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Member Exclusive   //   May 30, 2022  ■  10 min read

Modern Retail Omnichannel Forum: From quick fixes to long-term strategies, how brands are preparing for the future

Kaleigh Moore

Retailers need to retire the sales strategies of yesterday. That is to say, the short-term strategies adopted during the pandemic no longer apply.

Consumer behavior has shifted from fairly balanced in the outset of 2020 to heavily reliant on e-commerce throughout the height of the pandemic. And sales strategies shifted with those behaviors, from an omnichannel dance learning to navigate e-commerce to an emphasis on online DTC, quick fixes, and customer acquisition. But now there’s once again a balance. It’s time to recalibrate based on that changing demand. It’s time to reinvest in omnichannel strategies.

Modern Retail recently hosted an Omnichannel Forum, gathering together several company founders and brand leaders to discuss how to meet evolving retail needs. Editor-in-chief Cale Weissman noted that DTC has become not a business model, but a state of mind, or even an aesthetic — and one brands can’t rely on alone. With the wide variety of channel options, from Amazon and Big Box to pop-ups and delivery apps, there are many new ways to reach customers. 

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With this as a backdrop, let’s talk omnichannel. Here are three of the top lessons shared during the forum:

  1. Breaking into retail with a balanced omnichannel strategy
  2. Navigating multiple retail platforms
  3. Leveraging social media for growth

But there’s so much to learn beyond those three bullet points. Below is a synthesis of what the retail leaders said, and some of the most important lessons shared during the one-day forum.

01
Breaking into retail

How do you break into retail with a beverage usually relegated to the ethnic aisle in your local grocery store? Sandro Roco, founder and CEO of Sanzo, spoke about how he exploited white space in the food and beverage market to create Asian-inspired sparkling water. 

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Sanzo launched in mid-summer of 2019. Roco’s strategy was two-fold: provide consumers with a healthy beverage with unique flavors, such as lychee, and to create a conversation about how Asian-Americans exist within retail. “The product is sparkling water, but we want to be part of broader conversations,” said Roco. For example, the brand partnered with Disney and Pixar to create a “Turning Red” and Sanzo campaign. 

In the beginning, Roco had to navigate the world of DTC. What would have been a primarily wholesale-driven business became a conversation between wholesale and DTC because of the pandemic. But this also allowed Roco to get an early read on where Sanzo would resonate by delving into demographic data. 

“The biggest thing that talking to our customers did was it really solidified our ability to operate at a premium price point and maintain good gross margins,” said Roco. “Especially now, there is a necessity for profitability. In order to maintain this premium price point and gross margin, we need to build a brand to justify that.”

As you may have noticed, the healthy beverage market has experienced widespread growth, with new brands popping up everywhere. Whether they target gut health or sugar reduction, there’s no shortage of options. So how do you build a brand that stands out from the crowd? How do you entice retailers to stock your product over another?

“[Healthy beverage brands were at first] just a better for you version of this terrible-for-you cookie, or this terrible-for-you beverage,” said Roco. “Now it seems like that is already being met, and that’s kind of table stake for emerging brands. 

“What we’ve seen as a bit of an advantage is really developing a community,” said Roco. “And some folks have done this even better than us pre-launch. We’ve developed our community as we’ve gone along. But having that level of authenticity (it’s a weird thing to say ‘the authenticity part’ because it seems so amorphous), but ultimately people can kind of tell [if you’re authentic or not.]” 

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“What we’ve seen as a bit of an advantage is really developing a community.”

Sandro Roco, Sanzo

“After you get that initial traction, you can get some altitude, and, frankly, after that it’s money,” admitted Roco. “Paying for distribution, paying for slotting fees, building a team. Food and beverage do take money. It’s hard to stay bootstrapped or even one or two funding routes, if you want to go national. It does take capital.”

02
Navigating multiple retail platforms

Touchland has become ubiquitous in the past years. You’ve probably interacted with the company without even realizing it. This hand sanitizer is more than just hand sanitizer. It’s a beauty product, a skincare product, a fashion accessory. Sold in major retailers like Urban Outfitters and Ulta, Touchland has revolutionized the realm of personal care. Founder and CEO of Touchland, Andrea Lisbona, discussed how she navigated multiple retail platforms, business-to-business, and social media to make sure her product reached the right audience in the right place. 

Lisbona wanted to take hand sanitizer, what she described as an “outdated, tequila-smelling, stick” product, and make it into a product that people look forward to using. Beyond the product itself, Lisbona wanted to increase the usage and awareness of hand sanitizer and its health benefits. 

Touchland began as a DTC business, driven by consumer data. Where most brands try to understand and cater to consumer behavior, the Touchland marketing team aimed to understand and change consumer behavior. 

“One of the craziest and most amazing milestones that we’ve achieved is changing the way people buy this product,” said Lisbona. “When you buy hygiene products you normally buy one at a time, but our average UPT is 6-7 units. By getting this information, you get to know who your customer is. Some of them buy it as a gift, some of them buy it as a mood-booster so they buy different scents for different moods or days of the week. It is very important for us to understand the customer.” 

Beyond the consumer, Touchland had to communicate its unique value proposition to the retailers. Why? For proper product placement. “The biggest challenge is we do not sell in the hand sanitizer space,” said Lisbona. “We sell in the beauty space. So it’s very important to communicate that. It’s in their best interest that they know where you sell best.”

When it comes to B-to-B, Touchland wants to be there for every touchpoint when consumers need to keep their hands clean. “We wanted to create a pocket-sized solution that you can take on the go, but we also wanted to offer the same solution for corporate environments,” said Lisbona. “Most of the hand sanitizer products were created for health care environments.

“But what happens everywhere else?” asked Lisbona. “When you’re in a gym, leaving a hotel, restaurant. Those are places where you’re interacting with food, you’re interacting with machines and there’s no hand sanitizer. So we wanted to create something that looks really beautiful, designed in a way that fits every environment… We’ve been able to secure great partnerships through this.”

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"It’s in [retailers'] best interest that they know where you sell best.”

Andrea Lisbona, Touchland

And as far as social media goes, Touchland sold its brand based on exposure. Lisbona said they “never paid to play.” In other words, they didn’t have to pay influencers or celebrities to market their hand sanitizer. Touchland’s community strategy is to reach out to influencers, educate them about the product, and hope they like the product enough to share it with others. It’s all about the power of word-of-mouth.

“As a heavy user of social media, whenever I see #paid, the credibility sort of goes down incredibly,” said Lisbona. “The word of mouth that this product has, like when you try it you have the need to give it to your boyfriend, give it to your mother. You want to share this experience. And this is something that no hygiene product does…And what you see now is everyone on TikTok has requested a pack of it for a birthday. It’s changing how people feel about something.”

03
Leveraging Social Media for Growth

For a company born in the pandemic, Cadence has seen tremendous growth. Founder and CEO, Stephanie Hon, spoke about how she leveraged social media to boost brand awareness and sales. The brand is built on variations of a single product: magnetic, honeycomb-shaped capsules. The capsules are customizable, leakproof containers designed to organize anything from your skincare and hair care to your medication and jewelry. 

“It was born in a time where people wanted calm and control and organization,” said Hon. “And social and visuals were the best way that we could immediately connect with someone. For us, our products are magnetic. We do a lot of up-close photography and design work. Filling the capsules, it’s a really calm experience and now that’s perfectly situated for TikTok and social. So we really leaned into that feeling of calm that could come across really well via these channels. It really connected with people.”

Hon pins Cadence’s success on a few things: a strong product, a strong team, and strong content. When it comes to the content, Cadence focuses on strong visuals and highlighting the need the product fulfills. To Hon, the product fulfills a need for calm and control, while also serving the functional purpose of maintaining your routine. 

When putting an effective marketing team, Cadence has a snappy saying: “No brilliant jerks.” Aside from that, Hon looks for skills and environment. Does the candidate have the experience, and is that experience in the right environment? “For us, making sure that they’ve done it at a startup is ideal,” said Hon.”

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“No brilliant jerks.”

Stephanie Hon, Cadence

Cadence likes to give consumers a behind-the-scenes view of the brand. “We show faces, our team, and people really really connected to that,” said Hon. “[Consumers] have no idea how many people are behind a brand. They see this website and the packaging, and then they actually see how someone packages your orders and the human beings behind it. That is a strategy we have utilized from day one, and I think it’s a big lever to continue to build and grow our community.”

Hon finds that two types of content get more engagement than others:

  1. Visuals of open capsules. Hon notes that the shape of and the contents of the capsules are satisfying to followers. But consumers can also get an idea of how they can use the capsules to maintain their routines. 
  2. Visuals of capsules packed away in a transparent bag. Hon believes these visuals give followers a sense of organization. But, similar to the visual of the open, filled capsules, they also help consumers visualize how they would use the product, including how many capsules fit in a TSA-approved bag.

Cadence has also leveraged its social media community for product development. “Our community is the best; we always know what they want to hear and see from us,” said Hon. “They reach out all the time. Specifically about colors. And I will say for future product lines it merges with what we’re already on track making, which is a great validation point for us. It’s very exciting to get a lot of requests and be like oh just wait a few months it’s coming. We’re always listening.”

04
A note on physical retail

Catherine Pike, vp of retail at athletic apparel brand Vuori, addressed the need for physical locations when planning out a long-term growth strategy. While Vuori started as an e-commerce and wholesale brand, those two channels have since expanded to include 17 physical stores as of the first quarter of 2022. Vuori found that the stores fit a need that neither e-commerce nor wholesale could fulfill, for different reasons.

“Our very first store would probably best be described as a community hub,” said Pike. “We didn’t have a ton of product when they first opened. It literally was a space that was intended to gather people together, and let them learn about Vuori… It wasn’t until 2019 and into 2020 that we really realized that these are more than community hubs. 

“These are places that as the product is really growing, and we’re seeing a ton of success with people who found the brand through wholesale or e-commerce, but they’re craving more,” said Pike. “And they want to see more of it than they’re able to see online. You know? They can’t touch it online. Or they’re in a wholesale who doesn’t carry the whole line. So how can our brick and mortar spaces fulfill a need for customers that isn’t [fulfilled online]?”

From the convenience of a store-front location to the community aspect of a physical location, Vuori was able to meet more consumer needs, thereby expanding its brand. 

05
The last word

What did all of these speakers and their respective brands have in common? Whether explicitly stated or not, these brands expanded their reach and boosted growth via omnichannel. Retailers, wholesale, in-store locations, social media, and more. 2022 is about phasing out short-term emergency solutions in favor of long-term solutions focused on matching (and sometimes even molding) consumer behavior.