Lessons in Corporate Social Responsibility from TOMS

A Doing Good Business Model

Tom's flag and shoe
Kate Ter Haar/Flickr

The darling of the corporate philanthropy fan club has beenĀ TOMS Shoes. And for good reasons.

TOMS Shoes is the handiwork of Blake Mycoskie, a young entrepreneur whose business model has put a new spin on corporate social responsibility.

Mycoskie was the subject of a profile in Success Magazine, one of the best articles I've seen on this young company that is winning both sales and hearts by giving away a pair of shoes for every one that is sold through its business.

Mycoskie got the idea for TOMS Shoes when he visited Argentina and saw many children who had no shoes. At the same time, many adults in that country were wearing a very simple yet comfortable shoe that caught Mycoskie's eye.

Mycoskie's new company, TOMS Shoes, adopted that shoe style, produced it in many styles and colors, and promised customers that for every pair of shoes they bought, another pair would go to children in need.

The idea took off, and now Mycoskie spends half of his time on his business and the other half flying around the world making "shoe drops" to smiling kids all over the world.

TOMS Shoes embodies several lessons for others who want to combine doing good with business:

Ride a trend.

In this case TOMS Shoes intersected with the rise in consumers who have become more conscious about their spending. They are willing to spend for consumer goods that also do some good in the world.

The rise in cause-related marketing has been spectacular, benefiting many causes as well as helping companies polish their reputations as good corporate citizens. The recession has also brought into focus what is really important, as people reexamine their spending habits and intentions.

Bake in the good.

OMS Shoes goes beyond what other companies do.

It is founded on the premise that sales equal the good done. Mycoskie said, "...we know every day that we're going to give away one pair of shoes for every one we sell, and that's that. If we can't make the business work that way, then the business just doesn't work."

Build in sustainability.

The model for TOMS Shoes is a self-feeding loop. Mycoskie says of his premise, "If I would've taken half a million dollars and just bought shoes to give to the kids, I would've been able to give the shoes once. It never would've been as far-reaching and sustainable as TOMS Shoes is now."

Give employees something to be proud of.

Mycoskie says that the employee morale at TOMS Shoes is phenomenal. "..how could you be down when you know everything you do makes children happy?" he says.

Attach a story to your product.

Give your customers a story that they can retell again and again. These shoes are unique enough to garner attention, and the wearer can boast about the fact that they are from TOMS Shoes, and here is what it means.

Buyers feel good about their purchase and want to tell their friends. TOMS Shoes are cool and create buzz.

TOMS Shoes plans to put new shoes on the feet of barefoot kids at least 300,000 times in 2009. Mycoskie says that he hopes, "...to inspire other companies to either incorporate the one-for-one model, or straight-on giving, in everything they do."

For more about socially conscious companies, from the Gap to Target, see 7 Business Initiatives For Good in the Huffington Post


--All quotes are from the Sept. 2009 article in Success Magazine.
--Wonder why it's "TOMS" shoes rather than "Blakes" Shoes? TOMS Shoes is short for "Shoes for Tomorrow."
--Become a TOMS Shoes fan on the company's Facebook page.

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