We all have lots of shoes in our closet; OK, I’m speaking as a woman. Men, maybe not so much. Either way, I’ll never look at or even wear shoes the same way after watching Blake Mycoskie up close and in person tell the TOMS Shoes story on campus recently.
If you have read my posts, you know I almost always go to hear speakers on campus, if for no other reason than to give my opinion and observations. And, not to minimize any of our other speakers, but I have to say this one really hit it out of the park. Any student (and really anyone, for that matter) who had the opportunity to hear Mycoskie speak cannot help but be impressed, inspired and motivated by what they heard.
Mycoskie is a smart, innovative, passionate yet down-to-earth young man who has achieved so much in so little time. You couldn’t have asked for a better representative for the Dialogues of Innovation Speaker Series. During his easy and breezy delivery, he told endearing stories about how TOMS Shoes came to be and gave solid advice sprinkled with a can-do philosophy on what he’s learned from the experience. “Making a difference” and “changing the world” are phrases we hear all too often, but Mycoskie created a “magical” business model that does just that. The TOMS Shoes tagline is “changing a life begins with a single step” and giving 600,000 pairs of shoes to children in need is a lot of steps.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend, here are just some of Mycoskie’s “aha” moments from his truly amazing journey.
- Speaking of amazing, he was in season 7 of the Amazing Race and was just 4 minutes shy of winning the $1 million prize.
- While on vacation in Argentina, he was shocked to hear that many children couldn’t attend school because of they didn’t have shoes, so he went on a shoe-giving mission. He couldn’t believe how excited the kids were to get the shoes. “It filled me up mentally and spiritually.”
- He had a little help from his (girl) friends: He had no connections in retail, but he knew that all his girlfriends spent a “disproportionate amount of time buying shoes”and so he asked for their advice.
- On his first experience dealing with stores and buyers on Rodeo Drive, “I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, I got no love or respect” – and he had even shaved for the occasion.
- The power of the press … He was on the cover of the calendar section of the L.A. Times and sold 2,200 pairs of shoes that day; and 10,000 pairs were sold on the heels (pardon the pun) of an article in Vogue, THE fashion magazine (and he gave away those 10,000 in less than 5 months).
- His initial headquarters included one cordless phone (with a battery that kept dying) and 3 interns in his 1,100-square-foot apartment in Venice, Calif. He now has 73 employees (20+ who were interns at one time), sells shoes in 16 countries in Europe and in Asia (including South Korea, which buys the most and has the largest sales); and has factories in Argentina, China and Ethiopia.
- Seeing his mom lovingly placing shoes on a child’s foot during his first shoe giveaway was the life changer for him. “It blew me away.”
- Star power: Celebrities started wearing the shoes – Hanson’s fans walked barefoot for a mile before a concert in Chicago in chilly November to promote the shoes!
- Things he learned: 1) Sustainability – instead of becoming a non-profit organization and depleting his resources, he invested the money the business made back into TOMS and didn’t have to invest another penny; 2) Life Philosophy – giving feels really good and is a good business and life strategy; 3) Customers are the greatest marketers, especially when you make them a part of your story.
- Other factoids: The company was named TOMS because his original name “Tomorrow” didn’t fit on the back tag of the shoe; their largest distributor is Nordstrom’s; the only online site that carries the shoes is the TOMS website; shoes are given away in 21 countries, including Ethiopia; and there are 1,200 high school and college clubs. (And I know that Annie Weaver and several students left the AG and headed straight to their computer to sign Lynn up for a club!)
Anyway, it took me awhile to boil down his talk to these few nuggets, but you get the picture. So, I guess the only thing left for me to do is to run out to Nordstrom’s and get a pair – so TOMS can give a pair. To steal from another successful marketing campaign: A pair of TOMS shoes – $45; knowing a child will get a pair of shoes because of your purchase – priceless. And that simply is what it’s all about.