One of our good friends and fellow book club member Laura Schmidt is featured in today's edition of the Kansas City Star.  Great job Laura and best of luck with your business!

Special to The Star - Sue Babson 


Laura Schmidt, founder of Prairie Village’s notes to self is peddling positive thoughts from the feet up — literally. Beginning with socks.

With inspirational messages such as “I am awesome” emblazoned on the bottom of the sock soles and tops of the toes, the wearer is engulfed in positivity.

That positive phrase is influencing his or her thoughts and actions throughout the day,” says Schmidt, who considers herself “chief positive person” of her sock business. “They have the choice of sharing the message with others or keeping it private.”

Her first prototype crew sock,which read, “I am confident,” made its debut at her 17-year-old daughter’s volleyball practice last summer. Schmidt’s sister ran last year’s New York City Marathon in “I am awesome” and the Dallas Marathon in “I am strong” socks, finishing in less than her goal time in each.

Survey results for the 8-month-old business as yet are unofficial, but Schmidt muses, “Wouldn’t it be great if kids too young to read saw ‘I am smart’ so many times that it became part of their thought processes, and it could be one of the first phrases that they learn to read?”

Schmidt says she is most interested in encouraging others, as her parents encouraged her. Her goal is to get the socks to those who never have enough encouragement, such as at-risk youth or people fighting serious illnesses. She has donated hundreds of Notes to Selfsocks to nonprofit organizations such as Covenant House in New York, and Operation Breakthrough and the Rose Brooks Center in Kansas City.

Schmidt’s sons, 19 and 21, and daughter, Elaine, 17, support their mom’s mission to proclaim the affirmative by helping with the socks’ style, font and colors. Elaine even coined one of her mom’s original sock phrases: “I am perfectly me.” The kids also help fill orders from the Internet business and make deliveries to the dozen Kansas City area retailers that carry the socks.

In Johnson County, the socks are available at Naomi’s Hallmark at 63{+r} {+d}and Quivira in Shawnee; Hallmark Creations at 119t hand Metcalf in Overland Park; Village Active in the Prairie Village Shopping Center; the Mommy Shop in Overland Park; and Junque Drawer in Olathe. A handful of other Midwest-area retail stores and websites also offer the merchandise.

The socks’ words are woven in during the knitting process at the East Coast manufacturing site Schmidt chose after networking and research. “I chose the highest quality process, because I want both the words and the socks to last,” she says.

Her two sock styles are low-cut socks, made of pima cotton, and athletic crew socks, made from moisture wicking polyester. Both have a “breathable” mesh top and arch support. She hopes to have a million pairs of socks on people’s feet by Dec. 2012.

How did your business get started?

The idea for Notes to Selfsocks arrived while Schmidt says she was looking at her feet. Driving with her husband on a trip to western Kansas on New Year’s Day 2011, Schmidt says she watched the scenic Flint Hills roll by. Her feet were propped up on the car dashboard. A book was balanced on her legs.

She says she was thinking about the impact of positive remarks. A couple of years ago, she and Elaine had talked about writing a book about the best feel-good words to say on the volleyball court.

She says she thought about how the subconscious mind seems most receptive early in the morning and late at night. And she turned to her husband, Garret,and said, “‘I think I’m going to put positive affirmations on the toes of socks!’”

From January to April 2011, Schmidt says she mostly just “thought” about selling socks. By April, she dove into studying start-up business legal processes. Her personal study, she says, was augmented by her participation in one of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac programs, where she says she wrote the structure of the business plan for Notes to Self. She went to a trademark class at the Kansas Women’s Business Center in Lenexa, which provides entrepreneurial training, mentoring and consulting. She brainstormed the business name on a poster board at home.

Someone in her Johnson County Library Business Book Club recommended an apparel industry representative for her to talk with about manufacturing. She found a business coach at the Small Business Development Center at Johnson County Community College.

By summer, with her first pair of socks in hand, she started selling them person-to-person. When meeting with friends or business associates, she says she’d say, “I’ve got some socks in my car,” and they’d head outside to check the inventory in her trunk.

In November, her website was up and running, and by the end of the year, she had five or six retail stores displaying and selling her socks. Today, her wares are offered at nearly 20 retail stores and another website.

What has been the biggest challenge? And solution?

Because we hit the ground with such a positive response from everyone, my biggest challenge so far is finding enough hours in the day,” she says. “I’m so excited about this business that I don’t want to sleep!”

The solution? “I’m workin’ on it,” she says. “I need to start delegating tasks.” Schmidt says she now keeps an inventory at home, and she and her family fill the Internet and phone/mail orders that come in. Soon, she says she hopes to expand that capability by interacting with a fulfillment company.

What is the biggest reward?

People,” she says. “My favorite part of this business has been the stories that people have shared with me about wearing the socks, or their kids wearing the socks.”

The inspiration for sock phrases often comes from others. For example, she says the perseverance shown by her sister running marathons and the bravery of her mother and two friends battling breast cancer resulted in “I am strong” socks.

What’s next?

More Notes to Self products. Schmidt says she’s formulating ideas for other items she hopes will train customers’ minds to “focus on what they do want to happen, not what they don’t want to happen.”

Any advice for others?

Besides the entrepreneurial and small business organizations already mentioned, Schmidt says she recommends the Enterprise Center of Johnson County. She says she also has benefited from strategic business planning and life planning classes offered by her business book club leader, Sally Smith, founder and CEO of Kansas City’s Smith & Associates Inc.

I also would encourage others to move forward with their ideas, even if it’s just baby steps,” she says. “One of my favorite quotes is from the movie ‘ Babe .’ ” The quote is: “Farmer Hoggett knew that little ideas that tickled and nagged and refused to go away should never be ignored, for in them lie the seeds of destiny.”

Sue Dye Babson, Special to The Star