Brands that break the mold

No matter what they are selling or where they are selling it, retail startups are finding new ways to build deeper, more personal relationships with consumers, ultimately building a better shopping experience.

Co-founders and CEOs from three direct-to-consumer startups — Burrow, Snowe and Thirty Madisontook the stage at NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show to share how they compete in the retail industry, create dynamic retail environments both online and offline and balance performance marketing and brand building.

"We are in the middle of a direct-to-consumer revolution."

Emily Heyward, Red Antler

“We are in the middle of a direct-to-consumer revolution,” said session moderator Emily Heyward, co-founder and chief strategist for brand marketing company Red Antler. “Category after category is being disrupted by new brands that recognize an opportunity to streamline the supply chain, reduce costs, reduce friction and, many times, reduce choice for consumers.”

It’s not as easy as it looks, especially since retailers are asking customers to completely change ingrained shopping behaviors. “Not everything should or can be sold direct to consumers,” she said. “You’re really asking a lot of the customers. You’re asking them to go to your website instead of where they usually shop.”

That’s particularly true when it comes to shopping for new furniture. “At Burrow, we solve a lot of pain points in the furniture industry through innovative products and experiences,” said co-founder and CEO Stephen Kuhl. “Everything from the shopping experience to the shipping experience to living with your furniture and moving again.”

It’s easy to imagine the challenges to selling furniture online “As hard as it is to buy furniture, making it is even harder,” Kuhl noted. Today’s customers want high quality products made with thoughtful materials, shipped fast and delivered and set up for free.

Burrow also has a bricks-and-mortar location — Burrow House in New York’s SoHo neighborhood — where shoppers can come in and try out the company’s sofas while watching a movie and sipping a glass of wine.  “There’s a lot of trust building involved” in the direct-to-consumer model, Kuhl said. “When you go to Crate and Barrel, you know what you’re getting. When you buy from us, you’re still unsure, so every part of the experience, the stakes are so much higher.”

Snowe, a direct-to-consumer home products brand, has also combined the ease of online shopping with the tactile experience of a physical location to build consumer confidence and trust. “Even with free shipping and returns where we thought we were taking down barriers, we had to think about other ways where customers could interact with the product,” said Rachel Cohen, co-founder and co-CEO.

“When people are touching and feeling the product in person, it’s building that credibility and that trust.”

Rachel Cohen, Snowe

Last year, Snowe launched a pop-up location in SoHo; it currently has a location in the Flatiron District in New York. The pop-ups allow customers to “see what a Snowe point of view looks like” and encourages customers to organically interact with the brand. “When people are touching and feeling the product in person, it’s building that credibility and that trust,” Cohen said. “It may make us seem more credible, trustworthy and larger than we actually are, and they come to us online as well.”

Thirty Madison, the healthcare startup behind hair loss brand Keeps and migraine treatment brand Cove, turned to television advertising to market and educate modern consumers on the underlying chronic health condition rather than focusing on the specific product. “Our strategy was to launch on television at the same time we launched our Keeps brand,” said co-founder Steve Gutentag. “While it’s a traditional format, it helps us seem a lot bigger than we actually are and that helps us drive trust in our brand and products.”

Stay up to date with NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show, including sessions, photos and videos on the official show recap.

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