The Modern Retail Podcast is a weekly show that hears from executives in the retail space, from legacy companies to the buzzy world of DTC startups. Cale Weissman, editor of Modern Retail, hosts.
‘Big companies are not as good at innovation’: Canteen Spirits CEO Brandon Cason on disrupting the hard seltzer industry
Canteen Spirits was ready to take on the hard seltzer industry -- and then the coronavirus hit.
The company launched in late 2019 and began 2020 expecting to grow to new heights. According to co-founder and CEO Brandon Cason, the first few months of the pandemic were hard when the country shut down and many channels slowed down. But things began to quickly ramp up once the first coronavirus peak subsided -- and the beverage brand is in growth mode once again. Canteen makes canned vodka-based sparkling beverages. Cason joined this week’s Modern Retail Podcast and described the year’s journey.
According to Cason, Canteen hit on the right space at the right time. Most hard seltzers are malt-based, but many people have been seeking out similar drinks that are made from spirits. “We recognized that consumers wanted to elevate and go premium when it comes to what they’re drinking,” he said. In the third quarter of last year, things began to take off, with sales doubling month over month during that period. Now, Canteen is about to expand into a new area -- Tequila -- with a soon-to-launch sparkling beverage called Cantina.
Cason has a history in both liquor and CPG -- hailing from both the sparkling water brand Waterloo and the vodka company Deep Eddy -- and thinks that with new types of beverages it’s better to be the disruptor. “Big companies are usually not as good at innovation as they are mergers and acquisitions,” he said. Which is to say that a big company like AB-InBev may only invest in making a brand new product if the market has already bore out the results.
Even with this current success, Canteen has a lot of growth to do. For one, it’s yet to build out its DTC channel and has only been focusing on wholesale. In his view, growing a direct online presence is a mid- to later-stage step for a spirits startup -- getting retail traction was the most important first step. The company is also waiting until the world opens back up, so it can begin more heavily marketing in person. Events, he said, are “still just a big placeholder for us” -- for obvious reasons. But once the vaccine is deployed and people are socializing once again, “there are dollars ready to go.”
‘An experience that’s bad, or at least a little weird’: Alto Pharmacy’s Matt Gamache-Asselin on why he entered the space
Healthcare and insurance aren’t the sexiest areas, but they are both ripe for disruption.
That’s why Matt Gamache-Asselin, co-founder and CEO of Alto Pharmacy, decided to enter the space, as he said on the Modern Retail Podcast. The five-year-old company has raised over $350 million thus far and has been building digital pharmacy to compete with the likes of CVS and Walgreens.
Pharmacies are a big umbrella to tackle. Gamache-Asselin estimated the entire industry to be worth half a trillion dollars. For him and his co-founder, the idea was to first and foremost fix one very big problem: health insurance. Rather than selling over-the-counter prescriptions or charging a concierge fee for healthcare services, Alto is quite simply an online pharmacy that works directly with insurance companies. He described going to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription as “an experience I think everyone would agree is bad -- if not at least kind of weird.”
To figure out how to go about it, Alto bought a small pharmacy in the Bay Area and to understand the industry. He learned “how different operationally [pharmacies are] from retail,” he said. From there, the company launched its digital platform -- which is now available in five major U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.
On the program, Gamache-Asselin spoke about the overall pharmacy industry, and why he believes there’s so much room for improvement. He’s even excited about the big dogs coming in. “What I’m most excited about is the new entrants into the space,” he said, “especially a company like Amazon.” Why? In his words: “It can be a bit of a wedge to drive change -- which is clearly sorely needed.”
Cure Hydration's Lauren Picasso on growing a beverage brand and utilizing micro-influencers
Lauren Picasso is both an athlete and an entrepreneur -- and she used both skillsets to help launch her company.
Picasso is the founder and CEO of Cure Hydration, an electrolyte beverage that comes in powder form. She has a background in e-commerce, hailing from startups like Jet.com, but Cure was her first foray in beverages. On the Modern Retail Podcast, Picasso described the process of launching and growing Cure -- and the lessons she's learned.
Picasso has grown the company over the last two years, using social media and national distribution. The products are both available online and in stores, including CVS, Walmart and Whole Foods. At launch, her strategy was to have Cure available in boutique retail environments, like high-end gyms. "Post-pandemic, I really shifted gears and focused more on essential retailers," she said.
Now the company is trying to scale by attracting new influencers to rep the brand, adding new products to its portfolio and expanding to more stores. Right now, the business is about 60% wholesale and 40% DTC -- which she thinks is a good breakdown. Both have their pros and cons, but Cure's focus is on getting more people to trying the product and then convincing then -- of course -- to repeat the purchase.
"Retail is a great to grow your business really quickly," she said. "But DTC is important for us for our loyal customers and that direct access to our customers."
A legal challenge for Amazon, and boom times for TikTok: Modern Retail's top trends for 2021
It's an understatement to say that 2020 was a strange year. A global pandemic turned everything upside down, and retail was no exception.
In this week’s episode of the Modern Retail Podcast, a few members of the editorial team take a look ahead at what 2021 may have in store for the retail industry. We cover quite a bit -- from a quiet time for IPOs to a bill targeting e-commerce companies. But the one tying bind is that things are very different from what they were a year ago.
'A proxy for independent retail': Shopify President Harley Finkelstein on how retail was revolutionized in 2020
It's easy to talk about retail doom and gloom, given a nearly year-long shutdown for brick-and-mortar stores and bankruptcy filings by many big name retailers. But Shopify president Harley Finkelstein is bullish on the sector's resilience and potential -- especially in e-commerce, which has grown by double digits in 2020 (even retail sales generally were up 6.6% in the January to November period this year, if you exclude gas, car and food services).
"In many ways Shopify is a proxy for independent retail," Finkelstein said on the Modern Retail Podcast, adding that the four days from Black Friday to Cyber Monday this year generated $5 billion in sales on the platform. "And so what that tells me is consumers have completely shifted their buying preferences towards buying more from independent retailers and buying things from brands whose values reflect their own," he said.
Shopify allows users to set up their own e-commerce websites. Last year, according to the Canadian company, it surpassed eBay as the second-biggest online retailer in the United States (behind Amazon, obviously).
"Our philosophy is to create more value for the partners we capture for ourselves that keeps growing," Finkelstein said.
Herman Miller Retail president Debbie Propst on 'softening' Design Within Reach's image in tough times
The pandemic has quickly changed the typical office chair shopper. It's no longer entire companies investing in ergonomic seating, but individuals working from home.
"Most consumers have never had to think about this type of product purchase before," Herman Miller Retail president Debbie Propst said on the Modern Retail Podcast. "They've relied on procurement teams or ergonomic specialists who have decided what chair you sit on while you're working."
Herman Miller Retail includes Herman Miller, Design Within Reach and HAY. Propst joined the company in January, overseeing a year of momentous change.
"One of the things that we've done over the spring and summer months, specifically for the Design Within Reach brand, is really soften the way that we look and feel so that we can be more relatable," Propst said. "We used to showcase a lot of museum-like homes that don't look lived in. And we've used this time period to really transition into much more realistic, livable modern homes."
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Love the Digiday podcast...and while the concept of this is great, it’s a light touch lacking depth of insights around strategy.