Archives For April 2013

Dollar Shave Club is an innovative brand that is beginning to disrupt the $13 billion men’s shaving market. Dollar Shave Club was founded by Mark Levine and Michael Dubin in 2011. Levine and Dubin were frustrated by the high price of razors.

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The company sells razors in low-cost monthly subscription packages: $2 for five twin blade razors, $6 for four-blades, and $9 for three six-blades. Dollar Shave Club designs, manufactures and ships the razors themselves. Dollar Shave Club products sell for roughly half the price of big name competitors like Gillette .

Dollar Shave Club taps into an undercurrent of inauthenticity in men’s razor advertising. Twenty years ago, men were told that three blades were the minimum required for a close comfortable shave. Then it was 4. Then it was five. Then it was six. Now it is seven. Where will it stop?

The Wall Street Journal reported that Gillette’s own research shows that men are frustrated by the high cost of razors. Consumers shell out around $12.00 for the company’s Fusion ProGlide Power razor and then close to $20 for four replacement cartridges. Most men will use at least four cartridges in a month. Compare those figures with Dollar Shave Club’s and this is one case where the big guys can’t price the little guys out of the market.

Dollar Shave Club was launched with a clever and economical You Tube ad in March of 2012. Founder Michael Dubin who had previously worked in digital media and studied improv comedy in New York cast himself as the lead in a funny video explaining why his company’s razor blades aren’t just great they’re —-ing great. Make sure you watch the video its hilarious. The video has been viewed over 10 million times on You Tube. Who needs network television. This is a fun brand with a great sense of humor.

Dollar Shave Club’s success wouldn’t have been possible ten-years ago before social media went mainstream. It’s now possible for small brands to take on big brands and carve out a profitable niche. Small brands who think differently, are authentic, innovative and express passion have a chance to grow beyond startup status.

Have you tried the razors from Dollar Shave Club?

Burpee Seed Company is an American business icon that is well-known not just in this country but worldwide. W. Atlee Burpee began the Burpee company in 1876 when he was 18 years old. As a young man, Burpee supplied farmers with livestock. He learned that the farmers had one common complaint; their vegetable crops were not doing well as the vegetable seeds they bought locally were of poor quality. Burpee decided to expand his livestock business to include vegetable seeds and that’s how the Burpee Seed Company began. In 1888, he bought a 500-acre farm near Doylestown, Pennsylvania and called it Fordhook. Fordhook became the place where the Burpee seed company experimented to produce healthier and better tasting varieties of vegetables and flowers.

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Burpee is famous for their annual catalog which for years has signaled the arrival of spring. The catalogs are famous for the brilliant images of vegetables and flowers which have inspired gardeners to be creative for years. When I was a young boy, my aunt used to order me seeds from the catalog every year. Burpee first started printing a catalog in 1886.

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I have loved gardening over the years. l enjoy planting a garden and eating fresh vegetables all summer. There is nothing like eating a home-grown tomato or cucumber. Vegetable gardening is a lot of work and many years I have invested time and money only to lose a good part of my harvest to deer, birds and rabbits. This weekend, I spent hours working on a vegetable garden. Its been seven or eight years since I have last planted a garden. My family and neighbors encouraged me to start gardening again. I am glad they did. I enjoyed two days outside planning, digging and planting in hopes of a great harvest. I felt a real sense of accomplishment.

This quote from David Burpee son of W. Atlee Burpee is a great perspective on gardening:

“If you want to be happy for an hour, get drunk, If you want to be happy for a weekend, get married, But, if you want to be happy all you life become a gardener”

Burpee is one of the most trusted brand names in gardening. They are dedicated to helping people to share in a very small but significant way, in the astonishing magic of nature.

Do you enjoy gardening?

Jack Daniel’s is one of the strongest and most enduring brands in the United States. The brand has a strong sense of purpose, an engaging personality and strong core values. Jack Daniel’s is a great example of a product and brand that has been managed consistently over time and provides an excellent customer experience.

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Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey was founded in 1866 in Lynchburg Tennessee. Jack Daniel’s devoted himself to making a whiskey that he was proud to sell at a premium price. The distillation process and whiskey recipe created by Jack Daniels is unique. The whiskey is produced using local fresh limestone spring water. The water is iron-free and flows at 800 gallons per minute year-round. To maintain consistency, the water stays at the constant temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the product is filtered through 10 feet of charcoal produced from the local sugar maple trees. The charcoal is used to mellow the whiskey. The whiskey is then put into handcrafted charred, white oak barrels and aged at an on-site barrelhouse. The whiskey is not aged for a specific number of years; instead expert tasters sip the whiskey to determine when it has achieved the ideal Jack Daniel’s quality and character. Even to this day, this entire process is completely chemical-free. Jack liked to say, “Every day we make it, we’ll make it the best we can. He never compromised on his recipe for premium quality whiskey.

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Jack Daniel’s marketing has celebrated the fact that the product is authentic, made by real people in an out-of-the way-place. The brand has focused on telling the story and legend of Jack Daniel’s. The stories use Lynchburg and its people in a way that is authentic and engaging. The special role of Lynchburg in the brand experience led to the opening of the Distillery to public tours. More than 200,000 people visit the distillery every year. The character and personality of the brand is represented in the unique bottles and labels.

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For loyal fans of Jack Daniel’s, the brand is an icon that represents independent American spirit and the universal values of independence, being your own person and standing for something authentic.

Have you tried Jack Daniel’s?

Vibram is an Italian company known for making high quality rubber soles used in mountaineering and hiking boots. Vibram manufactures more than 34 million soles annually for more than 1,000 premium footwear brands worldwide. FiveFingers is an innovative shoe that was created by Robert Fliri, a  mountaineer and industrial designer. He conceived the shoe as a glove for the foot that would mimic the feel of running barefoot. The biggest difference from a normal running shoe is the five toes which make the foot move like in nature. With the FiveFingers shoe every toe can spread out and work independently from the others, grasp the ground and feel the ground. This is totally different from a shoe where the toes are stuck together. Your movements are more flexible, more supple.

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Tony Post, Vibram’s CEO in the United States at the time was an avid runner. He quickly became a fan of the concept. He discovered that FiveFingers allowed his feet to move more naturally and react to the environment. Plus they relieved his knee pain. Post approached shoe makers in the United States about partnering on producing this radically different five-toe lightweight shoe. The shoe style was so different that everyone turned him down. He also approached retailers who also turned him down.

Vibram decided to market the shoes as their own brand. Vibram positioned FiveFingers as a performance product and introduced the shoes in 2006 at the Boston Marathon. They created a viral marketing campaign to get the word out in fitness and running circles. In 2007, Time Magazine named the shoe one of the year’s best health inventions. Two years later, Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” which touted the benefits of barefoot running, became a best-seller. A study by Harvard biologists published in the journal Nature concluded that barefoot runners land on the balls of their feet, rather than on their heel, ultimately creating less joint stress and reducing injuries.

Consumers were quick to adopt the new shoes as a result of the positive press. Sales are expected to exceed $100 Million Dollars annually. Vibram, long known as a supplier of soles, has rebranded itself into a manufacturer of cutting-edge footwear that has made an impact on the running shoe market.

This customer does a great job of telling the story. “I love these shoes. This was my first pair of FiveFingers. I wear them everywhere (airports, walking around, short jogs, or just walking around the house) but mostly for just walking. People either like them and ask questions, or they think the shoes are weird. Feeling the surfaces you’re walking on is great. You walk a little funny starting out, as your feet strengthen. You have to try them! you’ll love them.” 

Have you tried Vibram’s FiveFinger running shoe?

Boston Chicken was one of the hottest fast-food restaurant concepts of the late 80’s and 90’s. The chain experienced rapid growth. They offered a differentiated fast casual dining experience. Like many great ideas, the chain grew too fast and lost its sense of purpose and what made them successful in the race for quick profits. Under new leadership, can Boston Market become relevant again?

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Boston Chicken was founded in 1985 in Newton, Massachusetts by Steve Kolow and Arthur Cores. Not long after it opened, Boston Chicken was a smash hit. Consumers began flocking to the take-out chicken store and telling their friends about their discovery. Word of mouth helped fuel strong growth. Positive press from the Boston Globe also spread the word. For $5 to $7, a person could buy a relatively healthy, freshly cooked, home-style meal. The same plates would cost $10 to $15 in a sit-down restaurant and would take time to prepare.

During 1993, the chain tripled in size to 217 stores. Boston Chicken went public in November 1993. Enthusiastic investors bought heavily as Boston Chicken’s stock price soared. It had a larger first day price increase than Google. The aggressive expansion plan would prove to be the cause of the company’s financial demise. The name was changed to Boston Market in 1995 to reflect its growing menu. I don’t think this was the best decision. By 1997, Boston Market, had over 1,100 restaurants in operation and over $1 Billion in sales.

Poor employee training, high operating expenses, changing consumer tastes and a mediocre customer experience contributed to a declining sales trend. In 1998, Boston market declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed over 400 stores as part of its re-structuring plan. In 2000, McDonald’s purchased the chain and began re-tooling operations. In the seven years that McDonald’s owned the chain it largely fell under the radar. In 2007, McDonald’s sold Boston Market to turn-around expert Sun Capital. Sun Capital specializes in fixing cultures of companies that are losing money.

Sun Capital has been working to revitalize the Boston Market Brand. One of the first steps was to go back to the original Boston Chicken format, neighborhood locations with a smaller footprint. The next step has been to engage employees in support of a common purpose of “Helping Families Eat Better.” Boston Market has also undergone a menu revamp dubbed “America’s Kitchen Table” as well as a shift to real plates and silverware and other enhancements to the guest experience. These improvements have led to 21 consecutive months of same store sales increases. They have fixed the core and have recently begun to introduce new products like ribs and have plans to open a limited number of new stores. After falling off the radar for years, Boston Market is attempting to make a comeback. It remains to be seen if they will be successful.

Have you eaten at a Boston Market recently?

There is so much to be learned from the purpose, values and customer-centric business approach of Amazon. Amazon’s Purpose is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company for four primary customer sets: consumers, sellers, enterprises and content creators. Jeff Bezos’ annual letter to shareholders is always filled with insights that can be applied to starting a new business or improving an existing business. Amazon has a clear sense of who they are and that their customer drives their business. Many companies say they are customer driven but few deliver on that promise. Here are some of Jeff Bezos’ insights on being a customer centric organization.

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“Our advantage – perhaps a somewhat subtle one – of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity. When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to. These investments are motivated by customer focus rather than reaction to competition. We think this approach earns more trust with customers and drives rapid improvements in customer experience.”

This emphasis on being proactive and understanding the needs of their customers drives innovation and differentiation at Amazon. Amazon simply refuses to conduct business as usual if there is a better way to do something. Here is another great example from Jeff Bezo’s letter.

“We also have authors as customers. Amazon Publishing has just announced it will start paying authors there royalty monthly, sixty days in arrears. The industry standard is twice a year, and that has been the standard for a long time. Yet when we interview authors as customers, infrequent payment is a major dissatisfier. Imagine how you’d like it if you were paid twice a year. There isn’t a competitive pressure to pay authors more than once every six months, but we’re proactively doing so.

Amazon is a customer obsessed organization. They focus on the customer first and competitors second. Many companies react to the competition and fail to listen to what their customer really needs. Amazon’s first leadership value is customer obsession. The behavior of all Amazon employees are guided by their leaderships values. The value reads as follows:

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers. 

Can you think of another brand that is as customer-centric as Amazon?

Johnnie Walker’s “Keep Walking” campaign created by Bartle, Bogle and Hegerty is one of best and most inspiring brand building initiatives that I have seen in recent years. Johnnie Walker was founded in Scotland in 1820. The brand was originally known as Walker’s Kilmarnock Whiskey. Today, Johnnie Walker is owned by Diageo and is the most widely distributed brand of blended Scotch Whiskey in the world. A key feature of every bottle of Johnnie Walker scotch is the Striding Man logo. It was created in 1908 by illustrator Tom Browne to be a likeness of John Walker in traditional attire. In the logo, the man is walking forward which symbolizes forward thinking and the pursuit of excellence.

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In the late 90’s, the Johnnie Walker Brand was in decline after many years of strong growth. The culprit was years of murky management. Late 90’s marketing was tactical, with a short-term, promotional focus on product rather than brand building. Between 1997 and 1999, the company ran 27 different advertising campaigns that over-extended the brand with a mixed message. The brand needed to discover a fundamental truth to make it relevant to modern consumers. They discovered this truth by examining their heritage and came up with an insight that would define the brand in the future.

The insight had to with success. What did success mean? Previous generations had defined it materially. But a new generation was changing the definition. For them, life wasn’t only about the destination. Getting there mattered too, a lot. The brand team realized that no matter his, life-stage or situation, every man has in common a hard-wired desire to move forward, to improve himself in some way. This need to advance and progress became the universal truth that served as the foundation for the Johnnie Walker Brand. They tapped into the universal idea of personal progress. The campaign features inspiring stories of people moving forward. The “Keep Walking” Campaign has been a smashing success and has helped drive a strong increase in sales and brand equity. The spot below titled “The Man Who Walked Around The World” tells the story of the Johnnie Walker Brand in a unique way. Please take six minutes and enjoy the two videos.

How do you define success and moving forward?