On Brand with Brandless
Introducing a new blog series, “On Brand,” where we meet with interesting thought leaders in our community. This month, it felt appropriate to chat with our friend, Rachael Vegas, Chief Merchant and branding maven at Brandless, who will be joining us in the office for Think & Link this November. Our Experience Strategist, Sarah Day, kicks off the conversation.
SD: Before Brandless, you were a seasoned merchant at Target, one of the most recognizable and established retail brands. Moving to a startup “brandless” brand must have been quite a shift. What drew you to want to work at Brandless and what were the biggest learning curves when you started?
RV: I feel so fortunate to have gained incredible experience and opportunities during my 13 years at Target. Target is an amazing company with an ever-evolving owned brand portfolio. Overnight, I shifted from leading one of the largest merchandising teams at Target to becoming the very first team member at Brandless! Shifting gears from leading a team with an established strategy to exerting self-discipline and initiative to develop a thoughtful, relevant, defensible strategy for Brandless was a big shift; but one that I embraced and loved. The idea and practice of building a brand, and a community (internally and externally) and a purpose versus trying to work within a framework that was already established was the exciting opportunity that drew me to Brandless.
SD: As competitors utilizing tactics like thoughtful product design and branding and competitive pricing emerge, how does Brandless stay ahead of the curve and continue to differentiate itself?
RV: Brandless engages in those same tactics of thoughtful product design and branding. Brandless is in fact a brand. We are redefining what it means to be a Brand. For the current generation of consumers, a brand is not what the big marketing company tells you, it’s what your friend tells you. Consumers are looking for transparency and authenticity and our brand and our packaging system is about giving the identity back to the product itself and focusing on the attributes that matter most to consumers.
Ultimately, Brandless, is one of those attributes on the front of the package, on a list of other relevant values that often include: Organic, Gluten Free, Free of Parabens, EPA Safer Choice Certified, Tree Free and many more. Our assortment is highly curated to offer customers what matters most and avoid the overwhelming impact of choice on their everyday essentials. Our assortment of products is a collaboration ensuring highest quality ingredients, consumer relevant qualities (like vegan or non-toxic) and trend-right products, flavors and scent profiles. These attributes have resonated very well in all of the communities that we serve.
SD: In a world of endless options, there’s something incredibly refreshing about having one shampoo option, two hand cream options, two granola bars, etc. As Brandless expands, how important to your brand is the concept of remaining “simple” for shoppers?
RV: Simplicity is a core focus for Brandless and for merchandising in particular. We will grow our assortment only where customers are seeking variety and flavor exploration. Our ability to maintain this level of curation allows us to offer simple, fair prices on every product. We are not about gimmicks, we want to democratize access to high quality, better for you, product. The current system is broken and consumers are often forced to choose between ‘value’ and their ‘values’ and that’s the opposite of what we stand for at Brandless. Part of our Brand Promise, on the back of every package, is that “value and values stick together. We put people first."
SD: In the past year, you’ve experimented with two pop-ups in LA and NYC. Do you envision Brandless moving into brick and mortar permanently one day?
RV: We have learned so much from our in-person interactions with our community during our pop-ups in LA and NYC this year. The opportunity to connect with tens of thousands of our community members has been invaluable and we’ve loved hearing their feedback about our products as they taste and try them IRL (in real life). We’ll continue to explore ways to bring the Brandless experience to our community in tangible ways, which could mean more pop-ups, or other unique experiences to hang out, share and learn with people.
SD: What is the best way for brands to show authenticity today?
RV: We often refer to living a #Brandlesslife. For us, that means that we are purpose-driven, for-profit company. We have partnered with Feeding America as we hope to improve the lives of the 40M people in this country who suffer from food insecurity. Since launch, we have given away 3M meals through feeding America. And we are trying to instill this value in our communities as well, encouraging people to be part of the solution and to give back. We volunteer in each of our SF and Minneapolis offices every month and each employee has a budget for Brandless goods and a Brandless membership for the charity of his/her choosing. We believe that our assortment also demonstrates that authenticity by making it easy for customers to understand what is in and isn’t in our products and by offering fair, simple prices.
SD: What is the most significant marketing challenge you’ve faced or are facing today?
RV: Starting a company from scratch is a pretty big challenge! We are growing incredibly quickly and adding new people to the Brandless family every single day. It is important to maintain and evolve the culture we are building as we add new team members. We want to embrace what each person brings to the team, and establish an amazing culture and organization where people look forward to coming to work everyday. We have over 100 people across our 2 offices now, so ensuring people take the time to get to know one another and what amazing qualities they bring to Brandless is ongoing process!
SD: What do you read/watch/experience to stay inspired?
RV: I read a lot! I receive over a dozen email newsletters each day, each packed with anywhere from 6-25 unique articles. I love to know what other companies and industries are doing to innovate and to solve consumer friction points. I look at industry trends -- especially in food and beauty, to ensure that we continue to evolve and edit our assortment to meet emerging needs and diets. I read about leaders of start ups and established companies whom I admire or can learn from their mistakes.
I attend many trade shows, shop constantly (even in airports, around the world, around the country, in Minneapolis and online! I’m looking at product, experience and always considering what it might mean for Brandless.
Rachael will be joining us at Capsule for a SOLD OUT Think & Link event on November 15. For those who weren’t able to snag a ticket, stay tuned for the recap video and look out for next month’s speaker announcement!