What happens when five direct-to-consumer brands come together for an event and focus not on selling themselves but on lavishing attention and love on their furry friends?
Burrow, Ollie, Fi, Recess and Wild One threw a “Make Your Dog at Home” event at Burrow House in New York on June 8, where more than 120 people rolled through (along with 60 very good dogs) to test Burrow’s pet friendly couch, dabble in a taste test of Ollie—a DTC human-grade pet food company, try out Fi—a wireless collar for dogs, relax by sipping on Recess and try on leashes and other pet accessories from Wild One.
For most of the brands involved, it was less about making a sale and more about connecting with each other’s consumers—particularly for Ollie, Fi and Wild One, which don’t have retail footprints.
“It’s as much brand building as it is customer building and authentically engaging with our consumers,” said Gabby Slome, co-founder and CXO at Ollie. “We’re not there to sell; we’re there to connect with our potential customers.”
Ollie, which currently sells via Jet.com in addition to its own site, isn’t ready to open up a retail store, considering there’s a level of personalization in its products. But, Slome said, the company is learning through its different sales channels, such as on Jet.com; seeing what parts of the country are ordering Ollie could help Ollie plan its own retail footprint experience and examine what other product categories to expand into.
For a brand like Fi, which debuted two months ago, it’s an in-kind partnership that gives them a chance to connect with the DTC pet world community in New York and grow the business. Megan Rose, on the marketing team at Fi, said the Fi collars are currently on backorder, having sold more than 1,000 in the first month. This event was a chance, she said, to talk to a more direct market (and offer a $50 coupon to anyone who wanted to order a collar). Fi has no plans to expand into a permanent retail shop soon, other than looking into pop-ups and branded events.
Burrow, on the other hand, is no stranger to dogs in its shop, as the company has thrown dog adoption parties and more in its store in New York (the company recently opened a second store in Chicago). Stephen Kuhl, co-founder and CEO of Burrow, said Burrow opens up its space because the company wants to collaborate with other brands—and see which partners bring the most new email addresses as part of the in-kind partnership.
Plus, Cody Lurie-Pret, head of retail at Burrow, added, although sales attributed to the events aren’t an immediate goal, the company does track its social following growth after events and can project how that growth (and addition of new emails from events) is worth a possible amount of revenue. It’s working out for Burrow, which has found in 2019 that 68% of its event attendees were new and 32% previously attended.
“We’re building a different kind of furniture brand—it’s always with real people interacting with real people and their homes,” Kuhl said. “[With these events], in the long run you end up with a much more engaged audience. People aren’t buying today, but, two years from now, they’re going to come back to us because they’ve had fun at our events. They are tough to track, but in the long run it’s one of those things that you can point to brands you love.”
Recess, which has its own pop-up space in New York as well, dubbed Recess IRL, said it takes part in these brand partnerships because it’s easy to integrate a beverage into anything—and all the brands are aligned in terms of the demographic they’re hoping to reach. Benjamin Witte, founder and CEO of Recess, said Recess’ marketing strategy focuses on experiential marketing because the brand wants to drive awareness and engagement and get “cans in hands.”
“The sales that day, or the email addresses or instagram tags we get, is very much secondary,” Witte said. “We’re really providing opportunities for people to get out of their own head and experience something IRL. There’s a tremendous amount of brands and creative individuals who align to our ethos, and we are always looking for opportunities to host them and partner with them.”
Wild One is another DTC brand that held a pop-up for many months soon after its initial launch last year. It also participated in the Shopify pop-up experience at Showfields. An event like this gives the company the chance to further connect with brands that are “like minded,” as well as continue to test out pet retail as the company prepares to open up its flagship at the end of the year, said Minali Chatani, co-founder and head of brand at Wild One.
“One of the difficult parts of starting in the pet world is you’re selling people on the concept of pets, and the more brands that are in the space, the more we can work with people and drive awareness,” Chatani said. “That’s really the outlook of it. It’s never really felt like competition.”