Digitizing new life into an iconic brand
By: Teresa Day Craighead
Executive: Bob D’Loren
Location: Dresden, Ohio
SSN: What motivated you to acquire Longaberger last year?
At Xcel brands, we were looking for something in the home sector to diversify our category offering and reach the consumer directly, and I saw the opportunity to acquire the company. I’ve always been excited about iconic brands. I like to say that icons live forever. Sometimes they just need a little bit of tender, loving care to get people reengaged with the brand.
We were looking for something that would be suitable to start a platform like what was happening in Asia with peer-to-peer social commerce, through livestreaming. These platforms create a market place whereby it’s the many for the many compared to traditional distribution models that are designed to be the one for the many. Longaberger was the right brand for what we had in mind for this. The rest of it was digging in and doing all the things that you need to do to get a company focused on the mission.
SSN: How has the digital revolution of the past five years shaped your decision- making?
The direct selling channel of distribution has been disrupted by technology over the past five years and COVID-19 just accelerated it. Traditional direct selling companies have complicated compensation structures and push sales reps to distribute products. We felt that that’s not consistent with the digital world.
What we decided was to reimagine the whole thing and become a peer-to-peer social platform, and simplify it all. So, first we asked, what is the technology we need? Let’s look to technologies that are being used in social media to adopt and modify them for what we need to do.
SSN: How do you create a singular brand approach?
Dave Longaberger’s original vision for the Longaberger Company was to sell everything for the home, not just baskets. So, as we started to think about what’s trending in-home today, we realized that how consumers are influenced has changed. It’s no longer about magazines like Better Homes and Gardens anymore. It’s about personalities like Joanna Gaines and others on HGTV and the things that they’re doing in homes. Currently, that’s a modern organic aesthetic. We took that aesthetic and tried to stay true to Longaberger’s very organic, natural, handcrafted aesthetic and incorporated it into every product that we bring into the product mix. The overall goal is to offer our customers everything to make their homelife better.
Joe Falco leads our merchant team, and he leads the design aesthetic of the brand. He is a voice in the Longaberger community today, along with Rachel and Tammy Longaberger and certain key influencers. The key is to define the aesthetic. So we created something called “Do’s and Don’ts; We’re always this, and we’re never that.” Part of it is a design process. Part of it is a curation process. But at the end of the day, the goal is to make it all look like it was designed and developed by one hand. We think of our product line holistically. How can we make people’s lives better in their homes? How many artisans are out there that we can facilitate helping to show the world their high-quality products?
SSN: Do you provide your stylists product training or design training?
Yes. We think of ourselves as a digital-first company. We have weekly virtual meetings where we share enthusiasm for the products, the reason why each piece was either handmade or hand-selected, and we share decorating ideas, including ideas on how to use the products. Tammy and Rachel and the Longaberger family are the heart and soul of the company; they are engaged with our stylists across most of our social media platforms, including some live streams. Tammy and I also host a monthly show.
SSN: What are your plans for QVC, and how will you incorporate the stylists into that plan?
We’re not competing with our consultants; we are creating incredible brand awareness that drives traffic to our stylists. Some of the larger, interactive television networks like HSN and QVC broadcast in up to 400 million households worldwide, with over 120 million here in the U.S. We’ve learned over the years to be in other channels of distribution simultaneously with QVC, so that it’s a win-win for our stylists and QVC. The products that we make for QVC are unique; we don’t share any of the products that are on the Longaberger.com website. Those are only available through our stylists.
SSN: What decisions did you make about relaunching the compensation plan?
We didn’t start this thinking that we were a direct sales company or a multi-level marketing company (MLM), so we didn’t have a preconceived notion of how compensation should be set up with multiple layers.
We’ve just kept it simple and clean and straightforward. We started with, “How are social media influencers paid? How is Disney doing it with their MCN (multi-channel network)? How is Dreamworks doing it with Awesomeness TV?” We approached it looking at how social media influencers are paid marketing fees for influencing people and converting them to sales of products.
In social media, if someone likes something, there are now technologies that have attribution engines. We decided it should be very simple and go no further than a person who joined because of someone else, and that’s it. This is truly social commerce.
SSN: Using the influencer model is a relatively new choice in this channel. How do you help your stylists build their customer base beyond the people they might already know?
It’s a whole new world out there. We offer training and encourage all of our stylists to work through replicated websites to build their own stores and demonstrate the products that they’re passionate about. With the ability to post short-form video content, as well as live streaming, it’s really “the sky is the limit” for anyone who wants to be a social media influencer.
SSN: What happens when a customer comes directly to the website to buy products?
It’s always the customer first. We do encourage our customers to choose a stylist and have a process for that, because we do believe that a stylist can help them in making product decisions.
SSN: How has COVID-19 and the lockdown affected your company?
As a company, we believe we’re positioned well across multiple channels. We are truly an omni-channel company; we sell everywhere our customers are today. Omni is more than e-commerce plus bricks-and-mortar. We are e-commerce. We are interactive TV. We are social commerce. And we are bricks-and-mortar.
Regarding each segment of our business, interactive TV has fared well in this cycle. People are home, and they’re tuning in, perhaps for the first time. Our e-commerce businesses, like most, have been doing very well in this cycle. In bricks-and-mortar, it’s been a tough year. And we know that there will be changes coming in those channels.
SSN: What advice would you now give to your younger self?
I’ll answer this in a way that I answer my children when they see me in church praying. My kids always want to know, “What are you praying for?” And I tell them whenever I pray, I only pray for one thing: focus. Because if I focus, I’ll take care of everything that I have to do in my life, including whatever it is I have to do for my religious beliefs. My advice to my younger self would be, “Pray for focus, stay balanced, and always love your mission.”
SSN: Who has influenced your career the most and why?
It’s been like a bit of a mosaic. There have been multiple influencers from business and sports, from my personal life, that were all the pieces that came together to complete something. And I can’t put it on any one person other than to say I’ve been lucky to have great people in my personal life, great people in my business life, and looked to the right athletes when I was involved in sports, particularly as a college athlete, to help complete a good mosaic.
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