TOMS and Social Responsibility

Karen was recently interviewed by Mary Ellen Biery for Sageworks and its blog on  Here are some excerpts:

Privately owned shoe maker TOMS built its business model around social responsibility, giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. Company founder Blake Mycoskie recently added a line of eyewear that provides eye care to people in need for each pair of glasses TOMS sells.The idea is popular; Mycoskie has more than 38,000 Twitter followers, and TOMS has more than 17,000 Facebook fans. Even from a financial perspective, TOMS appears to be winning. It gave away 1 million shoes between 2006 and 2010. Presuming it sold that many, too, and with company website prices ranging from $44 to $140 a pair, the company has ramped up a robust sales machine in four years.

“Consumers more and more are looking to buy from socially responsible companies, and they’re actually willing to pay more for products in certain cases,” says Karen Mishra, assistant professor of marketing at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. She and her husband, Aneil, have co-authored two books on how leaders can be more effective by building trust.

For some businesses, being socially responsible can help reach a new target market or customer. But customers are savvy and see through disingenuous efforts, so use caution, Mishra says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily for everybody.”

Mishra offers these tip if you’re considering a socially responsible component to your business:

Find a genuine connection to any cause you openly support, or customers can be confused or turned off.

Ensure partners are ethical and can deliver on the promises you’re making to customers. TOMS provides details on its “shoe drops” and partnering organizations to show accountability.

Use caution in ramping up any program to avoid overpromising customers and hurting your business.


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