As his high school graduation approached, John Lee Cronin struggled to find a career path tailored to his wants and needs.
He decided his best bet was to start his own business with his father, Mark X. Cronin. The father-son duo carved him a path to literally call his own with John’s Crazy Socks.
Why socks? The choice was obvious.
“It’s fun, it’s colorful, and it’s creative,” John Cronin said. “It’ll always let me be me.”
After five years, the company outgrew its original Melville warehouse it had operated out of since 2016. This past June, John’s Crazy Socks set up shop in a 6,000-square-foot warehouse in Farmingdale, which houses several thousand different pairs of socks. There, workers — many of whom have various abilities — pack online sock orders, completed with candy and a hand-written “Thank you” note from John Cronin.
John Cronin, 26, of Huntington, has down syndrome, which inspires much of the company’s mission, from philanthropic efforts to speaking engagements, during which they show the world the capabilities of those with differing abilities.
“Through the business, we’ve been able to create a platform that people are willing to listen to us,” Mark Cronin said. “And that creates an obligation on our part to make good use of that moment.”
“We were twice invited to testify before Congress, both times on issues about hiring people with different abilities because they wanted actual businesses, and they wanted ones that were really making progress to show them what was possible,” he continued. “At the United Nations, we were invited to participate in an entrepreneurial conference there, and… asked to speak. It was all pretty phenomenal.”
Inspiration and hope for workers with differing abilities
Providing inspiration and hope for people with differing abilities through employment is the most important of five pillars on which John’s Crazy Socks is built.
As their business grew, Mark and John Cronin created 34 jobs, 22 of which people with differing abilities hold.
The other four pillars bolstering the company are providing awesome products people love, “making it personal” with a “Thank you” and candy, giving back and making John’s Crazy Socks a great place to work.
“If our mission is to spread happiness, and we want to have happy customers and spread happiness in the community, we got to start here,” he said. “Our colleagues have to be happy working here, they have to feel valued and respected and know why their job matters.”
Giving back to great causes
When the father-son duo began their journey on Dec. 9, 2016, with 42 socks orders, they pledged to donate 5 percent of their earnings to the Special Olympics. After more than five years, this has amounted to over $100,000.
The Special Olympics are particularly dear to John Cronin, as he is a Special Olympian.
“I play basketball, track and field, soccer and snowshoe,” he said. “I started when I was 5 years old.”
This year, he and his father had an even more special role to play at the ceremony.
“We were the MCs for the opening ceremonies,” Mark Cronin said. “That was great fun. We love the Special Olympics so much, and we were honored to be on the stage and trying to entertain people, make people smile and move the proceedings along.”
To all their charity partners combined, which includes the National Down Syndrome Society and the Autism Society of America, among others, John’s Crazy Socks has donated more than half a million dollars.
The company additionally sponsors an “Autism Can-Do” scholarship along with the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.
They also offer specially designed “Awareness Socks” to raise consciousness and funds for causes. Ten percent from the sales of these socks go to organizations related to these causes.
John Cronin envisioned himself a superhero in his design for the first pair of “Awareness Socks,” in honor of those with Down syndrome. The pair supported the National Down Syndrome Society and ECDS Long Island. The company went on to design socks for frontline health care workers, pet rescue, autism and cerebral palsy, among others.
‘We’re going to put 1,000 people into business’
Before the year is out, John’s Crazy Socks will launch a new “business in a box” initiative. The effort will further spread their message of employing those with differing abilities, as well as John Cronin’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“We’re starting another program this year called JCS Champions, and in that program, we’re gonna put people with differing abilities in their own business by giving them a ‘business in a box,'” Mark Cronin said. “We’ll give them a stand, an inventory and marketing materials, so they can go and sell at a farmers market or a craft fair, or maybe a store in town.”
“Over five years, we’re going to put 1,000 people into business,” he continued. “It will start with some local folks, but we see this going across the country. We think it will have a profound impact … It will further open people’s eyes as to what’s possible. It will show for people with different abilities, they’ll see that entrepreneurialism is an option for them.”
For these forthcoming entrepreneurs, John Cronin can offer well-earned wisdom.
“My advice, follow your heart,” he said. “Follow your dream, work hard, show what you can do.”