In 2014, Justin Arquilla had the idea for a product that lets the sweaty-footed go sockless, using thin, odor-eliminating liners that adhere to the insides of shoes. He and his brother Christian launched Chicago-based Gekks, a $1.2 million company. They learned the importance of controlling quality thanks to a failed outsourcing arrangement.
-- As told to Leigh Buchanan
Christian and I developed a product that required the application of a tacky silicone to the bottom of a sock liner. No contract manufacturers could handle it. So with $100,000 worth of presales from Kickstarter, we secured an SBA loan to finance $325,000 worth of equipment. A retired chemist who had helped with the silicone offered to set up our plant in his upstate New York town to create jobs.
We moved a dozen machines into a former Greek restaurant and started programming them. For three months, we bunked in the home of the chemist's business partner. We worked 17 hours a day, living off food from McDonald's and gas-station pizza. Christian developed gout.
We planned to monitor production remotely from Chicago, using cameras and Skype. Almost immediately, things went bad. We expected to run 600 pairs of liners a day, but the six employees ran only 350. We could hear people arguing in the background. Constant checking is essential to ensure hot silicone doesn't bleed through the bottom of the liners. After two days in which every single liner had to be discarded because of bleed-through, we decided to bring production home.
The owner of a North Carolina hosiery mill told Christian and me horror stories about employees sabotaging major equipment to protest the loss of their jobs to China. There was very little chance the New York workers would do something similar. But we decided not to risk our life savings.
We rented a 50-foot Penske truck and drove to Rochester, where we rented a forklift and a pickup to tow it to the factory 70 miles away. At 11 p.m., in the pouring rain, we made our move. It took most of the night to load 15,000 pounds of machinery into the truck. The police showed up and called the plant manager, who told them it was our equipment.
Two days later, Christian and I were up and running at a facility in Chicago's Chinatown. We hired new employees; and one of us is always there to make sure product coming off the line--700 pairs a day--is perfect.
If you don't have a quality product in this business, you are dead. Hauling off in the middle of the night may have been unnecessary. But sometimes you do something extreme to ensure your survival.