In this Case Study I will discuss the Toms Shoes social enterprise and what motivated the founder to open the business. I hope by the end of this Case Study, you will understand the mindset needed to become a buy-one-give-one entrepreneur.

One day a year, when Toms Shoes is closed for the summer, the store hires volunteers to stand outside and sell Toms shoes. They receive no money, no merchandise, and no bonuses for completing the job. A professional team does all the selling for them.

Each morning there are more volunteers at the entrance than Toms shoes sold during the entire month of June. “It’s amazing,” the owner says, “how people come out of the woodwork and walk right in.” So she allows people to bring their own clothes and one bottle of water per person.

It’s a good thing the store sells a limited number of shoes on this designated day each year. They receive no direct benefit for having people as customers. In fact, if the owners had increased the hours of operation during peak summer shopping times, they would have sold much more.

What can a business that receives no direct benefit do to attract new customers and keep them coming back? I propose setting up a free sales booth with a case of Toms shoes available for each customer to take home. A $25.00 case would be a great investment for any business.

I think each sale should include a free gift. Maybe, a little lipstick or a note of appreciation for the sale. I have seen an impressive “buy one, get one free” sale and heard some unbelievable stories about people getting thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and items. Here’s what I would suggest.

Use the Case Study Solution to explore what works and what doesn’t work in a free sales booth. Think about some of the problems that could occur with the purchase. For example, what if a customer asks for another pair of shoes but is not comfortable in them and asks for a refund? If this happens, the sales team must come up with a plan of action. Could a Toms promotion that explains why a refund is OK to be helpful?

Another scenario might be someone walks in wanting to buy the same pair of shoes and is unhappy with them. If the woman asks for a refund, does the company have a policy on refunds?

On the other hand, what if someone buys the exact same pair of shoes that he or she originally bought and then wants to exchange them for another pair? The sale team would need to consider if it was okay to offer a return because of a problem in the pair or if it would be best to give the woman the two pairs for the price she paid for one pair. Would it be better to have the shoes donated to a good cause or to donate them to the company’s own charitable foundation?

These are just a few of the challenges a free sales team might face. The model described above can help them solve problems as they arise. There is no easy answer to how to run a successful free Toms shoes booth in the summer.

The Case Study Solution does not rely on one specific strategy. It involves following a business model. I recommend that entrepreneurs read the Case Study Solution, apply the strategies, and then modify it to suit your local climate. And as with anything, there are several other social enterprises to join.

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