Retail is undergoing a transformation. E-commerce players are perfecting fulfillment, while physical stores are turning to customer-centric models and experiential retail. This new path for retail is often being developed by emerging players in the market.
Startups are defining the retail industry. They are brining unique business models and emerging technologies to the landscape, setting out to embrace modern consumers' desires rather than trying to reinvent themselves to fit what today and tomorrow’s shoppers want.
While there are countless retail startups entering the competitive retail scene that deserve notice for being unafraid to fail, for this feature RIS only considered retailers that were six years old or younger. Here we highlight how these retail trendsetters are making an impact on the industry through their distinctive business models and/or original use of technology.
Below is a quick look at the retail startups that are making their mark on the industry and disrupting their respective segments. Click here to recall last year's "10 Hot Retail Startups."
To-date, Bulletin has met brand demand by opening its own physical retail stores and is now evolving its service to help brands increase their distribution across retail stores nationwide. The startup is working to refine its custom assortment-as-a-service program, which leverages data science and data-driven insights to help retailers make smarter buying decisions, such as various data inputs like the store's historical sales data, social media data and current best-sellers.
"In testing this marketplace model last year, we were absolutely blown away by the early traction and demand from both retailers and brands,” said CEO Alana Branston. “It's been really gratifying to see how this new product has increased retailers' sell-through while giving brands the brick-and-mortar exposure they need to engage their existing direct-to-consumercustomers, acquire new ones and learn about product performance across various stores and environments."
Headquarters: New York, NY
Funding: $28.3M in funding over six rounds, according to Crunchbase
Interesting fact: By reverse engineering a high-end couch, Burrow designed a fully customizable sofa that is delivered within one week and takes minutes to set up
Stores: Two showrooms--New York and Chicago
In the spring of 2016, Kuhl and Chopra started with an initial round of funding from friends and family, raising $330,000, according to CNBC.
“We reverse-engineered a high-quality couch to ship in compact boxes that fit within the FedEx and UPS commercial weight guidelines,” Kuhl said. “Instead of having a couch that costs several hundred dollars to ship from the factory to the warehouse to the retail store to the customer,” he explained, they designed one that could ship anywhere in the U.S., straight from the factory, for less than $100.
Burrow officially launched its first sofa in April 2017. In 2018, Burrow opened a flagship showroom in NYC, was named one of the 10 most innovative retail brands by Fast Company, and its sofa was named one of the 50 best inventions of the year by TIME.
The startup is changing the way people buy sofas and couches online and redefining customer profiles through a headless commerce approach. Using creative content marketing tactics including photography, video, and retail events, Burrow is crafting a brand that stands out in a sea of retail furniture sellers.
Customers: Camp calls itself a “Family Experience Store”
Interesting fact: Camp hosts Date Nights; for $60 parents can leave the kids at the store
One of its latest activities is Studio Time, where children can design their own crafting adventure with one of Camp’s signature collection of ceramics or woodworks. The retailer also has an innovative membership program providing Camp members free activities, coffee, gift wrap, and more.
Camp lists five locations across the U.S. on its website now and was founded by Ben Kaufman, who currently serves as both Camp’s CEO and as the chief marketing officer of online media company Buzzfeed. According to Kaufman’s LinkedIn profile, he began working on Camp in June 2018 and Crunchbase reports Camp filed paperwork with the SEC in June 2019 indicating it’s raised $10.5 million out of a targeted $11 million in equity-only funding. The company received its first capital commitment in early April and raised from five investors.
Headquarters: San Francisco, CA
Customers: Thousands in the Bay Area, with national expansion to come in 2020
Growth: Double digits, quarter over quarter since founding
“Farmstead’s growth strategy is based on the concept of microhubs – delivery-centric warehouses unattached to existing stores that serve a wide radius – to hone efficiency and reduce costs,” Elankumaran tells RIS.
A Farmstead microhub can be constructed in under eight weeks for just $100,000, and can serve a 50-mile delivery radius.
“These microhubs greatly ease entry into new geographies, reduce food waste by three-four times and help eliminate food deserts by making fast, inexpensive delivery available to a wider area,” he explains. “Most of all, they meet customers’ desire for perfect orders with no last minute stockouts, delivered free, with no other markups. With Farmstead, customers can get all of their groceries – high-quality local brands, national brands and fresh meats, dairy and produce – from one place.”
Milk Makeup Spotlight
Headquarters: New York, NY
Founded: 2015, launched in 2016
Anthem: “Live Your Look”
Funding: Private equity firm Main Post Partners took a minority stake in Milk Makeup in 2017.
While the goods are sold on milkmakeup.com, shoppers can also find them in popular retail stores like Sephora and Urban Outfitters in iconic illuminated, white gondolas. The cult beauty brand launched in the UK earlier this year and has amassed a huge online following including 1.8 million followers on Instagram and almost 92,000 YouTube subscribers. The brand’s cannabis oil-infused Kush range is a best seller. When it wanted to launch a fully vegan volumizing mascara with fibers, beeswax was out, so the company turned to cannabis oil, which provides an additional conditioning benefit.
"Milk Makeup is about highlighting who you are, as opposed to covering you up,” said Milk co-founder and creative director Mazdack Rassi. “Milk redefines the discovery experience for consumers who love creativity and self-expression. They are the rebels, thinkers and makers who shape our vision and bring it to life.”
Neighborhood Goods Spotlight
Headquarters: Dallas, TX
Funding: $27.55 million in funding across its Seed and Series A rounds
Food & Drink: The NYC location’s restaurant, Tiny Feast, is a snack bar/cocktail bar slated to open in early 2020
The stores feature an ever-changing selection of brands and products, giving both startups and established brands a space to introduce their products to customers. This comes along with a community; the company sets out to bring people together to shop, eat (the stores feature Neighborhood Goods’ own restaurant and bar concepts, Prim & Proper and Tiny Feast) and learn in its physical spaces and through immersive editorial content. Neighborhood Goods’ New York City location, for example, features over 40 brands and hosts in-store event concepts, trunk shows and pop-ups with partner brands.
“Our approach to creating a more dignified retail experience is something, we feel, will be particularly well-suited to New York,” said Alexander, co-founder and CEO. “And, with this fantastic line-up of brands, near-daily events, and more, we cannot wait to begin building our local community in the city.”
The malleable retail concept has proven successful thus far, garnering $27.55 million in funding across its Seed and Series A rounds in the past year and a half, while growing its partnerships and accelerating its expansion plans.
Outdoor Voices Spotlight
Headquarters: Austin, TX
Interesting fact: Incorporates sustainable elements in new builds, such as recycled rubber flooring
Haney, a graduate of Parsons School of Design in NYC, grew up in Boulder, CO, where spending time outdoors is a natural part of life. Outdoor Voices believes in bringing play back into everyday life.
In July, the activewear brand launched The Recreationalist, a content marketing platform which includes curated content from product recommendations and playlists to city guides and profiles, via a blog and a zine.
The brand also focuses on sustainability by reducing its use of conventional fabrics in favor of more sustainable alternatives and by only using packaging that is both recycled and recyclable. All customer shipments arrive in 100% recycled paper envelopes or recyclable boxes and the company is piloting a program to replace poly bags (the plastics that protect clothing in-transit) with paper alternatives.
Headquarters: Culver City, CA
Customers: Over 1 million bottles sold
Interesting fact: Ritual’s female leadership includes COO Liz Reifsnyder, who previously led Business Development & Strategy at Dollar Shave Club.
Ritual’s scientists sifted through thousands of independent research studies to determine the nutrients included in its products. The team then selected forms of each nutrient backed by a significant body of research. Then, Ritual made key research studies that informed the team’s choices available on its website.
The company launched its first product, Essential For Women, in 2016, and, based on consumer feedback, released its second product, Essential Prenatal, in 2018. Ritual’s recent round of funding will be invested directly into product innovation and scientific research and development. It plans to formulate and launch essential vitamins that support women’s health at every stage—from young adulthood through menopause.
Notably, the female-first retailer is not only female-founded, but the majority of its board members and leadership team are women.
Headquarters: New York, NY
Funding: Snowe is backed by top venture capitalists, leaders of some of the most cutting-edge brands and prestigious consumer products companies, according to LinkedIn
The company was founded in 2015, when Rachel Cohen and Andrés Modak finished their MBA’s from The Wharton School of Business and moved to New York. When they set up their home together, they were “floored by the lack of essentials worth waking up to.” With a crew of designers and dreamers, they spent a year developing what you can’t live without, essentially high-quality home essentials.
Today the retailer has two stores, one in New York City’s Flatiron district and one in Southampton, NY, and sells across five categories: sleep, bathe, eat, drink, and scents.
“From the start, it was critical for us to build a destination for the home, with an array of products across the whole home, and not just be a direct-to-consumer bedding or tabletop brand,” said Cohen.