Toms Shoes: The Big Business of Being Good

Bad boys are no longer in style, and it looks like being good is the new black. Many companies are now incorporating feel good, do good deeds directly into the culture of their business models. It’s not an afterthought. It’s the core foundation built right into the structure of the business from the get-go. Businesses obviously have been “giving back” for years – that’s not new. But what is new is the trend of making the giving back itself the business model, in some cases superseding the importance of product that is being sold. This is called Social Entrepreneurship.

Deeds that were once left in the hands of the non-profit sector, now have spread their wings and landed in the for-profit arena. Some savvy entrepreneurs are now realizing that harnessing the power of doing good can make for a nice profit, an undeniably positive brand image, a loyal customer base, unlimited PR opportunities, and last but not least, charity.

Companies like Terracycle and GotBooks.com are following this basic model, but one company that seems to be mastering it is Toms Shoes. Toms is a company founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006. Blake is in the business of making and selling shoes, but ironically, the product that his company produces and sells is secondary to what his company does.

While traveling on a polo vacation in Argentina, he noticed that the impoverished village adjacent to the polo field was filled with children who were all running around barefoot. Because these children did not have shoes, they were not allowed to attend school and they were susceptible to various diseases that could be picked up from the ground. On his way flying back home from his vacation, Blake decided that he would start a company that would make shoes, sell shoes and give one pair away to needy children for every pair sold. He calls it the “One for One Movement.” This is all very good. He is doing a good thing by helping needy children, I will definitely not argue with that. But don’t forget, he is in the business of making money too.

I’ve been in the shoe business, so I have a pretty good sense about the cost of shoes. Toms Shoes retail for $48. Knowing approximately what shoes of this type would cost to manufacture, I would estimate that in a typical retail scenario, these shoes should retail for about 1/2 of what Toms is charging. These are basic shoes, known as alpargatas or espadrilles. They are simply constructed out of inexpensive materials by low cost labor in Argentina, China and Ethiopia. There are other similarly constructed shoes on the market selling for about $20 – $24.

My point is that Toms charges about twice what would be expected for a shoe of this type in order for the consumer to pay for the additional pair that Toms gives away. Toms is technically giving shoes away, but seems to be passing on the cost of giving them away to the consumer, and even making a profit on the giveaway pair as well. The consumer really is the benefactor in this scenario, not Toms. Another way to look at it is that rather than Toms selling one pair and giving one away, the consumer is paying for two pair and getting one, so Toms can give a pair away at no cost to the company, and at a nice profit. Toms has also set up a non-profit wing of the company, not for the manufacturing of the shoes, but for soliciting and managing volunteers to distribute the shoes to the needy. The giveaway shoes are paid for by the consumer and distributed to the needy by volunteers. Toms Shoes is a for-profit business, so it seems to me that the distribution of the shoes should be paid for out of Toms’ pocket, not by the donated time of volunteers.

It’s a marketing thing, really. He’s doing some good, helping people, making a nice profit, and making consumers feel good by knowing they are helping shoeless children, and in turn doing some serious brand building. It is a win-win situation for everyone as long as the consumer doesn’t mind footing the bill for what Toms markets to be their own generosity. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with a business making a profit at all, and donating goods or services to the needy is absolutely a good thing, but Toms should acknowledge their consumers more directly as partners in their business model and in their generosity, rather than taking the sole credit for the giving. Blake does refer to himself as the Chief Shoe Giver, but it’s Toms’ consumers who are making the sacrifice out of their wallets, not him.

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How to Break Through Writer’s Block

BlockWhether you are a writer, a blogger, or anyone in any kind of field that involves tapping into your creative side, inevitably you will at some point hit a road block (or a mind block, so to speak.) It’s that sickening feeling in your stomach when you feel like you have run out of ideas or you just cannot move forward on a project. Here are a few tips that I sometimes use when I hit that brick wall.

Location, location, location

Change your setting – sometimes simply moving to another room can bring your head to a different place. Go work in a conference room, outside, at home, at the library, or at Starbucks. The key is to find that peaceful place where you can relax, think and get into your zone.

Go old school

Shut down your computer and pick up a pen and paper. Freely jot down ideas, words, phrases, or key points. Do some free association and you might be surprised what comes out. Don’t worry about having it make sense or sound good. Just get your ideas down and refine it later.

Do your homework

Knowledge is inspiration. Make sure you have done enough research and have asked the right people enough questions to write what you need to write. Know your subject and make sure you give yourself enough lead time to do research.

Who are you?

Just as important as knowledge about what you are writing, is knowledge about your audience. Understand for whom you are writing. Consumers, media, colleagues, peers, customers, or whoever it may be, get into their heads to understand how to write in their language.

What are you?

As you need to know your subject and your audience, you also need to understand your style. Writing copy for an ad, for packaging, for a web site, for a press release, or a blog post all require a different tone and style. Understand the platform that you need to stand on and write from that place.

Don’t think too hard

Sometimes if you are trying too hard or thinking too hard, the words just don’t come. Freedom is the key here. Relax your mind and let the words start flowing.

Don’t spread yourself too thin

Focus on one writing project at a time. Switching voices from a press release to marketing copy and back again takes a change of mindset. If you have multiple writing projects due at the same time, then take a break and tackle something different before returning to your writing.

Do your work in small bites

Don’t pressure yourself into sitting down and writing what you need to write in one sitting. Great writing rarely takes shape in the first shot. Break your writing projects into bite size pieces. Even if you feel stuck, just commit to fifteen minutes to write something…even if it’s just quick thoughts, ideas, or simply a list of free-associated keywords that you want to touch upon in the piece.

Plan projects to meet your mood

If you feel stuck on a press release, then switch to a different writing project that needs doing with a different voice, on a different subject. Not to procrastinate, but to be able to step away for a bit and switch your mind to something else. Be sure to make specific time to get back to it and try again.

What’s in your way?

Stop for a few minutes to try to understand what’s blocking you. Is it a lack of information, inspiration, time, or something else? Once you can understand what’s holding you back, you can try to tackle the underlying problem by seeking more information, resources, inspiration or setting aside more time.

Inspiration through conversation

Look for inspiration through conversations with your colleagues, or if you are out on your own, talk with your clients or your virtual colleagues. Bouncing ideas around with others knowledgeable in the subject can shed new light on a new angle that will free you up and get the words flowing.

Inspiration from unusual places

Sometimes inspiration can come from unexpected places. Stepping outside of your own world or your comfort zone can help you to see things from a different perspective.

Read More

Sometimes picking up a book or reading an article or a blog can work to inspire you to relate to a subject in a different way. Hop online, google your subject, and see what chatter is going on online. Look at what your competitors are doing and saying. Try to understand what works for them and why.

Write More

Don’t see writing as a task, see it as a way of life and as a process. Write for pleasure outside of work. Keep a journal, write poems, comment on blogs, write essays about your childhood – anything to keep writing fresh, exciting and diverse.

Eliminate ADD

Remove distractions. Shut off your email, so it’s not alerting you to new messages. Shut off the ringer on your phone. Shut down your Twitter and Facebook. Clear your desk of clutter and reminders of the hundreds of other things you have to do. Allow yourself the environment to be able to focus.

Are you a morning person or a vampire?

Determine your best time of day for creativity to flow. Are you best in the morning and burned out in the afternoon? Write during the time of day when you are most alert and save the more mundane tasks you need to do for when you don’t need as much brainpower. Fatigue does not promote creativity.

Take a deep breath

Relax. Take a walk. Exercise. Clear your head. Play with your dog. Incorporate a little time everyday for stress reduction. The more you stress, the worse it will be.

Feel free to add your own tips to this list….

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