Breakfast with the Boss: Dean Norman, President & COO of Hot Sox

President and COO of Hot Sox, Dean Norman gleaned his southern charm from growing up in North Carolina. While Dean has been incredibly successful in the retail industry, retail wasn’t always exactly where he imagined he’d end up when he was growing up. Dean Norman went to North Carolina State University as a pre-veterinary student and received a degree in animal science. However, when it came time to go off to veterinary school, he quickly learned that was not exactly the direction he was intended to head in. “Where you think you’re going to end up,” Dean said, “and where you actually end up, are often very different.” North Carolina had a massive textile industry, thriving with hundreds of textile mills across the state. In fact, Norman’s father was an executive for Burlington Industries, historically one of the largest textile companies in the world. Dean knew he needed a fresh start, and with some connections in textiles, he chose to venture out into retail. Once he made his choice, Dean decided to go to New York City – or as he likes to call it, “the center of the universe.” “If it is really your goal, you have to get to New York. Just move here,” he said. “There are places around the world that have opportunities for fashion, sure, but NYC is the place to be.” He began his career working at a German textile company selling yarn. He moved rather quickly through jobs, which was not quite as acceptable as a trend then as it is now. “I went through about five jobs in ten years,” Dean recalled. However, as time passed and Norman gained more experience, he made the decision to begin his own company centered around socks. He needed to challenge himself, and beginning a new business was just the way to do it.   

President and COO of Hot Sox, Dean Norman gleaned his southern charm from growing up in North Carolina. While Dean has been incredibly successful in the retail industry, retail wasn’t always exactly where he imagined he’d end up when he was growing up. Dean Norman went to North Carolina State University as a pre-veterinary student and received a degree in animal science. However, when it came time to go off to veterinary school, he quickly learned that was not exactly the direction he was intended to head in. “Where you think you’re going to end up,” Dean said, “and where you actually end up, are often very different.” North Carolina had a massive textile industry, thriving with hundreds of textile mills across the state. In fact, Norman’s father was an executive for Burlington Industries, historically one of the largest textile companies in the world. Dean knew he needed a fresh start, and with some connections in textiles, he chose to venture out into retail.

Once he made his choice, Dean decided to go to New York City – or as he likes to call it, “the center of the universe.” “If it is really your goal, you have to get to New York. Just move here,” he said. “There are places around the world that have opportunities for fashion, sure, but NYC is the place to be.” He began his career working at a German textile company selling yarn. He moved rather quickly through jobs, which was not quite as acceptable as a trend then as it is now. “I went through about five jobs in ten years,” Dean recalled. However, as time passed and Norman gained more experience, he made the decision to begin his own company centered around socks. He needed to challenge himself, and beginning a new business was just the way to do it. 

 

Dean eventually decided to further his technical business skills and learn more about the world of finance by receiving an MBA from Wake Forest University. “You have to be aggressive with your own career,” he said. This meant actively reaching for that higher position at your company, going out of your way to further educate yourself on the industry you are in – doing what it takes to get to where you want to be. He took these skills with him into his future business endeavors, first at Gold Toe, and then Hot Sox, where he currently holds the President and COO title. Hot Sox has become one of the most successful sock companies in the world, with licensing deals with Ralph Lauren and getting to work with other notorious brands such as Vera Bradley and New Balance. Owned by the parent company Renfro, Hot Sox sells to every major department store in the world.   “How do you spend most of your time in your position?” one scholar asked Dean.  “I have six or seven director reports,” Norman responded. “A lot of my time is spent talking to them. I try to give each department the attention they deserve on a given day. I talk about big picture topics like how to meet our sales goals and how to adjust our approach if needed to meet those goals. We discuss our numbers for the month, quarter, and year every single week. We need to make sure we are staying on track and making sure we are taking the correct steps to meet our target.”  

Dean eventually decided to further his technical business skills and learn more about the world of finance by receiving an MBA from Wake Forest University. “You have to be aggressive with your own career,” he said. This meant actively reaching for that higher position at your company, going out of your way to further educate yourself on the industry you are in – doing what it takes to get to where you want to be. He took these skills with him into his future business endeavors, first at Gold Toe, and then Hot Sox, where he currently holds the President and COO title.
Hot Sox has become one of the most successful sock companies in the world, with licensing deals with Ralph Lauren and getting to work with other notorious brands such as Vera Bradley and New Balance. Owned by the parent company Renfro, Hot Sox sells to every major department store in the world.
 

“How do you spend most of your time in your position?” one scholar asked Dean.  “I have six or seven director reports,” Norman responded. “A lot of my time is spent talking to them. I try to give each department the attention they deserve on a given day. I talk about big picture topics like how to meet our sales goals and how to adjust our approach if needed to meet those goals. We discuss our numbers for the month, quarter, and year every single week. We need to make sure we are staying on track and making sure we are taking the correct steps to meet our target.”

 

 “What is the biggest lesson you learned from working at Gold Toe that you brought to Hot Sox?” another scholar asked.  “When I worked at Gold Toe, we had a 50% market share of the socks market, which is huge” Dean said. “At the time, socks were a very basic item, not as stylized as they are now. They were simply a replenishment item that you could buy anywhere. From that job I learned how to build a strong replenishable model. When I started my career, socks were 90% replenishment and 10% fashion. Today, fashion is close to 30%. Socks are one of the hottest accessories in the market. People still need socks and they are still a replenishable item; however, ‘the sizzle sells the bacon.’” “You experienced some major career path changes on your way to your current role,” one scholar noted. “In the retail industry specifically, if you start by doing one thing, like finance for instance, can you move into something like design?” Having some personal experience with this question, Dean responded quite emphatically. “Yes! In fact, I recommend it. At Hot Sox we really encourage people to explore and keep learning. Like in my own career story, we have people in our company moving from department to department internally all the time. Good talent is good talent. If I have dedicated, talented employees who want to try something new within my company, I want to keep them, and give them a chance to explore.”  

 “What is the biggest lesson you learned from working at Gold Toe that you brought to Hot Sox?” another scholar asked.  “When I worked at Gold Toe, we had a 50% market share of the socks market, which is huge” Dean said. “At the time, socks were a very basic item, not as stylized as they are now. They were simply a replenishment item that you could buy anywhere. From that job I learned how to build a strong replenishable model. When I started my career, socks were 90% replenishment and 10% fashion. Today, fashion is close to 30%. Socks are one of the hottest accessories in the market. People still need socks and they are still a replenishable item; however, ‘the sizzle sells the bacon.’”


“You experienced some major career path changes on your way to your current role,” one scholar noted. “In the retail industry specifically, if you start by doing one thing, like finance for instance, can you move into something like design?” Having some personal experience with this question, Dean responded quite emphatically. “Yes! In fact, I recommend it. At Hot Sox we really encourage people to explore and keep learning. Like in my own career story, we have people in our company moving from department to department internally all the time. Good talent is good talent. If I have dedicated, talented employees who want to try something new within my company, I want to keep them, and give them a chance to explore.”

 

“Going off of that, what advice do you have to help make rising talent more attractive to companies?” another asked.  “We hire a lot of entry-level people at this company because we really want to promote them,” Dean said. “Resumes are hard to judge by, so interviews make a huge impact. You need to do your research and know what you’re talking about. It’s flattering to hear someone say that they know about your work. The way you present yourself is so important. You have to have an answer to questions like ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ Have a sense of direction and show some ambition. Work on your interpersonal skills and put them to use. When you work for a company, you are ALWAYS representing that company. Additionally, it is so important to dress the part. This is a visual industry – dress like it. I mean, you can wear anything you want. However, think of it this way: if we have a meeting with our largest account, which for us is Ralph Lauren, would you feel comfortable the way you are dressed? Show a little savvy in how you present yourself. I would always rather be overdressed than under dressed.”  

“Going off of that, what advice do you have to help make rising talent more attractive to companies?” another asked.  “We hire a lot of entry-level people at this company because we really want to promote them,” Dean said. “Resumes are hard to judge by, so interviews make a huge impact. You need to do your research and know what you’re talking about. It’s flattering to hear someone say that they know about your work. The way you present yourself is so important. You have to have an answer to questions like ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ Have a sense of direction and show some ambition. Work on your interpersonal skills and put them to use. When you work for a company, you are ALWAYS representing that company. Additionally, it is so important to dress the part. This is a visual industry – dress like it. I mean, you can wear anything you want. However, think of it this way: if we have a meeting with our largest account, which for us is Ralph Lauren, would you feel comfortable the way you are dressed? Show a little savvy in how you present yourself. I would always rather be overdressed than under dressed.”

 

Dean went on to offer some wisdom on how young talent like our scholars should approach their newfound career path. “Don’t take a job because it’s the highest paying or the highest profile,” he urged, “Take a job because you’re going to learn the most. You have to aggressively manage your career. You need to be asking ‘What more can I do?’ Keep asking, “How you need to get to the next level?” The cream rises to the top. It really does.” Norman went on to encourage the scholars to be able to define their career path. If you don’t know what your career path is at a company, or if there is no upward mobility, he suggested they find a new place of work. “There is nobody waking up in the morning thinking about you and your career besides you,” Dean stated honestly. “Your degree only opens the first door for you. After that, it’s really up to you to manage your career and get where you want to be.” Dean chose to carve out a space in the sock industry over working in something like finance because he felt that he could make a real impact in that sector. He was hungry to learn and grow, and for him, retail allowed him to do so. In his own company, Hot Sox, Dean strives to give his employees the same opportunity for growth that he searched for a young man. “I know what each employee in my company does and I tell them that if they left right now,” Dean said, “It would have a huge affect. You all make an impact.” Dean Norman has learned and grown immensely during his time in retail, and is really grateful for the experiences he’s gained. While he loves New York City, he still has a soft spot for his southern roots. After building his company up to the level it is today, Dean made the choice to come full circle and split his time between New York City – the center of the universe – and his home, North Carolina.   

Dean went on to offer some wisdom on how young talent like our scholars should approach their newfound career path. “Don’t take a job because it’s the highest paying or the highest profile,” he urged, “Take a job because you’re going to learn the most. You have to aggressively manage your career. You need to be asking ‘What more can I do?’ Keep asking, “How you need to get to the next level?” The cream rises to the top. It really does.” Norman went on to encourage the scholars to be able to define their career path. If you don’t know what your career path is at a company, or if there is no upward mobility, he suggested they find a new place of work. “There is nobody waking up in the morning thinking about you and your career besides you,” Dean stated honestly. “Your degree only opens the first door for you. After that, it’s really up to you to manage your career and get where you want to be.”

Dean chose to carve out a space in the sock industry over working in something like finance because he felt that he could make a real impact in that sector. He was hungry to learn and grow, and for him, retail allowed him to do so. In his own company, Hot Sox, Dean strives to give his employees the same opportunity for growth that he searched for a young man. “I know what each employee in my company does and I tell them that if they left right now,” Dean said, “It would have a huge affect. You all make an impact.” Dean Norman has learned and grown immensely during his time in retail, and is really grateful for the experiences he’s gained. While he loves New York City, he still has a soft spot for his southern roots. After building his company up to the level it is today, Dean made the choice to come full circle and split his time between New York City – the center of the universe – and his home, North Carolina. 

 

Dean’s Words of Wisdom: “Where you think you’re going to end up, and where you actually end up, are often very different.” “Don’t take a job because it’s the highest paying or the highest profile. Take a job because you’re going to learn the most.” “Getting a job should be all about gaining experience.” “If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.” “Expectation and perception are everything.” “The sizzle sells the bacon.”

Dean’s Words of Wisdom:

“Where you think you’re going to end up, and where you actually end up, are often very different.”

“Don’t take a job because it’s the highest paying or the highest profile. Take a job because you’re going to learn the most.”

“Getting a job should be all about gaining experience.”

“If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.”

“Expectation and perception are everything.”

“The sizzle sells the bacon.”