Blake Mycoskie is the first to admit that selling millions of shoes in just a few years was not exactly what he was expecting when he started his company five years ago.
The founder of TOMS Shoes drew a hefty crowd at the almost-full Arlington Theatre on Saturday afternoon. The crowd consisted mainly of hundreds students, but drew a number of notable South Coast entrepreneurs, including Patty DeDominic, her husband, Gene Sinser, and SBCC’s Scheinfeld Center Executive Director Melissa Moreno.
Mycoskie admitted he had no idea five years ago that he would sell millions of any product during his vacation from his struggling online traffic school business. In fact, he said, selling his brand of shoes probably could not have been accomplished just 10 years earlier. “It went viral,” he said, because of the Internet.
After vacationing in Argentina and observing the rampant poverty there, Mycoskie thought he would leave the online traffic school enterprise behind and sell shoes that would be matched with a second pair to be given to poor children.
He said he realized that many poor children in Argentina were prevented from attending school because they had no shoes. He said one mother told him her three sons took turns wearing a pair of worn-out shoes to attend school on alternate days.
He hired workers in Argentina to make the shoes, but ran the business out of his Venice Beach apartment with a few interns he recruited on Craigslist. A fashion column in the Los Angeles Times prompted corporate shoe buyers to call his one-phone “office,” but it was a article in Vogue magazine about his TOMS “One for One” concept that brought a Nordstrom’s assistant shoe buyer to him.
“I told him I don’t have any more shoes,” Mycoskie recalled. He had trouble meeting his last order of a couple thousand shoes. The shoe buyer was not happy with that response and demanded to talk to someone in sales. Mycoskie tossed the phone to one of his interns who calmed down the Nordstrom’s buyer.
Eventually, Mycoskie was able to meet the order from Nordstrom, which is the company’s biggest buyer. Several other stores in Santa Barbara, including Savvy on State Street and dressed & ready on Coast Village Road also stock TOMS Shoes.
The secret to his success, Mycoskie told the crowd, is to tie “giving” into buying a product. He has launched another enterprise in which he sells eyeglasses and a pair will be donated to a needy person along with eye care. The “one for one” shoe sales have been so successful, he said it soon will become two shoes donated for every one sold.
The South Coast Biz Blog is a roundup of the latest business news in the Santa Barbara area and is written by Ray Estrada, who has covered business in the region for numerous publications over the past couple decades. See more at independent.com/biz and wordpress.com/southcoastbizblog.