For Scott Tannen, co-founder of bedding and sheet maker Boll & Branch, choosing to move from e-commerce into traditional brick-and-mortar retail combined the opportunity to deliver on a new retail model and a chance to educate people.
“What ultimately led us to building a retail model, a physical retail, was the idea that we sell a product that is so superior to everything in the marketplace,” he said. “Once the people touch and feel the product, they go from ‘Wow, they may be interesting; next time I need to buy sheets, I’d love to try that,’ to ‘I have to have this.’ ”
Two years after the launch of the brand’s website, Tannen and his wife, Missy Tannen, began to consider the marketability of the Boll & Branch experience. And, less than 18 months later, Boll & Branch officially opened its first brick-and-mortar store Aug. 30 at the Mall at Short Hills.
Tannen and his wife launched the brand out of Summit back in January 2014. And, although the density is not that of areas like Jersey City or New York, Tannen said the Mall at Short Hills and its surrounding area are made up of what he would consider Boll & Branch’s core customer base.
The couple also felt they could provide jobs and a superior retail experience to the area that helped the brand take off when it first launched.
“As much as we are a national and international business — we are one of the largest business brands in the world — our beginnings are based on this community,” Tannen said. “For our first month or two, the support that got Boll & Branch off the ground came from Chatham, came from Madison, came from Short Hills, Summit, these areas. We wanted to build our first store in this area. It’s obviously not going to be our last, but it was very important to us that where our roots as a company are reflect that in the start of this new chapter.”
The Boll & Branch founders have plans to launch 20 stores throughout the country by 2020 and have selected the Short Hills location as the model for its suburban retail footprint. The 2,100-square-foot store will also employ up to a dozen people.
Tannen said Boll & Branch will aim to focus on experience, rather than sales, at all of its stores. While the customer will be able to see and feel the products offered by the retailer in the stores, sales will be completed on-site but delivered by mail.
“My wife, who is my co-founder, is a third-grade teacher and subscribes to the idea that if you tell someone, they might know, but if you actually show someone, they understand,” he said. “(People) will be able to touch and feel raw cotton, touch and feel our product, see what our product looks like, not just in the package, but actually after they’re washed and used after 20 washes. In the case of our product, they actually feel better.”
And, as with its online experience, Boll & Branch will aim to showcase its efforts for ethically manufactured products at all of its stores.
The brand is Fair Trade certified and a member of the Not for Sale campaign, which, according to Tannen, separates it from its competitors.
“We’ve seen in our own research that in this local area there is tremendous desire from the customer to know more about the products, to know where they’re coming from, to understand the value that they’re getting for the dollar,” Tannen said. “We had a philosophical, personal problem with what we perceived as the status quo and, from that point forward, we decided to build our own supply chain from the ground up, starting with the cotton farmers all the way to the finishing, and we gained control of all of our aspects of our supply chain, from the time the raw cotton is picked by hand in Southeastern India until the product shows up at the customer’s door.
“We’re not trying to ride a white horse and say that this is a differentiator, but the reality is the sum of these parts has created an extremely differentiated experience and, ultimately, a much higher-quality product.”
Tannen said he and his wife’s vision could not have been achieved without the help of his internal marketing team, and without the help of New York-based creative agency MKG, which specializes in brand experiences.
“From the point, about 18 months ago, that we started thinking about retail, Missy and I always felt that once we pushed the start button on this, MKG was going to be at our side for this,” he said. “When you think about best of the best, they’re always at the top of the list. The founder is someone I’ve known for a while and, when it comes to understanding how to take digitally native brands, especially something like Boll & Branch, I don’t think there is anyone better than him.”
Tannen has high hopes for the store and hopes the vision of his team, the success of his online platform and efforts to create an ethically sourced brand can be materialized at Short Hills and the other stores Boll & Branch plans to open.
“We made the decisions to launch in New Jersey for accommodation of a business opportunity and because we wanted to support the local economy that supported us,” he said. “We’re able to fund the entire development of this store with our own profits and cashflow, so it’s not like we’ve had to raise debt, it’s not like we’ve had to go to the bank and raise venture capital to do it.
“We’re going to be one of the brands, I hope, people will look back on and say ‘They defined the 21st century retail model,’ that has reversed the downward trend of retail.”