Startup Entry and Scaling Are Easier and Faster Due to Internet
(p. B1) The world might be a mess, but look on the bright side: Men's shaving products are much better than they used to be.
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The same forces that drove Dollar Shave's rise are altering a wide variety of consumer product categories. Together, they add up to something huge -- a new slate of companies that are exploring novel ways of making and marketing some of the most lucrative (p. B7) products we buy today. These firms have become so common that they have acquired a jargony label: the digitally native vertical brand.
These kinds of online brands aren't new. Dollar Shave is five years old, and Warby Parker, the online eyewear company, began selling glasses over the web in 2010. But over the last few years there's been a proliferation of such companies -- into underwear, children's clothing, cosmetics and more -- and the Dollar Shave deal suggests their growing importance. These firms could become an emerging problem for consumer products conglomerates like Procter & Gamble, and they might also spell trouble for television, which relies heavily on brand advertising for its revenue.
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"We think it's a unique moment in history where you can create brands that can be scaled quickly thanks to technology, but you can still maintain a one-to-one connection that delivers an elevated level of customer experience," said Philip Krim, chief executive of Casper, which sells mattresses online.
Mr. Krim and four friends started Casper two years ago after studying the traditional mattress industry. They discovered it was plagued by inefficiencies and annoying gimmicks. Customers had to trudge to a mattress store and awkwardly prostrate themselves on numerous surfaces before choosing one to use for a decade. There were too many choices and brands, and mattresses were expensive.
With Casper, you simply buy the mattress online and it's shipped to you in a comically small box (the compressed foam expands into a full-sized mattress, like a magic trick). You have three months to try it out, and if you don't like it, the company will come pick it up free.
Casper's business model offers a break from the annoyance of offline mattress shopping. It also works out for the company. Casper advertises on social networks, on Google, podcasts and a variety of other places online; the ads are creative, convincing, targeted and cheap. By selling directly rather than through retail middlemen, the company also creates a connection with customers that allows it to test and develop new products -- it now sells sheets and pillows, too.
After two years in business, Casper is on track to book $200 million in sales over the next year, but its success isn't ensured. Precisely because the internet has lowered barriers to entry, Casper is facing a surge of new mattress start-ups like Helix Sleep, Tuft & Needle and Leesa, among others.
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(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 27, 2016, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; How Companies Like Dollar Shave Club Are Reshaping the Retail.")