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.
'Basically profitable since day 1': Saatva co-founder Ricky Joshi on tackling the luxury mattress market
Over the last year and a half, people have increasingly invested in their homes. And mattress brand Saatva was able to capitalize that demand.
The ten-year-old company saw revenues almost double over the last two years. In 2017, the company disclosed that it made $207 million in revenue. According to co-founder and chief strategy officer Ricky Joshi, Saatva has been "basically profitable since day one." He joined the Modern Retail Podcast and spoke about how Saatva has been growing and expanding its product line.
Saatva has tried to establish itself as the producer of a higher-end mattress made with more sustainable materials. According to Joshi, the intention since day one wasn't to raise a lot of money and, as a result, be forced to scale in a short amount of time. "We really went out there and just tried to organically build the best business possible, being really disciplined in terms of how we managed our spending," he said. The company hasn't raised any VC money, but did receive a private equity investment in 2018 for an undisclosed amount.
In the early days, the focus was on making a few products -- namely mattresses -- well, as well as capitalizing on the then-nascent digital marketing landscape. Now, the company is beefing up its advertising efforts and has expanded to other products, including bed frames, sheets and comforters. Joshi said more products are on the horizon too.
With that, Saatva has also been increasingly expanding its retail footprint. It has a New York showroom that currently brings in $8 million of revenue a year. Now, the brand is opening new locations in cities like San Francisco, Washington, DC, Portland and Boston. Joshi said that the New York location "significantly exceeded our expectations."
With the new stores, Joshi said he's trying to figure out the right goals. For smaller cities, for example, direct sales in stores will be more important than those with larger populations where a store can have greater impact on the overall market. "Every story has its own KPIs and goals," he said.
The next year is critical for Saatva's growth, in Joshi's eyes. The company is ready to open more stores, launch new products and gin up more brand awareness. "We're going to take advantage of the growth in the home furnishing sector," he said. "Particularly the luxury part of the home furnishing sector."
St-Germain’s Emma Fox on the growing apéritif market
It’s been an unpredictable year-plus for the spirits industry, as alcohol consumption shifted away from bars to the home and, now, slowly back to bars. But that presented a unique opportunity for the apéritif brand St-Germain.
The Bacardi-owned elderflower-based liqueur has benefitted from growing demand for apéritifs. But according to Emma Fox, the VP of the brand, St-Germain has also been taking great pains to get more people to know it exists.
Fox started working at St-Germain about a year and a half ago. Her mandate, she said on the Modern Retail Podcast, was about “making sure that we have the right ambassadors and people that work with us.” Before, a drink like St-Germain would focus predominately on distribution in upscale bars. But Fox has updated her marketing strategy to get the bottle in the hands of both consumers and influencers.
Of course, that doesn’t mean bartenders are no longer important. Hospitality professions, she said, “are a part of the fabric of St-Germain.” But, with the coronavirus causing many bars to rethink their businesses, so too did St-Germain have to update its marketing playbook. Much of the focus over the last year, she said. was on making “very very simple content.” The idea was to get more people to understand exactly what the aperitif is.
Now, things are accelerating even more -- and Fox is planning bigger promotions and events. At the same time, she said, St-Germain is trying to stay focused on what it is and to whom it caters. “You’ve got a North Star to guide you,” she said. “[Otherwise], I think you can get very easily distracted in a number of ways.”
‘Sometimes marketers get blinded’: Cuisinart’s Mary Rodgers on how the appliance brand stays current
Cuisinart is generally known for one thing -- its food processor -- but the company has been expanding its reach in the kitchen for decades.
In fact, the brand is moving beyond the kitchen into new parts of the home. Most recently, Cuisinart launched an air purifier. That makes for a tall order as a brand marketer.
This week on the Modern Retail Podcast, Mary Rodgers, Cuisinart’s director of marketing communications, spoke about how her overall approach has evolved as Cuisinart’s product line has evolved.
Rodgers has been at the company for 25 years. That’s a long time -- but her role has only expanded over the years. “The real reason I’m still here is because I work on all these exciting aspects of the business,” she said. “Sometimes when you get in certain companies, you’re very narrow in your field of vision. I like that I have a lot of influence over all of the brand marketing for the company.”
Her scope is quite large. She runs the brand’s DTC business, which in 2018 moved from outsourcing fulfillment to bringing it all in-house. The company purchased a fulfillment center in Arizona and used it as a hub for all of its distribution. It held all the inventory for online orders, as well as handled customer fulfillment for online orders from other retailers. In essence, Cuisinart now controls all of its own distribution. “It tightens up the whole system,” she said, “because we’re not shipping an item to a retailer who is then shipping an item to a consumer -- you’re compressing the entire system, basically.”
Beyond that, she controls all the other aspects of brand marketing -- which includes well-known channels like search and TV, as well as more experimental channels like TikTok. While Cuisinart is testing out the new app, Rodgers was clear that marketing campaigns must “always tie everything back to strategy.”
Since the early days, Cuisinart has tried to compile as much first-party data as it can about its customers. Today, Rodgers is trying to systematize that even more. One of the big things she’s paying attention to is lifestyle changes. Before, items like Cuisinart were often gifted during big life events like weddings. Now, wedding culture has changed and Cuisinart is trying to find ways to remain relevant.
With that is the main goal and conundrum of her job. “We have to understand the big picture,” she said. “Where are our consumers?”
‘The perfect storm’: How Brunt is building a DTC apparel brand for trade worker
Eric Girouard hadn’t planned on launching his company during a pandemic, but that’s what ended up happening.
Girouard is the founder and CEO of Brunt Workwear, an online apparel company that began selling its first products -- work boots -- a year ago. While Brunt had been in the works well before the coronavirus first hit, Girouard was faced with a decision in March 2020 of whether or not to delay the launch. Ultimately, he decided against it -- and, in fact, did the opposite and ended up launching earlier than planned.
He joined the Modern Retail Podcast this week and discussed how the last year has gone.
Sales thus far have been good. “We’ve consistently grown 63% month-over-month since we’ve launched, said Girouard. Brunt was able to grow because people in the trades have had to continue working, pandemic or not. “There was about a two week [work] hiatus,” he said. “And then a lot of our core customers -- the real construction worker, the trades worker that was really building the economy in the country during one of the most challenging times -- were deemed essential.” What’s more, most of these people bought their work gear in person at stores -- but they were forced to find new products online. Those two issues meant that Brunt had a possible way to enter the market.
Another big facet of Brunt’s strategy is its brand ambassador program. Before Brunt launched, Girouard spent hundreds of hours seeking out influencers in the trades. These weren’t your usual Instagram-famous accounts -- they were people who recorded themselves doing grueling work and amassed an audience of fellow workers. These are the accounts Girouard wanted repping the Brunt brand -- and this growth strategy, he said, has worked.
While Girouard is happy with the current trajectory, he’s excited to get Brunt’s name in front of more people. “At the end of the, day being less than a year old, less than 99% of the country knows Brunt Workwear exists yet,” he said. “We’re just so early in our life cycle.”
‘We are fortunate to have a subscription model’: Bark CEO Manish Joneja on capitalizing on the pandemic pet adoption boom
According to the dog toy and accessories brand Bark, that’s led to an increase in demand. During its latest quarterly earnings report, the company reported that subscription shipments shot up 52.4% year-over-year, hitting 3.6 million. And revenue grew 57% year-over-year, coming to $117.6 million.
According to CEO Manish Joneja, the plan is to grow and expand. Joneja joined the Modern Retail Podcast and spoke about the last year and his big plans for the brand -- which went public via a SPAC in June.
Joneja is relatively new to Bark, which first launched in 2011. He was brought on as CEO in September of 2020, coming from Amazon. “What brought me to Bark is what I shared: my love for dogs,” Joneja said. “The market right now serves you as a transactional commerce.”
Bark, conversely, is built more on building a relationship. “The foundation of Bark is built on high-level personalization with high-touch service,” he said.
The focus is on expanding into new areas -- such as food and dental care -- as well as acquiring more customers. For now, Bark will remain focused on dogs. “We want to make sure we serve the 63 million households [that currently own dogs],” he said. “That’s a tremendous opportunity -- you want to get that right first.”
‘We’re not entering 20 new categories’: Magic Spoon’s Gabi Lewis on building a modern cereal brand
Gabi Lewis thinks the cereal world is ready for an upgrade.
That’s why a few years after he sold his first company, a cricket protein startup, he co-founded Magic Spoon. The brand, which first launched in 2019, is sold entirely online and offers a variety of different protein-filled cereals for around $10 a box. The idea with Magic Spoon, said Lewis, was to “take cereal through the innovation that we’ve seen in categories like ice cream or candy -- where brands have come in and they have just flipped the protein and sugar on their heads.”
Lewis joined the Modern Retail Podcast and spoke about how he built the Magic Spoon brand, as well as where he sees it going from here.
The one thing Lewis is intent about is Magic Spoon’s focus on cereal. “We’re not entering 20 new categories,” he said, “we’re not going into 30,000 retail stores.” Instead, the company has just focused on just offering its cereal, which currently comes in eight flavors -- including ‘cookies and cream,’ ‘maple waffle’ and ‘fruity’ -- as well as limited edition products that get released every few months.
The idea was to create a standalone brand for health nuts who want a healthy breakfast that’s reminiscent of their childhood.
According to Lewis, growth has been steady for the last two years. And demand grew even more during 2020. Like many other online grocery-adjacent brands, Magic Spoon saw an explosion of demand during the early days of the pandemic. “We did see a massive increase in demand across the board,” he said, “I think just because there was an increased desire to purchase food online period.” He added that “obviously some of that is continued [and] some of it hasn’t.”
Despite industry fluctuations, Magic Spoon has tried to find new ways to discover customers. Rather than focus predominately on Facebook and Google, the company has built out a robust network of influencers who have evangelized the brand since the beginning. Similarly, Lewis has been testing out other new advertising channels like podcasts and television.
All of this, according to Lewis, has helped prepare Magic Spoon to continue its steady growth. He is insistent that, despite the look and feel of the product, Magic Spoon is not out there to totally eat General Mills’ lunch.
And that, he maintains, is its ultimate competitive difference. “We’re not cereal,” he said. “We are protein powder in the shape of cereal.”
Excellent, unique, personal insights
I’ve been listening to this show for some time, and it always brings interesting insights and perspectives to the table. I particularly enjoyed the Atoms episode, what a unique and intriguing story! Great listen for marketers looking to stand out.
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Today’s marketing changes by the day! This pod cast helps me stay on trend and sometimes ahead! Thanks!
Great explanation of the Foot Locker business and the importance of product and consumer diversity.