Merchant to Merchant: 3 Brands Share their Strategies for Staying True to Their Principles

Creating a brand is hard enough – holding true to your ideals is harder still. But not impossible, as dressmaker Christy Dawn, custom eyeglass company Fritz Frames, and yoga brand Alo Yoga can attest. In this podcast, Victoria Ainsworth, growth consultant for Christy Dawn, Gabriel Schulmberg, Fritz Frame’s CEO, and Nick Jaquay, IT operations manager for ALO Yoga talked with Phillip Jackson about “doing things the hard way” and creating brand experiences and products that not only define – but align with – the mission of the brand.

We hope you’ll listen to the podcast in full (it’s about an hour), but if you can’t, here are five key takeaways:

Problem Solving as Genesis of Brand

Each brand began with a desire to solve a problem. For Christy Dawn, it was the massive waste and horrendous environmental impact of the fashion industry. Each year fashion houses order vast quantities of fabric for their collections for the coming year, much of which won’t be used, known as dead stock. Christy Dawn saw a business opportunity in those huge piles of unused fabric: a collection of dresses made from 100% dead stock. As it turned out, women love these dresses.

Heidi Hertel and Gabriel Schulmberg both have children who need glasses, and were frustrated with the experience of buying and replacing them on a regular basis. If your two-year-old needs glasses, expect them to be lost or broken frequently. Getting kids to the eye doctor, then to an eyeglass store to select frames, and then back again to have them fitted is time consuming. On top of that, styles and inventory are limited. Gabriel says that even if he was lucky enough to find a pair find a pair his children liked, there was no guarantee he could replace them with an identical pair once they were lost of broken. “We didn’t start out to sell glasses, we set it up to solve glasses, and the brand is grounded in that.” In other words, the brand was founded on making life for parents easier.

The founders of Alo Yoga are passionate about yoga, and wanted to make it easier for practitioners to incorporate it into their lives. A big challenge: going from the yoga mat to the street without changing clothes. Alo Yoga decided to create, “garments that carry over to the street, into a life lived consciously” because “mindful movement can travel beyond the studio.”

Listen to Customers

All three brands are keen to listen to their customers. For instance, before Fritz Frames began manufacturing frames the company interviewed 100 people, mostly moms, and asked them about their days. These interviews convinced them that they needed to offer customers a super simply sales cycle.

Victoria Ainsworth says that Christy Dawn is still small enough that they can follow up with every customer to find out how they like their dresses. Alo Yoga relies on social media to crowdsource their product design. Yogis get insight from their students, and then feed it back to Alo Yoga via social media.

Designing Products Around Mission

Every thoughtful brand launches with a mission, but staying true to that mission can be challenging. Why are these brands successful?

Fritz Frames’ mission was to make parent’s life easier. To that end, they offer custom, 3D printed eyeglasses, which they sell via an app. The app creates an image of the customer’s face, and allows the customer to select from different styles and colors virtually. The entire process, from downloading the app to queuing up the order at the 3D printing facility takes 5 minutes.

Alo’s mission is to allow people to be more mindful every day, which is why the brand offers an app with instructor-guided yoga routines. Customers can practice yoga as their schedule allows. The brand also has studios where shoppers can practice yoga.

In addition to making clothes out of dead stock, Christy Dawn now plants cotton in India. The cotton is both sustainable and regenerative, so as not to harm the plant.

Approach to Growth

Fritz Frames was launched as a way to provide eyeglasses to kids, but 50% of their orders now come from adults. Most eyeglass manufacturers make assumptions about the types of styles that are appropriate to each face shape, and if your taste runs contrary to those assumptions, you’re out of luck. Because Fritz Frames customizes all styles to the individual face, growth will come from making more customers happier.

Christy Dawn has no interest in growing just for growth’s sake. As Victoria explains, “we believe in sticking with this model and things will grow over time, and grow as they should.” For Christy Dawn, growth comes from word of mouth. Women love their dresses and tell their friends about it. They also advertise on social media, but they don’t rely on the usual tricks of 15% off, their ads stay true to their brand.

Technology is an important part of the Alo experience. For instance, smart mirrors leveraging augmented reality allow shoppers to see what they’ve tried on in many different colors. Growth comes from visualizing what the future holds, and being ready for it from a tech perspective.

Lifetime Engagement vs. Lifetime Value

Interestingly, each of these brands value lifetime engagement over lifetime value, which seems anathema to a consumer brand. “Focusing on long-term engagement, time spent thinking of the brand, is more important than trying to get them into a store to buy something,” explains Gabriel Schulmberg. “It changes how you approach the business. It’s not about driving sales, but how many touch points can we make this person feel great about the brand.”

The panel had a lot more to say about the challenges than described here. Have a listen on your next lunch hour, or commute by clicking here.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist