Unfinished business can haunt one. Such is the case with Peter and Patty Duke, who after selling their shares of SmartWool to RAF financing in 2003, endured five years of a mandated exodus from the world of merino wool thanks to a strict non-compete. That non-compete expired on Jan. 24, 2008, and the Dukes wasted no time getting back in the merino wool business with the soft launch of www.Point6.com in early June.
"Patty and I were essentially forced to resign in 2003 by partners who saw the market opportunities out there and wanted to do things differently than we did," Peter Duke told SNEWS®. "It has been a long five years, but we are back and it is good to be back. We are going to try to complete our mission…there are so many more things to do."
The Dukes told us the name stems from the optimum temperature for the human body -- 98.6 degrees F -- and is presented in an abbreviated format. Hence, the Point6 name.
"Merino wool is well regarded for helping the body maintain an optimum temperature, whether it is hot outside or cold," Peter Duke said.
Point6 will be selling direct to consumers only for the time being, we were told, with the company opting for a more viral and direct approach to getting consumers excited about its products.
"I like a company to be as personable as possible, with an environment that encourages input and creativity from anyone in the team in a way that inspires a trusting atmosphere," Peter Duke told us. "That was being sucked away at SmartWool, which was disappointing to us. We are not very corporate by nature."
Patty Duke added, "When we were running SmartWool, we had plans to go direct to consumers in addition to selling to retailers, as a way to establish a better connection and improve our products at retail via direct consumer feedback. Now, we are just going to go direct, with vans out there interacting with consumers, getting them interested in our product, and hearing what it is they want and need. In a way, we are seeking to give our consumers a sense of ownership in the brand."
That grassroots component is a huge initiative for Point6, according to Shannon Brooks Hamby, who recently left Mountain Khakis to take on the title of "storyteller" or public relations person for the tribe (Point6's lingo for staff). "We will have three vans, one in the east, one in the west and one in the central states, working on getting our socks on people's feet, listening to their stories, connecting with them directly," said Hamby.
Point6 is launching with socks only for right now. Currently, U.S. production is well under way, Patty Duke said, and she expects to have full inventory for outdoor, lifestyle, active and cycling socks by July and for skiing by ski season. Running socks should appear in the line early in 2009.
As for other products, such as underwear and outerwear, Peter Duke allowed that socks were not all he and his wife aspire to.
"Gloves will be next, and then long underwear and lifestyle product that we have always wanted to do," said Peter Duke. "When we finally get to launching outer garments, we will have a complete line and mission."
When we asked the Dukes how long it would take to complete the mission, Patty Duke quickly responded, "We have to sell product first before we can begin to develop more ideas."
While Point6 is only selling direct to consumers currently, the couple reminded SNEWS® that the word "never" is not in their personal lexicon, so saying they will never sell via the wholesale channel is not something either will admit to 100 percent.
SNEWS® View: Just as Peter and Patty told us that they were thrilled to be back, it is so good to have their collective energy back in the playing field too. We suspect it will shake things up a bit. Few know that the Dukes were not willing participants in the deal that led to their exit from SmartWool, a company the two New England ski instructors founded in 1994 with only five sock styles. Keep in mind that by 2003, the company was selling a reported 3 million pairs of socks annually with growth at a whopping 30 percent year over year -- little wonder venture capital money was courted by their partners hungry for a payout.
As for whether they can duplicate the success of SmartWool, we would not want to be the ones who bet against the creative and energetic duo performing similar feats with feet again.
If Patty and Peter learned one thing from their first foray into the world of entrepreneurial business, it's to go it alone. This time around there are no investors or partners with the Dukes, so they'll be able to do things their way all the way. A look at the website, which as of this article was still working out a few bugs, gives a little glimpse into the creative energy in play, and the talented team, including some ex-SmartWool staff, that the two have assembled.
For a laugh, click on the dog on the opening scene and watch an interview of merino wool production from the viewpoint of a sheepdog. Too funny!
If we were a company in the merino wool business -- socks or clothing -- we'd be keeping a careful eye on Point6. We suspect it will not take long for the company to garner a passionate consumer following. And, if we're calling it right, once consumers start to ask for the product by name, and they will, deciding on selling wholesale as well as direct to consumer will be but a click away.