When the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns, many businesses, spanning diverse industries, were forced to quickly change their processes and adapt to the current circumstances. Laura Schmidt, MSM ’90, is among countless local business owners who have had to adjust their business practices.
Schmidt, CEO and founder of Notes to Self Socks, credits Baker University with giving her the confidence to be successful.
After experiencing the corporate world for a few years, Schmidt earned her master’s degree in management. After two decades in direct sales, she then decided to start her own business.
While on a trip with her family in 2011, Laura came up with the idea to put positive affirmations on socks. That summer, the first prototype had the words “I am confident” on them. That particular saying remains one of the most popular.
“Confidence is at the root of so many things, and one of my objectives with this business is to help people with their confidence.”Laura Schmidt , MSM ’90, founder of Notes to Self Socks
For a retailer like Notes to Self Socks, the shutdown significantly affected business. On a typical day before the disruptions, the warehouse, known as Socks Central, employed about five people. For a while, early in the pandemic, it was just Laura and her daughter.
“It was just such an uncharted course when the shutdown happened. I remember the day they said that at midnight we couldn’t go back to [the warehouse]. And my employees said they were going to stay until midnight and help prep. They volunteered to stay, and we stayed until about 9:00 that night and we got gift sets ready and prepped,” Schmidt said.
In addition to an online store, Schmidt partners with multiple boutiques and hospitals around the country. With many of these businesses closed, orders from these stores slowed to a complete halt. So cash flow became an issue. Even with the confidence that she would be able to piece things together and somehow make it work, Laura applied for and received a Small Business Administration loan, which helped cover the costs until the busy holiday selling season arrived. Notes to Self also received a Paycheck Protection Program loan that Schmidt used to pay her employees while they were out of work.
Despite all the changes and adaptations, the company has seen the demand for its product increase tremendously, especially online. One of the drivers of this success is the introduction of corporate gifting.
“One of the things that happened during the shutdown was that companies contacted us and said they have employees they wanted to send a gift to while they’re working at home to let them know that they appreciate them. We’ve received a lot of feedback about how excited the employees were to receive that gift. It came out of what the customers wanted during this time.”Laura Schmidt, MSM ’90
Notes to Self Socks has continued its tradition of giving back to the community with a one-to-one program for face coverings by providing a face covering for someone in need when one is purchased. The company regularly donates socks to homeless shelters, women’s shelters, and children in need. It has donated more than 81,000 pairs of socks.
Schmidt believes that even though the last few months have been challenging, there are positive takeaways from the experience. The company has learned to work with a lean team and hasn’t had to hire additional workers to keep up with recent increased demand. Employees have learned to prioritize and prepare better for fulfillment. Schmidt even likes using Zoom for communication.
“I’m getting to have meaningful conversations via Zoom with people I would have probably only had phone calls with,” Schmidt said.