The business magazine Fast Company asked Americans to name a socially responsible organization. 1 in 3 could not name a single one. 67% of Americans can’t think of a brand that they really stand behind. This is striking because consistently at least 50% of Americans identify themselves as socially conscious consumers. People are look for socially responsible organizations. Only problem is that they can’t find them. For the consumers who do name an organization the most common answers are: TOMS and Whole Foods.
If you are reading this chances are you have heard of TOMS and their One for One model. They started with shoes and now have branched into eyewear, coffee, and even retail with many socially conscious brands. Bain capital recently acquired a 50% stake in the company valuing TOMS at about $625 million. And this is where my love for TOMS really starts. You can criticize TOMS like crazy but you can’t escape that they are the most successful company trying to bring change to impoverished communities.
The success of the business is why we should all have at least a little love for TOMS. If you want your purchases to do something in the world you do not have many options and usually the options you have available to you are not good ones. Often you have to pay much more for a sub par product.
TOMS gets the product right. They have a very trendy and unique product that consumers love regardless of any social message. The giving of shoes does add cost to the business but not excessive cost. Meaning that TOMS gives consumers a great product for a reasonable price. Most social businesses get both of these points very wrong. They don’t offer a great product at a good price and their messages are convoluted and hard to understand exactly what the product does. Most organizations sell you on hope, as does TOMS, since there usually aren’t tangible results to show concumers but TOMS does it far more effectively by showing cute kids getting free shoes. TOMS also had a great advantage of doing ONE for ONE first. Many companies have tried to jump on the bandwagon since but none and been able to get even close to the success of TOMS.
In a world where so many people criticize and do nothing, you can’t accuse TOMS of doing that. TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie implemented a solution that he genuinely believed in and executed it brilliantly. It is that success that has inspired many advocates but also many critics. I have found myself on both sides but more and more I look at TOMS for inspiration.
How are we going to find solutions that we really believe in if we don’t learn from ones that we don’t believe in? Are we going to learn from TOMS where it has success or ignore it entirely because we don’t believe in charity or the giving model?
So many socially driven businesses remain small and insignificant because they don’t get the business side right. TOMS is one company that has gotten the business side right. Some organizations may claim they do a better job in impact but impact doesn’t matter if you can’t figure out the business. Most organizations haven’t figured that out yet which is why TOMS is so important. Critics attack TOMS without realized there is so much that is to be learned from their success. That is why I love TOMS.