Business

Socks were boring, but Rob Fraser is proving they can be a viable business

Victoria’s endūr grew from an initial $1,000 investment to a company that earns over $5,000,000 in sales in five years

By Josh Kozelj
July 25, 2021
Business

Socks were boring, but Rob Fraser is proving they can be a viable business

Victoria’s endūr grew from an initial $1,000 investment to a company that earns over $5,000,000 in sales in five years

By Josh Kozelj
Jul 25, 2021
Jay Wallace
Business

Socks were boring, but Rob Fraser is proving they can be a viable business

Victoria’s endūr grew from an initial $1,000 investment to a company that earns over $5,000,000 in sales in five years

By Josh Kozelj
July 25, 2021
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Socks were boring, but Rob Fraser is proving they can be a viable business
Jay Wallace

Capital Daily business coverage is supported by Tiny but the stories and journalism are produced independently by Capital Daily. Per our policy, Tiny had no editorial input into this story.

The socks had a simple pattern, black and blue stripes, but held a special meaning for Rob Fraser. They were the lucky pair he dedicated for race day. 

No matter if they got muddy or dirty on the mountain bike trails, Fraser found comfort by wearing them as part of a routine. 

Growing up in the plains of Pickering, Ontario, he admits it wasn’t the most likely spot to pursue a career in downhill biking. Yet, his parents wouldn’t let him try dirt biking, so he settled for the rush of gliding on a pedal bike instead. 

He quickly became obsessed with the sport and found a local downhill racing circuit. Throughout his teenage years and early twenties, Fraser would become one of the best mountain bikers in the country, ranking second in Canada by the time he turned 24. 

He was named to the Canadian downhill cycling team five years in a row from 2008 to 2013, and his decade-long career took him to places such as New Zealand, Europe, and South Africa

Each time he made a national team, every athlete was fitted in the same jersey kit. Fraser, however, had a sock sponsorship and used the often overlooked everyday clothing item to show his own individuality as an athlete. With his sponsorship, he had the choice between various different sock designs but gravitated towards the black and blue striped pair.

“The thing with cycling is you’re given a team kit. Even though it’s an individual sport, you race on a team and look like everyone else. So socks are the way you can kind of differentiate,” Fraser said.

In 2014, feeling like he had maxed out his potential in mountain biking, he retired from the sport, but was unsure about what his next step would be. 

After 10 years of relentlessly chasing his cycling dream, Fraser spent the next two years picking up random sports and struggling to fill the newly created hole in his life. 

It’s a question that rattles around in the brain of many recently retired pro athletes. If Fraser wasn’t eating right or working out every day to become the best professional mountain biker in the world, then who was he? 

“It was like waking up every morning with that one focus, and then overnight it seemed like it went away. So [there] was a bit of an emptiness I was feeling, and a bit lost,” Fraser said. 

In 2015, Fraser enrolled in Camosun College with the goal of learning how to make a career in sports management. 

It was there that his flare for creative socks ritual garnered the attention of other students, and planted the seed for a business idea in his mind. 

“When I was retired and went to school, I was the kid that always wore funky socks. I just kept wearing them,” Fraser said. “I was literally, ‘the sock guy.’” 

Growing endūr

In September 2016, Fraser founded the athletic apparel company endūr. Although he recently went back to college and had no experience in starting a business, Fraser saw the opportunity as a way to stay in sports and create a brand that helped athletes express their own creativity. 

He also saw a lucrative chance to carve a niche in an industry that wasn’t keeping up with a changing athletic apparel industry in the 2010s. 

“The apparel industry went through an ‘athleisure movement,’ where activewear became what we wear basically every day,” Fraser said. “But what I realized was that socks had been left behind.” 

People still used different socks for specific activities—dress socks for business or Nike socks for sports—and not everyday wear. When he first came up with the idea for the company, the goal was to create a product that could do both and be fashionable. 

“I wanted a pair of socks that I could wear to a wedding, but then also go for a five kilometre run.” 

In five years, endūr has grown from a company that began with an initial $1,000 investment into one that has earned over $5,000,000 in total sales. Last month, Fraser estimates they sold between 25,000 and 30,000 pairs of socks. 

But it wasn’t smooth sailing right off the bat. The biggest learning curve Fraser had to navigate was the operational side of his business. He co-founded endūr with a friend, but decided to buy him out two years into their partnership. 

“That was tough,” Fraser says. “[It’s] just a cautionary tale around finding business partners that aren’t just there because they’re friends, they’re there because they add value.” 

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In the end, he credits their sock designs, quality, and online marketing as the main reasons for their rapid growth. Specifically, the vibrant design and nature of the sock has allowed for the company to become a natural conversation starter for consumers that sport them around town. 

They also wanted to find people who could speak to their brand’s main value around perseverance, and hired brand ambassadors who could show off the socks and talk about the product. Fraser says that’s been a boon for gaining attention online, but at the end of the day, the sock’s quality is what attracts customers. 

To keep up with the creativity around sock creation, endūr has a team that knows which colours or styles—animals, food, nature, or floral patterns—sell more than others and come up with new design ideas to expand on those genres. 

“People love bears, for example, they love watermelon, so we’re trying to design around what the person wants to express and is special to them,” Fraser said.

What’s next

The benefit of focusing on socks, Fraser says, is that they aren’t in direct competition with apparel giants like Lululemon or Nike as it’s such a small portion of those companies’ overall business. He views endūr being complementary to those businesses and finds that online consumers are willing to shop at both stores for their athletic wear. 

While endūr has experimented with branching out into different aspects of athletic wear such as sport bras and underwear in the past, they aren’t looking to branch away from socks in the near future. 

“We’ve felt that we’ve altered [our brand] when we’ve tried to compete,” Fraser said. 

“So we just scaled back on [other apparel] in the business and doubled down on socks. Just offering new and unique ways to buy our socks, whether it be a subscription model, one-time purchase, bulk purchase, or custom. We ask ourselves how many different ways we can sell socks.” 

Ultimately, he wants endūr to become the staple sock company across Canada. 

“Kind of throughout Canada, endūr is recognized as the leading performance sock brand, but I want to just take that and make endūr as prolific as Lulu[lemon] is in North America. So, if you’re wearing a pair of athletic socks with fun designs, you just know it’s endūr.” 

Despite being in the process of creating a sock empire, Fraser hasn’t lost the original routine that he fostered as a pro cyclist. 

He might not pull the lucky black and blue socks over his feet before a big bike race, but as a businessperson, he’s got a new pair he’ll bust out just for special occasions.  

“Today, I have a pair of rocket socks that I like to wear to important meetings.” 

The Brief: Rob Fraser

Capital Daily: What does Victoria need to make it easier to run a business here?

Rob Fraser: I think access. Maybe it exists and I was just too hard-headed to seek it out, but it could look like more free access for setting up business fundamentals. Like is your legal structure correct? Do you have your accounting checked off? Just basically making sure that your business ends up working, and you don’t work your way into a legal problem. 

For me, I didn’t know how to set up a shareholder agreement, for example, or why that was even important. So I think there’s a lot of great resources out there for building your business, marketing it, and creating product. But often it’s forgotten that there’s also accounting and legal sides of business you don’t know. 

What worries you most about your business?

Fraser: I don’t know. I’m a pretty eternal optimist so I don’t worry [that much]. I guess the worry would be that it stops being fun, because I love what I do. What would be worrying is if we start acting inauthentic. If we were forced for some reason to stop doing what makes us excited just for the sake of making an extra buck. That wouldn’t be worth it to me. 

What excites you the most about your business?

Fraser: I just feel like every day I get to work on a dream. I call it ‘the sport of business’ so I feel like I never even retired from downhill racing, I just get to do it every day and it’s so fun. 

What other local company or business leader do you look to for guidance?

Fraser: I can name two. Andrew Wilkinson (co-founder of Tiny and Capital Daily investor), and another guy who’s been a big help recently is Rasool Rayani (Chair of Community Foundations of Canada). 

If you had to run another business in town, what would it be and why?

Fraser: A dream would be running an incubator for transitioning athletes into business. 

If you had $10,000 to invest, where would you invest it?

Fraser: I would probably put it into an athlete starting a business if the idea was good. 

How do you stay inspired to keep running your business?

Fraser: I’m inspired just by the challenge. There’s something new to learn everyday, and it’s so exciting to be exposed to those new things and meet people that have just been there and done that. 

What, if anything, did you learn from the pandemic about your business?

Fraser: That literally anything can happen. You probably never would have never seen that coming, and a death blow could literally be invisible almost. 

What do you consider your biggest business failure, and how did you overcome it?

Fraser: The biggest lesson was just choosing the right partners to do business with, and I made it right by betting on myself. 

What do you wish you knew before starting endūr?

Fraser: Nothing. I think that everything I’ve learned along the way has been instrumental. Truthfully, if I knew then what I know now, it would have been too scary to try. 

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