For the past several years, more and more people have started abstaining from or cutting back on alcohol during the month of January, as part of a campaign known as Dry January. For startups that sell alcohol-free versions of beer, wine and cocktails, that means this is their month to shine. Modern Retail spoke with founders of startups like Curious Elixirs, Ghia and Ritual Proof Zero about how they are trying to attract new customers this month.
While gyms rush to build out virtual workout products to retain members, seeking out corporate clients has become a growing trend within the industry. From nationwide players like Equinox and Gympass, to regional studios like Fhitting Room, the race to be featured in employers' wellness offerings has begun.
Outdoor furniture company Outer pays its customers to turn their backyards into "showrooms," which prospective new customers can check out as they're deciding whether or not to buy a sofa or a rug from Outer. It's something that the startup has done since launching in mid-2019. But 2020 was the year in which Outer started to prove that its model has traction. The company did more than $12 million in sales in 2020, up from $1.1 million in 2019. Now, the company plans to lean on its customers more to help fuel its growth, as it seeks to expand the showroom model.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more consumers have discovered semi-ready health-focused meal kits. Now, emerging startups in this niche category -- which include Factor, Provenance Meals and CookUnity -- are finding a new cohort of customers embracing their delivery menus.
There's two competing narratives right now taking shape in the direct-to-consumer space: one, that venture capital funding is starting to fall out of favor with DTC startups. And two, that it's a great time to raise venture capital funding as a consumer startup, as more investors are finally waking up to the fact that there's a huge opportunity for these companies as more people do more shopping online. But these two concepts aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Some DTC startups are still raising venture capital money, they're just doing so later on. Or, if they take VC funding, they are taking steps to ensure their cash lasts longer.
New DTC furniture brand Model No. is attempting to corner a market looking for high end designs at affordable prices. But its differentiator, CEO Phillip Raub said, is the automated 3D printing process, which allows for faster assembling and shipping times, along with zero waste manufacturing.
Since taking over as CEO of Thinx in 2017, Maria Molland has sought to turn the startup -- and subsequently the period underwear category -- from a niche player into something that's at home on the shelves of mass-market retailers. To bring about this change, Molland has started to invest more in traditional advertising, running the company's first TV ad in 2019, as well as expanded its wholesale presence. Of course, like over other startup, the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in Thinx's plans. Still, Thinx is closing 2020 with close to $80 million in revenue, and ended the year profitable.
Direct-to-consumer startups were among the biggest beneficiaries of more people doing their shopping online in 2020, with some startups like Brooklinen and Prose reporting that their sales more than doubled or tripled this year. Now, going into 2021, DTC startups are out to prove that the sales growth they reported this year isn't just a flash in the pan.
The DTC bubble was supposed to pop in 2020; instead, it became even more inflated. Fears that the pandemic would lead to a dip in consumer spending never panned out for most DTC startups, as the people most likely to be their customers -- young professionals working from home -- subsequently spent more of their money shopping online. Over the course of the year, companies in categories as disparate as hair care and bedding reported that their sales doubled or tripled over the course of the year, even as stores were ordered shut. Now, going into 2021, direct-to-consumer startups are trying to figure out how to best capitalize on the growth they saw this year.
In 2020, new-to-market startups started to do away with branding tactics that have historically been popular on Instagram. Pastels and Sans Serif font have been replaced by bright colors and oversized lettering, while startups are centering their social media centering their social media strategy around busting taboos or reaching customers that have historically been overlooked. As the direct-to-consumer startup space has gotten more crowded, startups have found that they need a different proposition than just creating a new e-commerce experience for mattresses or luggage -- and that requires a new branding playbook
Companies like Airbnb and DoorDash have recently gone public and become the darlings of Wall Street, but there are some players that are notably outside of the current inventory bubble: DTC brands. What began as a warning in 2019 has become a reality in 2020 made more acute by the coronavirus. Most consumer-facing retail startups quite simply won't reach the scale worthy of mid to late stage venture capitalist dollars. In the DTC, that means the mindset is shifting -- and alternatives are being sought out.
Telehealth experienced a boom in 2020, as the pandemic forced people to replace in-person services with online alternatives. That also means it's been an explosive year for telehealth startups like Ro, which is projecting that it will end the year with $230 million in gross revenue, up 55% from the year prior. The scope of Ro's role in health care also changed dramatically this year, as the startup launched its own digital pharmacy and acquired a software startup called Workpath, that assists in deploying nurses for at-home visits. Ro's co-founder and chief growth officer Rob Schutz spoke with Modern Retail to share more details about the company's vision.
The resale industry has been one of the biggest winners in 2020, culminating in resale app Poshmark filing to go public. Poshmark's S-1, which was published on Thursday, reveals that the startup was actually able to turn its first profit of $8.1 million during the first nine months of 2020 -- a rarity among consumer startups looking to go public. But Poshmark still faces a number of challenges ahead in its quest to become a public company. Here's our detailed look into the company's just-released financials.
Overall, greeting card sales are down somewhere around 11.6% this year. But there are some reasons for optimism for the industry. The declines in the past several months were not as bad as at the height of the pandemic. And Shutterstock has estimated that holiday card sales would be up 7% this year compared to 2019. A lot of that might be driven by the fact that greeting card businesses have finally figured out how to efficiently sell online -- in part by catering their e-commerce stores to last-minute gift buyers.
Thanks to record e-commerce sales, it's been a good year for direct-to-consumer founders. Except, maybe, for founders of direct-to-consumer razor startups. Months after the FTC blocked Edgewell's proposed acquisition of Harry's, the FTC announced that it would be suing to block another proposed acquisition in the razor category: P&G's intended acquisition of women's razor startup Billie, which was announced in February. Founders and investors that Modern Retail spoke with pointed to the fact that the razor industry is highly consolidated, and even two blocked acquisitions in this category would not spell trouble for other DTC startups looking to sell to a CPG conglomerate.
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