pair goes out on speaking engagements to share their vision, business model and hopefully inspire others under the U.S. State Department’s speaker’s bureau.
“John and his father have made this successful because of how much they care about other people,” Patricia Klee said.
Klee, who was John’s former speech therapist at Huntington High School, said she will be bringing her current students to his company for a work-study experience this spring. The company opens its doors and provides an “invaluable” hands-on learning experience for the students.
In the coming year, the father and son have announced the company is rapidly outgrowing its Melville warehouse and is looking to expand to a new location, hopefully in Huntington or Huntington Station. They are looking for a site that will allow them to have offices, a storeroom, a studio for John’s social media videos, a storefront to sell their socks and hopefully a cafe. On their wish list is also space for an auditorium or presentation space that can be used by the community.
“They’ve always put other people first,” said Erica Murphy-Jensen, one of John’s former teachers at Huntington High School. “They’ve always taken care of others.”