Speed-to-market in the omni-channel retail world is essential. Part of Coastal’s adaptive strategy is to find innovation outside itself through specialty opportunities with small but commercially established companies.
Wolfgang Man & Beast is a recent example. The Salt Lake City-based company specializes in stylized leashes and collars, as well as a collection of wallets, belts and T-shirts — the former for the “beast,” the latter for the “man.” In this relationship, Wolfgang maintains its own brand and does its own marketing and product design, while Coastal manufactures and distributes for it.
“It’s a way for us to test outside our core competencies and drive profit innovation through the organization,” Stout says. “Quite frankly, some of these push us just like a large customer partnership will push you, which is good for the organization.”
Coastal also makes acquisitions. The differentiator — what makes one company a candidate for a partnership and another a candidate for an acquisition — is assets. For example, Bergen is an Oklahoma-based company that Coastal acquired in 2015 that is known primarily for its cat toys.
“Bergen had a strong brand. They had a good lifestyle B-to-C message that we weren’t as strong on — we’re very strong B-to-B,” Stout says. “And they had a really good sales and product team. When we acquired them, the five team members that came with them were very attractive and we retained that team, and we ran them as a skunk works for the first three years and kept the product team completely separate.”
Make the pie bigger
Coastal also meets the omni-channel challenge through an adjusted internal structure — people in the right seats on the 8.6-acre bus, if you will.
“Structure follows strategy,” Stout says.
And Coastal’s structure has morphed from the days of catalogs into an e-commerce, and from a web development team pulled from IT that works with sales to drive its e-business.
Along with a person dedicated to e-MAP (Minimum Advertised Price policy), the team monitors its many online retail relationships. It gets some assistance through the partnerships it holds with larger online retailers, such as Amazon, Tractor Supply Co. and Orvis, which are managed via sales reps and highlight Coastal’s willingness to leverage the help of strategic outsiders.
“You can really gain a lot of insight from partnering with your customers that are really strong in that area,” Stout says.
The point at which Coastal tipped into committing dedicated resources to e-comm happened between 2004 and 2006, when companies were launching their own e-commerce sites. After watching the tech bubble burst, Coastal had been treating Amazon as just another distributor, skeptical of its staying power. But as Orvis and some of Coastal’s other key customers became more strategic with Amazon, the shift to online became a clear necessity.
To that end, Coastal Pets has a consumer portal as a not really advertised or promoted way to fulfill direct consumer orders.
“We’re a manufacturer that is moving to a brand, so you need to be available how people want to get to you,” Stout says. “For some people, that’s going be through our website. Others will be going to their store. I don’t think of it as a scarcity/abundance thing. I think it is just, how do you make the pie bigger?”
Coastal’s move to make its brand more recognizable in the market is a product of the scattershot realities of omni-channel marketing and consumers driving the buying decisions. Name recognition is valuable because Coastal wants to be recognized wherever shoppers might shop.
But how does a company that hasn’t necessarily had to tell its brand story learn to be a storyteller?