With Thanksgiving three days away, this week many Americans will take the time to give back in the spirit of the holiday. For TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, giving back is not something that's just reserved for the holidays, but for every day. That generous mentality has laid the foundation for TOMS, the footwear company he created that donates one pair of shoes to children in need for every pair of TOMS shoes purchased. The company recently expanded its offerings by introducing the TOMS Marketplace a new online retail destination hosted on TOMS.com that features a curated collection of 200 socially conscious products from 30 different companies.
We caught up with Mycoskie to talk about his new initiative, his plans for the holidays and how every retailer can implement a spirit of giving into their business, too.
FierceRetail: TOMS Marketplace has been live for a couple of weeks now. What has the response been like?
Blake Mycoskie: The response has been amazing. Not only have the products met and exceeded all of our expectations, we've actually sold several of every single item. This is the first time that TOMS has gone from being a mono brand, to being a retailer with 30 different companies and 200 different products. But every single one of the 200 products has been selling. We're feeling pretty good from a merchandising standpoint. We picked the right products and the right companies and it seems that our customers are really gravitating towards not just one or two of the products but all of the products. I think another thing that's been so great is that, from a sales aspect, all of the company founders that are a part of the Marketplace have received an unbelievable response from the media and from their teams about all being a part of this one thing together. So that's been really cool for me to see these entrepreneurs and their companies really getting to experience the collective power of all being in one place.
FierceRetail: When you came up with the idea and approached your partners, what was the process like for you?
Blake Mycoskie: I really wanted to make sure that we talked to companies that had an authentic giving component built into their business. Just like TOMS, these are companies that it's not something they do on the side. It's the reason that they exist. They created their business to create jobs for marginalized women in India or for people in northern Uganda who are survivors of the Civil War there. Every company that we went to is one that has authentic giving at the core of why they do what they do. And we wanted to make sure that they had great product not only for giving gifts during the holidays but also in and of itself. We have headstones and bikes and jewelry. So that was really important as well.
FierceRetail: As a socially conscious company and retailer, how would you say your preparation for the holidays varies from a traditional retailer?
Blake Mycoskie: Well number one, we're not doing a lot of sales. For a traditional retailer it is Black Friday, Cyber Monday time; they are all about the sales. For us, we depend on selling full price product so we can do the giving the way that our business model is set. Unlike these other companies, we are less focused on sales. We are trying to differentiate ourselves and I think we do a good job of it by saying, look we're not going to be the cheapest thing to buy or you're not going to find it on sale because these are products of great value that are impacting people's lives, but we're going to give you the opportunity to give a gift that has more meaning than just the average sweater or scarf. We are filling a need for people who want to give gifts that matter. They want to give a gift that has meaning and gives back. That's one of the reasons we created the marketplace. Not only can people do that with their TOMS shoes and their TOMS Eyewear, but now they can do it with all these products on Toms.com.
FierceRetail: Do you have plans to expand the Marketplace since it's performing so well?
Blake Mycoskie: Yes, so every season we will add new companies and new products. So it's four times a year. This is our holiday collection and we're obviously focused on gift-giving, and in the spring, we'll have new product.
FierceRetail: You mentioned the authentic giving component. How would you advise other retailers to incorporate this into their business model?
Blake Mycoskie: I think the main thing is to really find what is important to your customer. Really understanding what is important to your customer allows you to match the need that they want to help serve with the products that you sell. It also needs to be really easy to understand. If you have a really hard to understand giving component in your retail environment, then people aren't going to trust it as much.
FierceRetail: This week we will also have Small Business Saturday. For small companies who may not feel they have resources, how can we incorporate an authentic giving component into their model?
Blake Mycoskie: I think the small businesses can look at what they can do, instead of giving money if that's what's difficult. They can use their business and their staff to maybe do a volunteer day. Instead of just focusing on funds which may be tight, there are other ways that companies can give back without a financial contribution. You may say, if we reach our sales goal we're going to take three days after the holidays and go serve or build a house for Habitat for Humanity or serve in a local food bank.
FierceRetail: We're hearing a lot about omnichannel. How has TOMS incorporated an omnichannel approach?
Blake Mycoskie: We've been talking about omnichannel way before anyone was talking about omnichannel. I philosophically think that the customer wants to shop in the way that the customer wants to shop and we can't control that as a company. Whether they want to shop on mobile or they want to shop at the department store or they want to shop on their desktop, we need to provide the best experience possible. We've invested heavily in our digital platforms from the beginning, domestically and globally so that not only can people buy what they want when they want it on their devices, but also so that they can connect with the giving. That's really important for me: that people don't just buy our products, but that they become a part of our movement. The way that they can learn about our giving in a way that is, I think, most engaging is on Toms.com. That's another reason why we launched the marketplace on Toms.com is because it gives more people the opportunity to be inspired by the giving and the effect that is happening from their purchases.
FierceRetail: So what's next from TOMS?
Blake Mycoskie: I think growing the Marketplace is definitely one thing. The second thing is really looking at other One for One products that we can incorporate into our business offerings. We have shoes and eyewear now, but there's no doubt that there can be additional One for One products that we can introduce. I think that's important because our customers want to evolve with us and support our model and our mission. The consumers always want new and exciting things. That also goes for our shoes. We have a lot of new men's shoes coming out, women's shoes, different styles that people have never seen from TOMS before. That's really important as well, to be able to continue to surprise and delight our community with new products that allow them to give when they purchase it.