Socking it to Unhealthy Lifestyles

Socking it to Unhealthy Lifestyles

by Monte Mitchell | Journal Reporter
Winston-Salem Journal
June 5, 2012
Edition: Daily

Sharon Flippin lost 35 pounds this past year by exercising at work at Renfro Corp., the world’s largest manufacturer of socks. Flippin, a software documentation specialist, typically walks a mile each morning and each afternoon on the indoor track marked on the floor of a warehouse area inside the company’s corporate headquarters in Mount Airy.

“It helps me keep from getting stressed and clears the mind, and you have the added benefit of exercise,” said Flippin, who believes the walks during work make her more productive at her job.

“I think if you sit at your desk and stare at your computer without ever getting up and not getting oxygen to the muscles or the brain, you’re just staring at your computer,” she said. “You’re not doing what you were hired to do. I feel like I contribute more when I’ve got a clear mind.”

The indoor track is part of an employee wellness program that encourages people to take a break and exercise.

“We encourage you — (if you feel in need of) refreshing your viewpoint or as an opportunity you may be tackling — to get out and walk,” said David Green, vice president of human resources. “It’s unusual if you’re out here to not see someone on the track.”

The wellness program includes other things, such as help in quitting smoking, “lunch and learn” sessions about health issues, and company-provided discounts to join fitness clubs or buy exercise equipment.

The program is voluntary, but there are financial benefits to employees who choose to participate.

The company offers a nearly 12 percent discount on medical insurance premiums to employees who pledge tobe tobacco-free and maintain a body mass index below 30. BMI is a measure of body composition based on weight and height.

“We believe what we’re doing is the best way to back up that we’re serious,” Green said. “We’re fortunate towork for a CEO who really believes in health and for making it a healthy environment to work in. That’s what’s heartwarming to me.”

Bud Kilby, Renfro’s chief operating officer (*SEE CORRECTION), is a fitness enthusiast who runs and bikes.

“Being fit improves a person’s quality of living,” he said.

Renfro’s history began with Renfro Hosiery Mills in 1921 in Mount Airy. The current plant was built in the early 1970s. Manufacturing was relocated about 11 years ago, and the Mount Airy site is the corporate headquarters and a distribution center.

The company has about 5,000 employees, with manufacturing plants in Tennessee, Alabama and Mexico, with distribution centers in Clinton, S.C., and other places, along with sales offices in the U.S. and overseas.

They make more than 1.2 million dozen pair of socks a week for brands like Nike, Polo, Fruit of the Loom and Dr. Scholl’s, as well as the company’s K. Bell and Hot Sox.

Each of the Renfro plants has an outdoor walking track, and they’re trying to get indoor tracks at each one.

About 200 people work at the Mount Airy corporate headquarters, including Carrie Darnell, the employee relations manager who leads the wellness effort.

“Employees are encouraged to bring tennis shoes,” Darnell said. “They just keep them in their desk drawer” until they’re ready to hit the track.

Mary Snow, who has worked for Renfro for 34 years and is the company’s Walmart sales coordinator, said she and co-worker Michelle Klein try to walk at least once or twice a day.

“We love it,” Snow said. “It’s a good stress relief.”

Sharon Flippin walks around an indoor track during a break in her workday at Renfro Corp. in Mount Airy. The sock company also created an outdoor track in an effort to promote fitness among its employees.
A7: Renfro workers crossed the start/finish line of the indoor track during a walking break on Thursday.

Correction: *In a story on Page A1 on June 5, and in an editorial on Saturday about Renfro Corp.’s employee exercise program, Bud Kilby’s title was incorrect. Kilby is president and chief executive officer of Renfro Corp.