Sunday, October 10, 2010

How Not To Do Business Philanthropy -Like Skechers BOBS

Skechers the athletic and leisure shoe company has recently unveiled a new line of shoes called  BOBS, a TOMS canvas shoes look alike. Not only do BOBS shoes look a lot like TOMS with the little tag and all, but Skecher's is also donating a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair of shoes bought.

So, this blog is supposed to be about "innovative ideas for business philanthropy" - with the intent of inspiring other businesses to create giving programs that can create social benefit. Every now and then something comes across my desk that leaves me scratching my head and wondering : "what WERE they thinking?!!!"

I can't presume to know what Skechers was thinking about, but just looking at this program gives one a lot to learn about how not do business philanthropy.

But first, to be fair, it's important to say a few good things about the Skechers program. They are donating shoes to a first rate non profit, Shoes4Soles, that delivers donated used shoes to impoverished areas all over the world. I wrote about Soles4Souls after the Haiti disaster here. Also on the Skechers webpage they have a link to their corporate philanthropy program, the SKECHERS USA, “Nothing Compares to Family” promotion, that ran through 2009, and starred popular celebrity families and benefits children's charities with ads breaking in celebrity weekly and fashion magazines.

There is no mention of BOBS shoes on  this page - which gives me  me a perfect opportunity to launch into the first of several  "What Not To Do's." in business philanthropy.

Don't tell your customers much about the charity or the cause you are partnering with.
When buying BOBS, there is little opportunity for a customer to learn anything about Soles4Souls and what they do. The transparency of the business giving is just as important as the transparency of the non-profit. Soles4Souls is a fabulous organization that provides shoes to disaster victims in impoverished countries and Skechers has lost an amazing opportunity to promote their mission better. To add injury to injustice when I last checked BOBS site, the link to Soles4Souls page no longer exists.

Have no  transparency.
Skechers has a brief description of their donations to Soles4Soles on their website, but there is nothing to describe how they are partnering with them and what kind of shoes they are donating, unlike TOMS which has pages of information about their philanthropy.

Don't bother to assess your business' core values.
Toms shoes started with a vision of being a philanthropic business caring about the plight of impoverished children in the world. Hard to know how Skechers came up with the idea that they cared about barefoot children. If that were part of their corporate values they might  have unveiled a broader program donating other kinds of more useful shoes, like their sneakers.

Don't do something that makes sense as good business strategy.
Coming out with a giving program that is related to you core business is a good idea, but even then, distinguishing yourself from the competition continues to be important for business success.In these economic times, no business can afford to pay little attention to using the best strategy for their business whether it ties into their philanthropy or not.

Don't tell a good story
Part of TOMS success is their utterly original and charming story that has captured the hearts and minds of the public and the media in a big way. Good stories helps inspire others, including your employees, your customers, your investors and other businesses and brings attention to your cause and to your business.


Do make everyone question whether it is a marketing ploy.
Skechers may have had truly philanthropic intentions, but the perception of this program is that it appears to be a quick marketing scheme. In the world of business, perception often becomes reality.

There are many lessons to learn from many companies and their giving programs. Often there are mistakes in the planning and execution both for businesses and non-profits.Skechers may be singled out here, but in truth corporate philanthropy, CSR, and community involvement is still quite young as a movement. Hopefully more and more businesses will learn from other successes and failures alike, and come on board to support their communities and good causes through philanthropy.


Soles4Souls Inc. said...

Hey Laila,

Although Skechers has caught some flack over their imitation of TOMS, we are still fortunate to partner with them to give shoes to the 300 million kids without any. We are very grateful that people have been so supportive because Skechers is partnering with Soles4Souls! Thank you for promoting Soles4Souls for us in the past & helping us change the world one pair at a time!

Lalia Helmer said...

Thank you for your comments. I do commend any business partnering and supporting great organizations such as Soles4Souls, and my comments on their program in no way reflects on your organization. Skechers has taken the opportunity to do some good and could have done even more with a well thought out strategic corporate giving program.
I wish Sole4Souls all the best, I have actually been a supporter and even hosted a shoe drive to support the efforts in Haiti.

Soles4Souls Inc. said...

That's amazing! Thanks for personally partnering with us! We are extremely grateful!

Have a great week!

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that if Sketchers had stuck with their own style and added a compassion line, then people might buy two pairs of compassion shoes, supporting both companies instead of having to choose which company to buy the exact same shoes from. Now they are just copycats.

Here's my blog post on the topic, and a little humor on what the Sketchers company brainstorming session might have looked like when planning this disastrous idea.

Lalia Helmer said...

I think you have hit it on the nail. Skechers has missed an opportunity to do something really new and different with their effort to give back. As you can see from the response to the post from Sole4Souls, Skechers is giving back to a really worthwhile organization and for that they should be commended for that. But what a missed opportunity to do even better.

Unknown said...

There are many unintended consequences of donating goods overseas. For instance by giving away free goods you can put local businesses out of business and hurt the very people you are trying to help. Here's a link to more information

BOBS, TOMS, and Soles4Souls are all following bad aid practices.

Unknown said...

There are many unintended consequences of donating goods overseas. For instance by giving away free goods you can put local businesses out of business and hurt the very people you are trying to help. Here's a link to more information

BOBS, TOMS, and Soles4Souls are all following bad aid practices.

Lalia Helmer said...

Hello Saundra,
I appreciate your comment about watching for best aid practices. I know personally of instances where aid has wiped out small enterprises in local communities.
I would like to know however on how you determined TOMS and Soles4Shoes would fall into that category.
The debate of whether aid is harmful or helpful, has been raging amongst top economists like Jeffrey Sachs and colleagues.
On a more individual level, it is very important that anyone who donates anything to anywhere keeps a mindful eye on the net impact.Unfortunately that is very hard to do and so thankfully there are people like you to help with sorting this out.

Unknown said...

This isn't a debate about whether aid in general is harmful or helpful, this is about whether dumping free goods into country is helpful or harmful.

Free goods out-compete locally produced goods and can lead to a collapse in the local industry and hurt local merchants. All the used clothing shipped to Africa in combination with cheap imports from Asia has all but destroyed the local textile industry.

When 1millionshirts tried to start a similar program of sending 1 million shirts to Africa it hit a nerve in the aid world and over 60 posts were written on the topic by a wide variety of aid workers and recipients. Here's a link to the compilation of posts. You'll see there's a clear theme.

Donated shoes are the darling of the moment because they're a "feel good" project. But I challenge you to find a single country where shoes are not for sale in the local market place. By purchasing shoes locally you put money into the local economy so that more people can afford to buy shoes for their own children.

The same thing happens with food aid. We have a hunger problem in the US, but this is not because there is not enough food in the stores. It's because people don't have the means to buy the food they need. Would the best solution be to import massive amounts of free food from Canada and Mexico? How would this affect the local farmers and grocers?

Sending donated goods to a country after a disaster is even worse because it can clog the damaged ports and keep critical supplies and staff from entering the country. Further many of those goods go unused and create a waste disposal problem. After the tsunami donated used clothing was a problem in many countries. In India so much clothing was donated that villages started refusing it and the truckers just dumped it beside the road where the cattle started to choke on it.

Donating goods overseas is not good aid practice. It can do far more harm than good.

Lalia Helmer said...

Thanks again Saundra for bringing these critical issues to the forefront. It is very important to create more awareness about the negative impact of many aid practices.

Unknown said...

Saundra, do you have expertise in the area or are you throwing stones? I'm absolutely not trying to be rude.

Lalia Helmer said...

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for your comment and question.
You can find out about Saundra and her mission on

Anonymous said...

If you really wanted to help children by giving shoes to children, why did you not team up with TOMS in the first place ?
They have been doing this since 2006.
Skechers is just making some money for themselves and some Chinese factories... wow, great job !

nrrrdxgrrrl said...

Toms also makes their shoes in a factory in China and they are a for profit company as well so they are also making money off of the idea even though the basis is charity :) IMO, the only difference is BOBS are more comfy, cheaper and give away 2 pairs of shoes instead of one. While skechers used the same model of shoes, TOMS copied it also.

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Toms Slippers said...


Aira Bongco said...

I have heard of a similar campaign. Also, you are not guaranteed that another pair really makes it to an imaginary child. So it backfires somehow.

Unknown said...

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