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.
‘We can be a lot faster’: Levi’s Marc Rosen on how the denim brand’s business has evolved
Marc Rosen has worn many hats -- or, perhaps, pants -- at Levi’s.
Today, he’s the president of the apparel brand’s Americas business. But he’s been at the company for seven years -- first joining to grow Levi’s e-commerce business. As such, he’s seen a lot of changes, both within the company and in retail as a whole. On the Modern Retail Podcast, Rosen spoke about what he’s been observing, as well as how his role at Levi’s has changed both over the years and during the pandemic.
Thinking back to the retail landscape almost a decade ago, Rosen said, “I think almost everything has changed.”
But, of course, many of the most drastic changes happened in the last year. And that also coincided with a new position for Rosen. Instead of just leading the online business, Rosen began overseeing all of Levi’s Americas business -- including wholesale -- in January of 2020. As such, the pandemic was certainly a crash course in navigating a new facet of the brand’s business.
“The wholesale world, to some extent, for me was new,” he said. “It was really a learning experience about building that relationship.”
Much of that learning experience was focused on figuring out where and how people were shopping. For example, while Levi’s is available in many brick and mortar stores, it also has wholesale relationships with online retailers. “Consumers moved so quickly into digital,” Rosen said, and the first part of the pandemic was working both inside Levi’s and with partners to try and navigate that shift.
This also brought about a big change in how Levi’s as a company rolled out new products. For large companies, it’s hard to adopt a startup-like ethos of test and learn. But during a global pandemic, that’s all retailers were able to do. They had to adapt in an instant, launch and figure things out from there. The big lesson Rosen learned, he said, is “we can be a lot faster.” Instead of very slowly building something internally, more programs can see the light of day faster and be iterated upon.
The pandemic, he said, brought about these lessons. Normally, he explained, “we probably would have built [out a new feature or program], and waited until it was perfect to roll it out. But in a pandemic, you don’t have that luxury.”
‘We’re not trying to be a retailer’: Google’s commerce president Bill Ready on growing the shopping ecosystem
Google wants to make it crystal clear that it’s not a marketplace.
True, people can buy things on Google, but it also lets sellers link out to other marketplaces. On the Modern Retail Podcast, Bill Ready, the company’s president of commerce and payments, discussed this important nuance. “We’re not a retailer, we’re not a marketplace,” he said. In his estimation, Google is about helping shoppers discover products (and sometimes letting them transact with in the platform). While the site looks and feels like a marketplace, he insisted that Google’s utility provides something markedly different.
Google’s shopping capabilities have had quite the evolution. Its offerings have had fits and starts, to say the least. Currently, any merchant can upload products to be listed on Google’s shopping website. They can use Google’s commerce options -- called ‘Buy on Google’ -- or they can link out.
Last year, the company made the decision to make its listings completely free. Before, merchants had to purchase an ad in order to surface on the platform. All these moves, according to Ready, are because of Google’s belief in the open web. But making product listings free also meant more merchants tried out the platform; the company saw 80% more listings in 2020 compared to the year before.
The focus now, according to Ready, is to continue making services and products for merchants and get more brands comfortable with selling on Google. This includes testing out shoppable ad units on YouTube.
Of course, continuing to grow the ad business is also important. And who remains a big advertiser on Google? Amazon. “We partner with retailers of every size, including the largest and you know, Amazon is a partner that we work with quite closely as well,” said Ready. “It can oftentimes be a good storyline to say ‘hey, is this a competitive thing?’ [but] it really is a return to first principles for Google.”
‘Disproportionately benefited’: Ocean Spray CEO Tom Hayes on going viral and expanding into new categories
It’s been a crazy year for Ocean Spray.
The 91-year-old cranberry product company not only saw an increase in sales over the last year, but went viral on TikTok. It saw increased demand in 2020, according to CEO Tom Hayes. “Ocean Spray as a category leader has probably disproportionately benefited [from the pandemic],” Hayes said on the Modern Retail Podcast.
This episode was recorded live at last week’s Modern Retail Summit. There, Hayes gave a fireside chat -- talking about the company’s product development strategy and how it tried to ride the TikTok wave. Last year, a TikTok user named Nathan Apodaca videotaped himself on a skateboard listening to Fleetwood Mac while drinking Ocean Spray cranberry juice. It went viral, and the company’s products flew off the shelves.
The Ocean Spray team was forced to react. Before going viral, Hayes said the company’s social media strategy was more traditional. “If I were to put a picture on it, it might be that Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving,” he said. Now the company is “trying to move the brand to be a little more edgy, and to be a little more attractive to the younger consumer.”
TikTok aside, Ocean Spray has other big plans. It recently unveiled new products -- including a dried fruit snack and a caffeinated sparkling drink -- and is trying to establish itself as a category leader outside of just cranberry juice.
‘A rich tapestry of interests, affinities and geographies’: Crocs president Michelle Poole on the shoe brand’s influencer strategy
It’s been a big year for Crocs.
The popular shoe brand, known for its ubiquitous plastic slip-ons, saw revenue grow 12.6% year-over-year, hitting $1.39 billion. E-commerce was a big driver of its business, growing 92%. About half of the company’s revenue comes from digital channels. According to the company’s president Michelle Poole, this success was thanks to the brand keeping its ear to the ground and remaining scrappy.
“I’m most focused on how the brand comes to life across the globe, in all channels,” she said on the Modern Retail Podcast. Poole spoke about how the company dealt with all the changes brought on over the past year, as well as how it approaches large branding campaigns and influencers.
Part of Crocs’ growth was thanks to its varied marketing campaigns. The company has unveiled a number of collaborations with companies like KFC and celebrities like Justin Bieber. These campaigns are a way to keep the shoe brand relevant. A few years ago, Crocs was less choosy when it came to celebrity partnerships. “At the beginning, we were just frankly, we were grateful to have someone to partner with,” said Poole. “And we’ve now really got the opportunity to be more strategic.”
A Bieber-branded Croc isn’t Poole’s only focus. Currently, she’s thinking about international expansion. “We actually have three key markets that we’re really focused: China, Japan and Korea,” she said. “I would say that the playbook we are really focused on in Asia... is [to] really establish icon status.” This is how the company has approached growth in all its regions, she said. Poole added that “where it does need to be tailored is in our marketing strategy.” That is, the campaigns -- and influencers -- Crocs work with in Asia are slightly different than those in North America.
Despite the recent growth, things haven’t been a walk in the park. For the last year, Poole said, Crocs was in defense mode. But now, she went on, “I think as we move out of Covid, [we] move back into I would say is offense mode.”
Taika CEO Michael Sharon on growing a coffee brand during the pandemic
If you text the phone number on a can of the coffee drink Taika, chances are that a human will respond. This is by design.
The company, which boasts a caffeinated canned drink that contains so-called adaptogens, launched in 2020 -- right when the pandemic hit. And it’s used a text-based branding strategy to help it connect with customers.
Co-founder and CEO Michael Sharon joined the Modern Retail Podcast this week and spoke about how the company has been able to grow over the last year.
Sharon’s background is in tech, hailing from companies like Facebook. His co-founder Kal Freese was a barista champion. Together, they are trying to build a coffee beverage that wasn’t tailored for snobs. “Most of the ways coffee is marketed, is focused on the origin -- like, where does this thing come from? Is it from Honduras? Is it from Guatemala?” said Sharon. “These are just marketing labels and definitions,” he said, adding that most people can’t tell the difference between coffees based on their country of origin.
The thesis behind Taika, he explained, is “to focus on a destination.” That is, “how does the coffee make you feel, how’s it gonna make you feel after you drink it after you consume it?”
The company also aims to have approachable marketing. That includes having a phone number prominently displayed on the can that people can text at anytime with product questions. While some companies, like Iris Nova, use text as a means for ordering. Sharon said that the SMS strategy was more about fostering a connection with Taika’s customers. Texting, he explained, “is a brand experience touchpoint for us more than anything.”
In 2019, Taika began beta testing its selection. Then, the company focused predominately on selling to local businesses like co-working spaces and using those customers to get direct feedback. But when the pandemic hit, the coffee brand had to pivot. It launched both its DTC business, as well as started selling in retail stores around the country.
After a rough month or so when the coronavirus first hit, Taika is now seeing the business take flight. According to Sharon, Taika has been growing around 30% month-over-month. He is forging new retail partnerships, but is also focused on growing the DTC channel, which currently represents 40% of its business.
It’s a difficult but important channel to grow. “It’s really hard to scale beverage to DTC,” he said.
‘This is a land grab’: Vivino CEO Heini Zachariassen on the growing wine e-commerce market
The Shazam for wine had quite a big year.
Vivino, an app that lets users search for wines by taking a picture of the label and read customer reviews, raised $155 million last February. The app now has over 50 million users worldwide, and says it facilitated around $250 million in sales last year. Founder and CEO Heini Zachariassen joined the Modern Retail Podcast, and spoke about this newfound growth.
The app is over ten years old, and only a few years back began adding commerce to the mix. Before getting users to transact, the first order of business was getting people to use it. “This is a land grab,” said Zachariassen. “We want to be the biggest wine app in the space.”
In its early days, Vivino was focused on being an intuitive app that people would use for wine research. The idea was to build a user habit -- people would pull out the app while they were perusing bottles at the wine store. Commerce, said Zachariassen, would come later as it’s “a bit of a complex thing to do.” The focus at first, he said, was to “learn about the user.”
But since 2016, the company has been building relationships with wine retailers to make it easier for Vivino users to buy wine. The pandemic, however, was when wine sales really began hitting their stride. Said Zachariassen, “2020 has been really a breakthrough for us.”
With more people using Vivino to buy wine, the focus now is to find more app users -- and add more retail partners to the mix. Zachariassen said that this latest investment is about growing the 200-person team and putting marketing on the front burner. Now, he said, he wants to prove how big the online wine business can grow.
“If this reaches scale, there is money to be made,” Zachariassen said. “This is a real business -- now we’re going to push the accelerator.”
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.