No. 308: Legacy Brands Can Redefine DTC

On Procter & Gamble and why they should further invest in physical retail. If 2019’s Las Vegas’ Shoptalk convention is any indication, the brand representation may mark a shift away from self-sustaining, direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. Legacy competition for consumer packaged goods (CPG) looks to regain the momentum that the DTC era has hindered. Prominent DTC brands are fewer and far between, this year. At Shoptalk, Bonobos is traditionally present but the brand is now owned by Walmart. Dollar Shave Club, another mainstay, is now owned by Unilever. And Trunk Club is now owned by Nordstrom. This is symbolic, in and of itself. Like many brands in the DTC space, they are increasingly dependent on traditional retail channels to achieve critical mass.

Of this year’s Shoptalk attendees, fewer are there to represent top 100 or so DTC brands. Here is a short list of the digitally vertical brands in attendance: Allbirds, Brandless, Boxed, Dirty Lemon, Everlane, Frank + Oak, Glossier, Harry’s, Mack Weldon, Mizzen + Main, Native Deodorant (Procter & Gamble), and Tuft & Needle. Of these, few have shunned wholesale retail and even fewer have shied away from physical retail development. While these companies have moved upon the traditional landscape with major retail partnerships, acquisitions, or physical retail growth, traditional powers have been slow to account for the resulting changes.

In the most recent Member Brief, we published The Target Report:

Target, Walmart, and Amazon (TWA) are each facing the commoditization of online grocery sales as new challengers continue to hinder TWA’s market cap growth. To address these challenges, each retailer is adopting product marketers and DTC brands are sources of new business and loyal customers. In each case, TWA are positioning themselves as practical homes to fashion, beauty, electronics, and lifestyle brands. Amazon is aggregating. Target is curating. And Walmart is acquiring. 

While the grandeur of DTC brands may be dwindling, legacy brands like Unilever and Procter & Gamble (P&G) are reinvesting into DTC era solutions. Between 2010 and 2019, CPG challenger brands established a momentum that traditional companies have had to counter. As of yet, traditional companies have yet to mount a true offensive against challengers and the retailers that have courted them. According to Happi Magazine, P&G is responsible for 18% of Walmart’s in-store sales. This number is up from 15% in 2016. This number has grown, thus far, despite Walmart’s heavy investment into DTC operations, exclusive CPG partnerships, and private label development.


Revenues of the leading beauty CPG manufacturers in billions (2016)
EBITDA forecast of Procter & Gamble Co in millions (2018-2020)
Brand equity of the leading personal care brands worldwide in millions (2018)
Procter & Gamble’s net sales worldwide by business segment in millions (2014-2018)

P&G is at a crossroads. The 182 year old consumer brand earned its highest revenue figure in 2012 and has yet to reach those heights since, though they have successfully cut expenses and bolstered profits. Even so, P&G’s 2018 net income figure was the second lowest in their last 13 years. This diminished position corresponds with the growth in DTC retail sector. This growth along with the continued development of well-marketed private label CPG brands at big box retailers has resulted in increased substitution for traditional products from marketers like P&G and Unilever.

Redefining Direct to Consumer

A rendering of their franchise opportunity

There is a remarkable opportunity for P&G to leverage their products in inventive, new ways. The Cincinnati-based company recently launched Tide Cleaners, a franchise retail experience and service center for dry cleaning. Franchisees gain access to the most recognizable brand in home goods and Tide gets a new retail channel to sell products, build affinity, grow top funnel advertising, and realize service-driven revenue streams.

Tide, one of P&G’s most recognizable brands, has been repurposed to present an on-demand laundry service. Tide Dry Cleaners allows customers to select their desired service in-app, pay, and then drop off their clothing at the storefronts to be picked up when push notified. Customers will return to find their clothes washed, dried, and folded. These dry cleaning storefronts now run in Cincinnati, Boston, Chicago, DC, Philadelphia, Denver, and Dallas. This new retail experience begs the question: why not expand into vertical retail with physical “Everyday” storefronts?

One example of Procter & Gamble’s existing DTC efforts

On “P&G Everyday” and defensibility. As of 2018, Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club (Unilever) won over 12% of Gillette’s market share thanks to their direct model and partnerships with retailers. Procter and Gamble would further benefit from the development of a DTC physical retail model. By owning their in-store “Everyday” experiences, P&G would be able to meet a few objectives that would be useful as Amazon, Walmart, and Target continue to develop competing home goods brands to address their own profitability concerns.

  • Physical stores could reduce dependency on Walmart and Target as primary sales channels while giving P&G more leverage to negotiate better terms and in-store marketing collateral at Target and Walmart or on Amazon (currently an advertising partner).
  • By going direct to consumer, these owned storefronts would cut P&G’s dependency on wholesale relationships, promoting higher margins per sale.
  • With owned storefronts, P&G would be capable of launching their own delivery services and last mile operation.

While “direct to consumer” is the buzz phrase of this era in retail, physical storefronts are once again becoming critical components in a healthy customer acquisition ecosystem. But brand manufacturers can no longer rely upon big box retailers to run the way that they did prior to this era. Digitally native brands are prioritizing physical retail to reduce customer acquisition costs and build long-term loyalty. As a result of this shift by internet-first retailers, big box retailers like Walmart and Target have prioritized partnerships and acquisitions with these brands to drive their customers to their stores.

Walmart Inc. hopes to boost profits by charging for in-store and online advertising by some of the retailer’s biggest suppliers, including Procter & Gamble Co.

Will P&G Pay to Advertise in stores?

The DTC era of retail has begun to place marketers like Unilever and P&G at a disadvantage. Just ten years ago, P&G owned the grooming and beauty aisles at stores like Target. In some stores, Harry’s and Flamingo installations are the most visible. In others, its Native’s deodorant or Casper’s pillows. As third-party retailers like Walmart reevaluated shelf space and in-store marketing, P&G began to lose control of their product presentation. But their commitment to direct-to-consumer business models is a sign that this disadvantage may be short lived.

In addition to the Tide Dry Cleaner franchise system, P&G is experimenting with digitally-native brands. In addition, the company continues to test new online retail formats with BigCommerce. But it’s the direct store format that could offer physical retail growth and brand defensibility amidst the continued evolution of retail. A P&G owned storefront wouldn’t just be a place to own relationships with old customers. It would serve as a space where P&G’s new digitally-native brands could test for and acquire new customers. Direct to consumer retail isn’t limited to online channels, DNVBs are innovating in this way. Marketers like Unilever and P&G can do the same.

Read the No. 308 curation here.

Report by Web Smith | About 2PM

No. 299: Open Letter – Physical Retail 2.0


This year began with a letter to you. It was the very first letter written on 2PM’s new platform and one of the most meaningful of the year. The original “open letter” from January wasn’t communicated as an analyst or a writer, it was published as a peer. It was an expression of empathy and encouragement. But most importantly it was recognition of your task at hand, building steadily throughout perpetual change. It was a nod at your endurance and resilience. The successful DNVBs of the many that are out there, succeeded in making something out of nothing. And frankly, observers only really understand what that’s like if you’ve been through it. So this one is meant to close out the year with a few observations and some acknowledgment of some impactful, forward thinking. The most shared paragraph in that January letter:

You started your company in an age that required your retail independence. On day one, your brand couldn’t depend on wholesale purchases from Nordstrom or Target or Whole Foods or Wal-Mart. And that independence made you more practical in the long run. And now, those retail powerhouses are now knocking at your headquarters.

I went on to write that DNVBs will make the foundation of which the future of retail is built. Over the past year, we’ve gained a bit of clarity on what that could mean. Direct to consumer brands killed mall retail. Direct to consumer brands reinvigorated the mall. 

Riding on the efforts of your collective innovations – from Andy Dunn to Steph Korey, Tyler Haney to Kristin Hildebrand, Aman Advani to Emily Weiss, and Michael Dubin to Blake and Patrick – retail has taken a new shape. And in the process, we’ve defined and redefined the word direct in the DTC acronym.

More than ever, consumers demand fluid purchase experiences. Online-only retail was supposed to accomplish that but for the majority of retailers, that hasn’t been the case. In the most recent Member Brief: a neighborhood of goods, I argued that the sunk costs attributed to operating within the confines of online-only retail (eCommerce software, logistics costs, and acquisition costs) could motivate further investment into the same systems. But more and more of your peers are realizing that operating a technical, data-driven, physical storefront can accelerate growth, increase LTV/CAC ratio, bolster AOVs, and even fortify speedier shipping and returns.

The irony of the conversations around physical retail weren’t lost upon any of the industry leaders at the [2PM Executive Member table, that evening]. We were in the heart of Soho, Manhattan. If you walked a tenth of the mile in any direction, you’d see the physical manifestation of nearly every top 30 DNVB in the market: Casper, Glossier, Warby Parker, Bonobos, M. Gemi, Rowing Blazers, Aesop, Aether, Birchbox, Harry’s, Theory, and the list goes on. It seems as though every DNVB executive with a war chest (or profitability) is all-in on maximizing profitability through physical retail. Not just the quaint pop-up stores, full 13,000 sq. ft. acquisition and conversion machines. 

Member Brief: a neighborhood of goods

Revisiting Retail independence

Over the years, consumers have shifted from shopping to buying – we’re beginning to witness a shift backwards; American online retail never quite figured out how to duplicate the sensation of stumbling upon a must have while walking through a shopping center. Over the course of the year, we’ve seen the beginning of a tide towards the return to physical retail – a method of acquisition that most of us very vocally dismissed over the years. Sure, we have all seen our fair share of “guide shops”, showrooms, pop-ups, and stores-within-a-store. But while many brands tested the waters with physical footprints, we are now seeing a new level of commitment to a tech-enhanced, traditional way of acquiring customers.

The renaissance of brick and mortar retail could be representative of a few key macroeconomic trends: (1) the saturation of and wavering trust in social media platforms (2) and the inundation of online advertising. Both key tools in the growth of early vertical brands from 2007-2017, online brands have saturated every channel that attracts our attention.

A funny thing happened on the way to the retail apocalypse. Stiffening competition, surging online advertising costs and cheap mall space have prompted these so-called digital natives to embrace what they call “offline” in a big way. In their push to become retail’s next household names they’re venturing beyond the coasts and major cities into suburban America. It’s also an acknowledgement that 90 cents of every retail dollar in the U.S. is still spent at a physical location, and industry watchers don’t expect it to fall below 75 cents until the middle of next decade.

Why DNVBs continue to open physical stores

With every passing year, early brands must raise more to compete less effectively than the brands that launched just a year earlier. Facebook and Google’s cost data suggests that DNVBs have begun to max out these acquisition channels. As a result, shopping has become less leisurely. And solely transactional. Consumers want leisure. Physical retail embodies a social and tangible experience that America’s Amazon-driven format of online retail has yet to duplicate. And digital-first retailers are re-prioritizing those moments of consumer delight by investing in extending their DTC relationships by owning permanent storefronts in worthwhile locations.

Physical Retail 2.0

One of the most challenging tasks ahead, for the DNVB C-suite, is the mandate to build a product and sales funnel atop of a constantly evolving industry. One of the chief roles in the DTC c-suite is the leader charged with discerning between short-term trends and long-term shifts. There have been numerous instances over the last 5-7 years where brands underestimated new technologies or over-estimated the stability of precedent. To that end, physical retail is in its own renaissance. With the right technologies and logistics partnerships, DNVB peers are building more than consumer touch points. They are also building platforms for improved return logistics and quicker shipping mechanics.

Brands that own their own independent storefronts are capable of accomplishing several key goals without outright dismissing their previous investments into technology, advertising, and logistics. To that effect, those tools will only help brands become pioneers in physical retail 2.0. Whereas mall brands of old depended on analog advertising-alone and the unpredictability of foot traffic, physical retail 2.0 are benefiting from six categories of customer acquisition funneling:

  • online to offline
  • traditional to online
  • offline to geo-fenced retargeting to online
  • traditional to offline
  • online to retargeting to offline
  • online to physical returns to offline

For retailers, 2019 is shaping up to be a resurgence of the old. More of your peers will follow in the likes of Allbirds, Casper, Warby Parker, and Glossier. The data-driven physical store will allow mature DTC brands to reduce their dependencies on existing acquisition channels, while now-fully engaging with existing customers. Over the past decade, DTC brands did quite a bit of damage to traditional mall retailers by building direct relationships with potential customers.

Now, those same challenger brands are growing to compete in retail’s traditional environments. The successors of physical retail 2.0 will be: (1) the cloud-based systems that enable DTC brands to connected their experiences and (2) the brands that move first to supplant the traditional brands of old. Cloud commerce platforms (Shopify, BigCommerce, Adobe), a near-universal focus on monetizing consumer data, and the spirit of DTC innovation has provided an advantage over traditional retailers. Higher end shopping centers and malls are beginning to reflect this shift.

Read the No. 299 curation here.

Report by Web Smith | About 2PM

Member Brief: A Neighborhood of Goods

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If you asked anyone around the table at last night’s Executive Member Roundtable in Soho, one of the issues facing the maturing DtC industrial complex was an obvious one. There is a lagging effort in commercial real estate to attract these emerging brands – a growth trigger that could potentially revitalize stuttering malls by attracting a new cohort to Tier B malls. The irony of the conversations around physical retail weren’t lost upon any of the industry leaders at the table. We were in the heart of Soho, Manhattan. If you walked a tenth of the mile in any direction, you’d see the physical manifestation of nearly every top 30 DNVB in the market: Casper, Glossier, Warby Parker, Bonobos, M. Gemi, Rowing Blazers, Aesop, Aether, Birchbox, Harry’s, Theory, and the list goes on.

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