NRF 2021: What did it take for consumer-direct startups to get through the pandemic?
While the pivots many businesses have made to stay afloat during the novel coronavirus pandemic have required upping or adding tech services, for the founders of two direct-to-consumer brands who spoke in a virtual session at the 2021 NRF Big Show, it meant relying more strongly on core brand values.
“[In a large-scale emergency] there is mass panic,” said Simon Huck, co-founder of Judy, a disaster preparedness kit startup that entered the market in January of 2020. The company suddenly found itself thrown into the deep-end; disaster preparedness was suddenly front-of-mind with everyone in the world, and the company wasn’t prepared for one of the biggest emergencies in modern history.
“There is confusion and there’s misinformation and I think all of those things we thought about, but I had never actually been in an emergency at that scale before so suddenly within two weeks you’re seeing all of these worse case scenarios happen,” said Mr. Huck. “There was a ton of misinformation around COVID-19, and something that you say on Monday about not wearing masks is no longer true on Wednesday, so as a brand we had to be really careful.”
Judy’s kits, designed for wildfire situations, came equipped with N95 masks, but due to their scarcity, Mr. Huck realized they could no longer include them. Judy donated its entire N95 inventory to the New York Department of Health. The brand also turned off paid marketing so as to not look opportunistic and became a content hub for reliable, factual information about the pandemic from health professionals.
Lauren Chan, founder of Henning, a plus-sized luxury apparel brand, was initially worried about a supply chain breakdown due to the pandemic. Seeing the way people moved away from excess and the unnecessary in times of crisis, however, she chose to shift gears and focus on social awareness.
“I felt in the end very aligned with our original messaging and our original goals,” said Ms. Chan. “We decided to double down on our messages of ethics, increased sustainability, timeless essentials, quality work and things made locally.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How important do you think company values are when it comes to successfully navigating a disaster, and what advice do you have for institutionalizing those values? Do moves like discontinuing paid advertising have a significant impact during times of crisis?