TOMS shoes seemed to be recognized by many of the attendees of #SHRM13. I had heard some of the story in passing, but was not really familiar with the brand. After hearing Blake Mycoskie’s story I am much more attuned. His story is inspiring and his message is giving is good for your soul and your business.
Entrepreneurial from the beginning
Mycoskie apparently was entrepreneurial from his early days. He set up a successful laundry business in college which he later sold. In 2006 he was in the software business. He felt he needed a break so he took a trip to Argentina. There he saw many children without shoes and learned that as a result of having no shoes the children were also without any chance of education. Having a pair of shoes was a prerequisite for attending classes. He was handing out shoes as a volunteer one day when he saw the power of this act when a mother came to him crying. He was wondering what he had done wrong when he learned she was crying for joy because now her son could go to school. Mycoskie said that was an epiphany moment for him.
A better way
Mycoskie thought there had to be a better way to deliver these badly needed shoes than relying on charity. The concept of One for One was born. This is a business model where one pair of shoes is donated for every pair of shoes purchased. He came back to the U.S. and enlisted family and friends to get a business started. When word got out the phone started ringing and ringing and the publicity just continued. As a result TOMS has donated 10 million pairs of as of the week of the conference Mycoskie announced to loud applause. Mycoskie said that “Giving doesn’t just feel good; it’s actually good for business.”
A business strategy
Mycoskie feels that the One for One program is a very good business strategy. By mixing philanthropy with profits he has successfully made TOMS a very good business. One outcome of this model is that your customers are not only customers they may also become evangelists for your brand. He related the story of a time he was checking into a flight when he noticed a woman standing beside him wearing a pair of TOMS’ shoes. He asked about them and she started to tell him his own story. (Apparently he had cut his signature long, wavy locks and she did not recognize him.) He seemed uninterested but she would not let him be and she made sure he listened to her. He did fess up that he was the creator and her reaction, after a moment, was to ask him why he had cut his hair. Mycoskie said “…what I have learned is that, when you incorporate giving into your business, your customers become your greatest marketers.”
Attracts employees too
This business strategy also attracts employees and investors. He said that employees “…know that what they are doing is making a difference in the world” and that makes them proud. And “when employees are proud, they will work harder than anyone else on the planet.”
The strategy has been so successful that TOMS has extended the One for One concept to eyewear and even though they have only been doing that for two years they have given away 200,000 pairs of glasses, which means they have also sold 200,000 pairs of glasses.
Call to action
Mycoskie ended his keynote address with a call to action for HR. He said to go back to our companies and talk to the C-suite and to convince them that giving is good. It does not have to be a product that is given; it can be time or knowledge. Regardless it improves how employees feel about themselves and the company. He ended by saying “Anyone can do it, and I promise it will have a major impact in your organization.”
The big question will be how many HR professionals were inspired enough to do it?