Pulling on the lead of the retail industry.
Whether you’re a dog person or not, you can’t help but be enthralled by the story of The Farmer’s Dog. In the midst of direct-to-consumer food brands having an early-onset existential crisis, this brand has outperformed expectations every step of the way. The idea is a simple one, but I’ll let them describe it in their own words:
“Like you, we love our pets and care about their health. That’s why we created The Farmer’s Dog — a service that delivers balanced, freshly made pet food with simple recipes, guided by science, and driven by love.”
The story of how the brand is winning in this segment through wonderful product and simple service could be an article on its own, but for me the most fascinating chapter in their story so far is their foray into physical retailing through their pop-up in Showfields, New York City. Showfields is a fearless retail experiment that is trying to make opening a shop as easy as opening a website. It’s a space where digital businesses can acquire new customers and add a depth to their brand that digital can’t deliver. It allows the telling of the brand story in a curated, shareable way as if it were the physical manifestation of an Instagram feed. We sat down with Katie Hunt, one of the co-founders and Chief Revenue Officer at Showfields, to talk about what makes the relationship between Showfields and Farmer’s Dog so special.
Katie says there is an increasing trend in merchandising towards storytelling, and it is one of the key motivations behind Showfields’ model. “Give [these brands] a physical canvas and let them go. I think most people come in and are just in awe at first.” I’d have to agree with her. So, what can we learn from this story? For me, there are a few key parts.
Purpose is more than just having a social conscience.
Humans are naturally emotional creatures. Not only that, we are pack animals. This means we look for people that we feel are ‘like minded’ to ourselves and give them our time, energy and friendship. That same biological instinct feeds our selection of brands. We want to find brands that we feel good about giving our money to. Sometimes this purpose is super clear, like Farmer’s Dog. It is made for people who love dogs. Every Sunday, they have an adoption event at Showfields where the store gets taken over by dozens of adorable canines looking for a new home in this weekly cuteness overload (by the way, when asked, Katie mentioned there is a cleanup required afterwards, but it is “totally worth it”). A love of dogs goes not only into their product, but is backed up by their actions in every part of their organization. Sure, it’s a clear social purpose, but thinking that it is simply a marketing gimmick would be incorrect. Every part of the brand is guided by this purpose. It is a clear part of their culture that is driving everything from marketing, to innovation, to design and the product itself. The boxes have a lovely detail printed on the side that says “If you don’t love it, send it back. We’ll eat it”. Having this clearly defined purpose enables the company to be consistent and thoughtful when they craft the product and customer experience.
Doing good for the community is easy to identify with, but having a clearly defined purpose is not reserved for social do-gooders. Disney has one of the most well-known and emotionally grabbing purposes on the planet, and although each of us describe in our own words, the sentiment is the same. I describe it as creating magic for families. They bring a joy and magical experience to their movies, parks, cruise ships, and resorts that is arguably unmatched. That magic is then exuded from everyone. From the characters at the theme parks to the movie makers in their studios, being aligned behind one very clear purpose means everything, every innovation, product design, and marketing strategy is guided by it, and the end result is a strong emotional connection with their customers. It is a vital ingredient in innovation.
Story telling can feel fluffy in corporate meetings, but it shouldn’t!
In the interview with Katie, she described the power of storytelling as the avenue to the “new brand loyalty.” In a world where Instagram is curating stories into stunning creative moments, physical retailing has been losing this creative mindset. In Katie’s words, for Showfields it’s about customers “really understanding the story of the brand: the story of the product they purchased. That is what creates the new brand loyalty.” But why? Well, sorry to harp on about the biological evolutionary parts of humanity, but we are storytellers! It’s in our nature. It’s how our entire history has been passed down, and nothing connects with us like a story. We want to hear them, we want to tell them, we want to be part of them. Therefore, allowing a brand’s story to be told in a physical space is helping them share their message and grow their customer base. But how does a digital only brand start thinking about it’s physical story? Not like your traditional retailer, that’s for sure. In my experience, they have stopped looking at stores as sales transaction channels, but instead, shifted them into a marketing exercise of acquisition. The new billboards, but more successful. When working with these brands, Showfields’ approach is simple: help them harness their natural creativity by giving them the space and a support network, while letting them be true to themselves. The result is an inspiring collection of brands each with their own story that is inspiring and thoughtful. The mission of working out whether I am like-minded to the brands in Showfields is an easy exercise as you wander through it. Their personalities are on show, and no one held back.
A new style of mall?
When describing Showfields, I would never use the word mall. However, by definition of what a mall gives us (a number of brand sections in a single space), I guess it is one. But there are some big differences. This space is designed to make you want to explore. To touch, feel, and experience. There is a pile of pillows you can jump into, some unique virtual reality experiences, a dedicated art space (which included a very cool interactive LEGO piece), and a slide from the 3rd floor to the 2nd floor. You can’t help but want to play and have fun in this space, however, there is much more to the intent behind this than just me being a child. When asked about the slide in particular, Katie said “it’s actually because we want people to go to the third floor, and one of the best ways to do it was to create an experience.” With numbers like 80% of traffic heading to the third floor, it’s doing an amazing job of moving customers through the brand spaces. Katie also notes that, when using the slide, it means “people also get to the 2nd floor as well.” Smart.
The good boys of the industry.
As I look at Rome, the Chief Bark Officer at Showfields, sitting on Katie’s lap during the interview and hearing her talk about the intent of this space and what it’s achieving for brands like The Farmer’s Dog, I can’t help but feel inspired by the space. It’s unique, that is for sure. As I describe it in Episode One of Off the Shelf, this is the physical manifestation of one of the potential futures of retail, and it’s really exciting. Check it out, watch the episode, and if you’re in New York City, head to Showfields and find yourself inspired by some seriously delightful storytelling. At the very least, watching the video means you get to see Rome’s highly fashionable sweater.