Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Joy of DeFeet

Since I was away the past four days, one would assume that I have a lot to talk about. One would be correct in that assumption. I guess I’ll start with the most recent thing, which is my return to a place that I visited a few months ago.

Lunchbox had a boring field trip scheduled to a baseball game yesterday, so we let him play a little hooky from school. Little Miss Sunshine and I took the day off and we all headed over to the headquarters of DeFeet International to pay them a little visit. Since my last visit, I was invited by the Big Boss Man over there, Shane Cooper, to come back for a tour. Since he had just gotten back from the Sea Otter Classic and the Bicycle Leadership Conference, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get to meet him. After a little communication via e-mail, I was all set. I informed him that I would be arriving from Charlotte between 10 and 11 a.m.

We got there a just about 10:00 on the dot, and we told the lady at the window (sorry, I didn’t get her name) that we were there to see Shane, the Chief Sockologist. I told her that he was expecting us. After making a few calls, she told me that he wasn’t there yet. He had told me earlier to call him if he wasn’t there, but I didn’t want to interrupt his morning bicycle commute. We told the nice lady that we would just browse around the outlet store until he got there.

After waiting a few minutes, I felt the call of nature (no worries, I won’t get too graphic.) When I walked into the bathroom, I got a good chuckle. I later learned that the fine employees of DeFeet take their fun seriously, starting with their trips to the bathroom.

After washing up and giggling for a few minutes, I opened the door and nearly bumped into Shane. He extended his hand for a handshake (luckily I had just washed mine), and we walked over so he could meet the rest of my entourage. He seemed very happy to have the B-43 team/family at DeFeet.

To be honest with you, I just expected a quick tour of the facility, since I knew he was a busy man and probably had plenty of work to do. However, he brought us all into his office for a little chat. I was amazed at how cool his office was. I thought it would be typical of some head honcho’s corporate digs, but it was more like Lunchbox’s bedroom. There were posters all over the place and DeFeet products everywhere you looked. Like I said before, it looked as if the fine folks at DeFeet were all about having fun. I didn’t take any photos of the office since I didn’t want any of DeFeet’s competitors to find out his secrets.

We talked for a good while about the history of DeFeet and Shane’s story. He even asked about us and how we came to be cyclists. There was a genuine interest there, and it made us all a very comfortable talking to him. Too bad I’m not all that interesting though. He even made a point to explain everything to Lunchbox, and he was very receptive to it all. You always hear people say that you can do anything in life as long as you put your mind to it, but Shane was living proof that your dreams can come true. I think that Lunchbox learned a valuable life lesson (and it was much better than going to some silly baseball game by the way.)

After talking for a while, we headed out to where the magic happens. We actually took the tour in reverse, which was a little weird for me since I have OCD. We started at the shipping/receiving area, and I was amazed at how many socks there actually were there. Honestly, I had no idea that they made everything there on site. I was in sock heaven.

Next stop was the packaging area. Here we found a bunch of employees doing all the packaging and testing. Just like my trip to Cane Creek, I thought that I would find a bunch of robots and an assembly line. I didn’t though. What I saw was each employee looking happy to be working there, and they personally inspected each product before it went out. When you buy from DeFeet, you can rest assured that you are getting the best quality products from real human beings made right here in the U. S. of A. Check it out:

I turned around and saw even more socks. These were the ones that aren’t perfect, but they are still quality socks. They are usually made available for sale either in bike shops or DeFeet’s own outlet store. I do own a few pairs of these “factory seconds” and I can attest to their quality and durability. You can save a little dough this way too, so that’s a plus.

Next up was a room full of knitting machines. Although we got an up close and personal view of socks being made, I didn’t take any detailed photos. DeFeet makes the best socks in the world, so we wouldn’t want their so-called competitors getting their grubby little hands on this information. You’ll have to settle for the “big picture.”

Lunchbox and I were truly amazed at how efficiently these machines cranked out socks. Little Miss Sunshine was even more amazed than we were though. Since she does sewing and embroidery as a hobby/part-time business, she was truly impressed with the equipment used in the sock-making process. We all looked down at our feet and realized that the socks we were wearing were made on those very same machines. You can't do that these days, unless you go to China or something.

We headed over to some of the offices, where we were introduced to a few of the employees. First we got to meet Caroline (a.k.a head of security from my last visit) and she seemed glad to meet us. I was hoping that I didn’t make her sound to bad when I talked about our first trip out there. We made our way through the offices, stopping to see the folks who do the custom ordering and design. That was a neat process, but again no photos of that particular operation (let’s keep it a secret.) We then headed over to a big room full of boxes, and Shane told us that this was where they kept all the yarn.

He told us that they buy everything locally, and I was amazed yet again at how much the term “Made in the USA” really meant. The good people at DeFeet International take pride in their work, and it shows in what they do and how they do it. They provide local jobs which stimulate the economy, giving people in the community a sense of pride. They even recycle the cones that hold the yarn. Nice.

Speaking of recycling, did you know that DeFeet was the first company to make socks using CoolMax Ecomade? Of course you didn’t, because you probably don’t even know what CoolMax Ecomade is in the first place (I know I didn’t.) Well, it is a fiber that is made from recycled plastic bottles. With all of the plastic bottles that we go through here in the United States, it’s nice to see that someone is putting them to good use. That says a lot about their company, and that makes me proud to be a supporter of them.

While our tour didn’t last all day, I felt like I could have spent the rest of the day there. Hell, I could live there. The people at DeFeet International are a great bunch, and I am proud to be a supporter of them. I was really impressed with their hospitality, and I want to give a special thank you to Shane, Hope, and the rest of the DeFeet crew for putting up with a mildly-famous bicycling blogger and his family for a few hours. If you aren’t wearing socks made by DeFeet, then you just plain suck. You can buy the best quality socks for your feet that come from a place right here in the U.S.A., and be proud that you support a local company. Buying American has never been so easy.
If you missed my first link, then go back and read it. Shane is a really down to earth guy that has a passion for cycling and cycling apparel. He is all about the customer, and does everything to promote DeFeet’s products. Going above and beyond is an understatement. He truly believes in the products they make, and uses them on a daily basis. I mean, how many corporate big-wigs ride their bikes to work?

I hope we can get out that way again real soon, although I now have a lifetime supply of long-lasting socks. I really think my sock drawer is now more valuable than my bike collection.

Go check out the DeFeet outlet store, located at:

371 I-40 Access Road
Hildebran, NC
Monday through Friday from 9-4

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