The Most Important Pair of Socks in the World: How Scalability During the Holidays Allows Bombas to Do What It Does Best

The Most Important Pair of Socks in the World: How Scalability During the Holidays Allows Bombas to Do What It Does Best

s a soft morning light filtered in behind him, David Heath sat perched on a stool inside his office on E. 18th St., the rush of the Manhattan streets below.

He was gesturing now, his hands beginning to animate his speech. “Good Morning America,” he said, counting each point with his fingers. “The Today show, reruns of our Shark Tank [appearance] …”

You could forgive Heath for being excited. Listing the bona fides of Bombas, the premium comfort-performance sock maker Heath co-founded in 2013, wasn't to boast. It was about providing a frame of reference for how different things could have been …

 

It was late November, one week past Thanksgiving, and the glow of Black Friday, Cyber Monday (BFCM) still cast a light over Bombas’ New York City headquarters. On this day, Heath retired into a moment of careful consideration.

Since its launch – and especially following a breakthrough appearance on Shark Tank in 2014 – the brand, which donates a pair of socks to homeless shelters for each pair it sells, had received a wave of glowing press.

Business was surging, the donation tally growing, and annual sales records never lasted longer than a year before the company had surpassed its own numbers.

Bombas’ 2017 Black Friday, Cyber Monday had been its biggest to date.

But there was also no other way to look at it. There was once a time, not long ago, when mainstream press and major shopping events had brought this company to the brink.

For Heath, and for Bombas, its recent success was a reminder of just how far they had come.

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Scalability, no matter the season

When it comes to record-breaking growth, Bombas isn’t alone. During Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Shopify processed:

  • Over $1 billion in total sales
  • Peak orders per minute of 10,149
  • And $1.1 million in a single minute
If you’re interested in making 2018 your best year yet …

Get started today

Down and Down It Went

The dream came before the nightmare.

Four years ago, Bombas was founded on a set of ideals. They were lofty ambitions rooted in goodness, born from a social-media post Heath scrolled upon that reported socks were the most requested item for donation at homeless shelters across the country.

It was a sobering statistic, and it led to a simple company ethos: donate to those in need, Bombas likes to say, “by making the most comfortable socks in the history of feet.”

The idea caught on. On Indiegogo, Bombas, armed with beautiful designs and a genuine mission to help, launched with a target to raise $15,000. By campaign’s end, more than $140,000 poured in.

Imagine the whirlwind that came when Shark Tank was next, a handshake deal with fashion mogul Daymond John secured before the Bombas team could leave the show’s L.A. set.

Bombas leveraged its Shark Tank appearance into a huge online following.

As a direct-to-consumer company, all of this meant Bombas needed an ecommerce solution that could handle its rapid rise. The company sank serious resources into its existing platform, ponying up thousands of dollars in costly retrofits and server maintenance fees to prevent its site from crashing.

And yet down and down it went.

In the moments after its Shark Tank episode aired, Bombas’ site was rife with problems. Suddenly, product images were broken, or shoppers couldn’t check out. Would-be customers had no choice but to leave carts abandoned.

Even worse, I wasn’t one bit surprised,” Heath says. “We were getting major press, and our site couldn’t scale on demand like we needed it to.

That night, during the most critical moment the young company had yet seen, Bombas lost as much as $15,000 in sales.

Less measurable was the impact the crash had on customers that Bombas could not be sure would ever return.

A Perfect Partner

Enough was enough. In short order, Bombas migrated to Shopify Plus, which immediately began to save the company six figures per year in operational costs.

That was significant, but it also only considered Bombas’ bottom line. What was much more to the company was the newfound security and stability it had discovered.

“From an infrastructure standpoint, Shopify Plus has our back,” says Adam Weinstock, Bombas’ chief technology officer. “They really knock it out of the park, and we feel incredibly confident that, as we continue to scale, our website’s going to be up and running. As an IT function, that allows us to really focus on the things that we do best.”

With a backend that performs like it should, Bombas can focus on what it does best.

Bombas had found a perfect partner, and not a moment too soon. The company was growing like crazy, revenue leaping as much as 300% year-over-year, and it required a solution that could handle not only its seismic organic growth but also the traffic spikes that came anytime its Shark Tank episode re-aired, or when the company was featured on network television.

“I’m happy to say that, since we’ve moved to Shopify Plus, we’ve successfully handled numerous live and repeat airings on television,” Weinstock says. “We haven’t had any problems along the way.”

A Light on Black Friday

Heath and his team recognized that, even for a business with its type of supercharged expansion, Bombas would truly be measured by its performance during BFCM.

It’s the Super Bowl. It’s the Oscars. Choose any analogy and know that you can’t shoot high enough: in the world of ecommerce, BFCM is the hallmark of any online retailer’s calendar.

For a company like Bombas, which pulls in as much as 60% of its annual revenue over its fourth quarter, BFCM falls squarely in the center of its holiday season push.

“It’s the one time of year that we offer a sale, so preparing for this is a year-long effort — between customer acquisition, our email plan, developing and releasing new product, making sure that we’re in stock, and then making sure that we’re fully staffed up on customer service to make sure that everything runs smoothly, and that all our customers get their products when they’ve ordered them.”

David Heath, Co-founder of Bombas

Bombas’ office was abuzz this BFCM, orders rolling in, sales so frequent that the company crushed its previous records.

Its site never crashed. The platform suffered no glitches. It all seemed so … comfortable.

Bombas makes what it calls "the world's most comfortable pair of socks."

That was by design on all fronts – by Bombas, which uses the frenzy of BFCM to ensure its site can perform under intense duress year-round, and by Shopify Plus, which offers the kind of uptime reliability and functionality that comes through under any circumstance.

“Black Friday, Cyber Monday provides us with a great opportunity to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our operations and systems,” says Weinstock. “I think, going into Black Friday, we really wanted to focus on taking our projections, doubling them, and stress-testing against that.”

Shopify Plus delivered, and not just across its basic functions. During BFCM, Bombas also used Shopify Scripts, an app exclusive to Shopify Plus merchants that allows customized line editing to be reflected in shopping cart prices, to offer unique or expedited shipping rates to customers that required tighter delivery deadlines for the holidays.

From Feet to Food

Bombas comes from the Latin word for “bumblebee.” To the company’s original members, the meaning in this was clear. “Bees work together as a hive to make their world a better place,” says Heath. “We really like that idea.”

Once Bombas began serving those in need, it became impossible to separate the company’s success in business from its charitable spirit. The two are inextricably linked, its entrepreneurship augmented by its philanthropy, its philanthropy buoyed by its entrepreneurship. In only four years, Bombas has now donated five million pairs of socks to homeless shelters across the United States.


One day last fall, early in the morning, Heath was walking in New York City when he passed a church near Bombas’ office. Outside were a group of homeless people, many still asleep in the crisp autumn dark. Heath had to himself a thought. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a hot breakfast waiting for them when they woke up?

In this there was an opportunity for Bombas to help. Twice a month, the company’s employees now rise as a team at 5 a.m. to serve fresh omelets and French toast to those in its community that could use a meal.

“This is just one of the things that I think really contributes to the amazing culture that we’ve built here at our company,” Heath says.

‘Go Out and Actually Do Something’

Bombas has found in itself a calling outside of business, and it’s the kind of difference you can make when your focus can be allowed to live in the right places. The company never has to worry about its backend. It has an ecommerce platform that is always up, always operational, always scaling in the directions that continue to grow this company.

What’s left is all that a retailer should hope for: the time and energy to do what it does best.

“Don’t just read something and be inspired by it,” Heath says. “Go out and actually do something first. Get your hands dirty; get as close to it as possible.

“Create that emotional connection with yourself to the cause, and nothing will stop you.”

Shopify Flow

Scalability, no matter the season

During Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Shopify processed:

  • Over $1 billion in total sales
  • Peak orders per minute of 10,149
  • And $1.1 million in a single minute
If you’re interested in making 2018 your best year yet …

Get started today

 

About the Author

Jason Buckland is a content marketer at Shopify Plus. His feature writing has appeared in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Playboy, Time, the Toronto Star and elsewhere.