Who would have thought that the humble sock could ever be a product of worldwide admiration and a tool for social change? Direct-to-consumer company, Bombas, has done exactly that with their socks. Founded in 2013, the apparel company produces socks and for every pair that is sold, the brand donates a pair to someone in need.
One day while scrolling through Facebook, Dave Heathon, co-founder of Bombas, was surprised to learn that socks are the number one most requested donation item in homeless shelters. Due to hygiene concerns, shelters usually don’t accept donations of second-hand socks for their residents. Determined to make a change, Heath and his friend, Randy Goldberg decided to create a company that would produce socks and undertook to donate a pair for each pair they sell. To date, Bombas has donated almost 30 million pairs to more than 2,500 community organizations.
The name Bombas comes from the Latin word for bumblebee. The company’s motto is “Bee better”.
Heath and Goldberg had to sell enough socks in order to donate the same number of socks and still be profitable. To achieve this goal, they had to come up with top-quality products that people would be prepared to pay a premium price for: An improved everyday sock for their customers and a specially developed sock for donation.
Bombas socks are not cheap. The original ankle socks for women sell for $12 a pair. How did the company convince consumers to pay so much for a common clothing item? They technically improved the quality of the experience.
During two years of meticulous research, the pair went about asking people what they thought about their socks and learned that most people had complaints. They ended up making several improvements, including ankle socks that have blister tabs, calf socks that stay up and never sag down and no-shows that don’t creep away in your shoe. They eliminated annoying toe seams and incorporated extra arch support.
Just as much thought and care was put into the socks for donation. These socks had to be extra durable with reinforced seams. Darker colors were used to make wear and tear less noticeable, and antimicrobial treatment was added because homeless people don’t have the opportunity to wash their socks regularly.
Comparing the Bombas pricing to that of Starbucks, co-founder Goldberg explains that Starbucks improved the quality of the experience around coffee so much that people were prepared to pay three times more for their coffee than what they used to spend.
Bombas, one of the 14 biggest D2C companies named by CB Insights, is part of the direct-to-consumer (D2C) boom that is long upon us. As venture capitalists shifted their investment focus to the e-commerce and D2C market, more than $1.5 billion was raised for startups like Bombas in 2018 alone, according to data from CB Insights.
Direct brands are also taking the market share from existing brands. While more than 12,000 stores were projected to close in 2018, digital channels continue to show growth.
Within six years of its beginning, Bombas has earned more than $100 million in revenue in 2018. One of the reasons for this explosive growth was leveraging social media platforms for advertising. Kate Huyett, chief marketing officer at Bombas explained that the Facebook ad platform has been crucial for the company’s growth. These kinds of platforms make it possible for brands to tell their stories to huge numbers of people.
In this case, the story is compelling: buy a comfortable pair of socks for yourself and give the same comfort to someone in need.