How Seattle sock startup Strideline pivoted to masks — and dealt with an unfortunate misstep

Seattle-based Strideline has been selling basic and custom-branded masks during the COVID-19 health crisis. (Strideline Image)

As part of a pivot during the pandemic, to ensure that it could avoid major layoffs and stay in business, Seattle sock company Strideline turned to making masks. Since the end of March, Strideline has sold 500,000 custom masks, including nearly 100,000 on its own website.

But a misstep near the end of July now has the company trying to save face.

According to an email sent to customers and information provided by Strideline, the trouble started on July 24. A promotional code called “SCHOOLSAMPLE” was created by Strideline’s custom sales team and sent to school administrators so they could sample the quality of masks before buying the personal protective equipment in bulk.

The code was shared on a Facebook deals page and spread from there to major couponing sites and social pages. The Strideline team mistakenly did not put a limit on the number of code uses, and early on the morning of the 24th, the company’s Shopify account showed the code had already been used nearly 350,000 times.

“We take full responsibility for not implementing industry-standard usage limits on this code,” Strideline said in its email to customers last week. “As a result of that mistake, over 1 million visitors ordered $120 million of free masks.”

Calling itself a “small, 28-person sock company in Seattle,” Strideline was forced to cancel all orders related to the snafu and has been working around the clock to respond to customer inquiries.

“The code’s intended use was to provide samples to school administrators interested in ordering custom masks for their school,” Molly Dietz, head of marketing, told GeekWire. “Unfortunately, the code was then mistakenly perceived and shared online as a code to provide free masks for all teachers. This was never our intention or marketing technique and we are especially apologetic that it was teachers who were affected by our mistake.”

It’s an unfortunate circumstance for a company whose intentions have been admirable during the coronavirus pandemic.

Strideline, founded by high school friends and University of Washington grads Riley Goodman and Jake Director, bills itself as makers of “The Most Comfortable Sock on Earth.” With custom designs and colors, the 11-year-old company makes uniquely branded and printed socks worn by such celebrities as Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Like many apparel companies looking to stay afloat or help people stay safe, it transferred its know-how to masks.

Dietz said branded masks have been provided to large and small customers across the country, including T-Mobile, which in partnership with Image Source, distributed 50,000 magenta-branded masks to its U.S. teams; Bellville Meat Market, a Texas business that said its 70 employees felt more pride and togetherness wearing branded masks vs. homemade or surgical masks; and schools like the University of Wisconsin which distributed two Strideline masks to every student.

“We know the importance of providing essential workers with PPE,” Dietz said. “Since we launched masks in March, we have donated 5% of all mask proceeds to Direct Relief. In June, Strideline began donating proceeds to the ACLU as well to support racial equality and the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Strideline said in its email to customers that it has ground to make up.

“We know that we have work to do to rebuild your trust in our brand,” the email said, before adding that recipients of the outreach would be added to a VIP customer list that will receive exclusive offers on products. With the use of yet another promo code, Strideline is offering any affected customer a free pair of socks when they purchase a pair on the Strideline website. Additionally, it said, all masks continue to be 50% off for everyone.

Asked whether the substantial mailing list of potential new customers might be perceived as a winning outcome from the code misstep, Dietz said Strideline is a company that prides itself on customer experience and customer retention. Its drive to be the “largest sock brand on the planet” comes with a guarantee that allows customers to return socks for a full refund if they’re not the most comfortable socks they’ve ever worn.

“We’re deeply sorry and embarrassed that this happened and want to clarify that we do not look at this as a ‘marketing win’ but as a detrimental mistake,” Dietz said. “We know that we owe a great deal of sensitivity to these newly acquired customers. We keep all our customer’s data secure and anyone who is not interested in hearing from Strideline will be removed from all of our marketing communications.”

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