Parachute is challenging the traditional bedding and bath categories with its focus on local roots design from Venice Beach and responsible manufacturing by the world's best artisans. Parachute was founded in 2014 by Ariel Kaye and began as an online-only, direct-to-consumer company focused on creating impeccable bedding products. They’ve since expanded their product offerings beyond the bedroom into many areas of the home, including bath, tabletop, nursery, gifts and decor. In 2016 they opened their first brick-and-mortar store in Venice, California, now have five and plan to open 20 stores by 2020. How did Ariel crack this market? Find out more from Ariel below as she shares her journey as a Challenger Brand CEO.
Tell us about your background and why you chose to start Parachute.
Before launching Parachute, I spent a decade working in advertising and brand development in New York. I was also a huge design enthusiast – I had an interior design blog, and I frequently helped my friends and family decorate their homes.
As a result, I became a super consumer of home goods, and when it came to bedding, I couldn’t find a single brand that was high quality, affordable or easy to buy. I also realized that no one had a positive association with brands when they bought their sheets. As someone who built brands in advertising, I recognized a true business opportunity – there was a serious void in the market. This is when I had my “aha” moment.
What major challenge did you have to overcome when you first sought out to build Parachute?
“Every time I spoke to a potential investor, I made sure he or she didn’t leave the room without feeling my excitement.”
When I first started pitching Parachute I received feedback that investors were concerned that I didn’t have the ‘fire in the belly’ characteristic to successful founders. While I’m a laid-back individual by nature, I didn’t want potential investors mistaking this as a lack of enthusiasm for what I was working on. So I shifted my pitch to show my hustle, drive and unrelenting passion. This included small but important tweaks like sitting up straighter, and looking into people’s eyes longer. I knew I needed to bring the intensity I felt inside out. Every time I spoke to a potential investor, I made sure he or she didn’t leave the room without feeling my excitement. I was persistent, confident and ready to deliver on my vision. Starting a brand is extremely challenging, and they needed to see and feel that I was never going to give up.
What defining characteristics have made your brand successful?
While a sheet may simply look like a sheet, or a towel may just look like a towel, there are nuances to our products that are uniquely Parachute. We are a textiles-first brand. We’ve created a product assortment that supports the wants – as well as needs – of modern shoppers seeking both quality and aesthetic. And we use data to develop products that keep people coming back. Our key differentiators are premium quality, thoughtful design and optionality. We’ve built a successful business and an incredibly loyal customer base by developing trust over the past five years. Our customers know that they can shop with confidence at Parachute.
How has Parachute cultivated a loyal customer base in such a short amount of time?
When I launched Parachute, I knew that I not only wanted to offer the best sheets on the market – I also wanted to also inspire a movement around sleep, wellness and creating a comfortable home. We’ve cultivated a community dedicated to comfort, both online and off.
Some of the successful channels we’ve leveraged to further grow and connect with this community include our highly publicized out of home campaigns, strategically advertising on top podcasts, our robust social channels, insightful press stories and our expansion into brick-and-mortar stores. Our stores are designed to feel more like gathering spaces than traditional retail environments. We want to create spaces where our customers can find inspiration, and enjoy special events that foster a feeling of community.
What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you?
We’re already seeing platforms like Instagram increasingly expanding their offerings to further blend content and commerce. For a prospective customer, being able to shop an inspirational image directly within the app is a powerful feature. It’s impacted the way that we’ve thought about curating the Parachute feed. It will be interesting to see if future features from these platforms will also include AR and VR capabilities, making the shopping/browsing process even more contextual.
What do you foresee as the biggest changes in your industry and how are you staying ahead?
I think one of the biggest changes in the industry is seeing online-only, direct to consumer brands moving towards an omni-channel retail experience. Historically, 90% of the products in our category are purchased offline, and it was always my intention to open brick-and-mortar stores to allow customers to touch and feel our essentials.
Today, we have five retail locations in top markets across the country, and are on track to have 20 stores by 2020. Our goal is to move beyond traditional retail by creating sensory experiences and interactive environments that allow shoppers to connect with our people and our products in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Our stores are an extension of our online experience. Visitors to our stores frequently pop in simply for a bit of inspiration, to touch and feel a product they came across on our site, or for the kind of in-person, one-on-one interaction that they can’t quite get online. I think we’ll continue to to see a shift toward retailers creating spaces designed to foster these types of connections with their customers beyond driving immediate sales.
What new things are you working on?
2019 has already proven to be an exciting year for Parachute, and we’re just getting started. We recently launched The Parachute Mattress to answer the thousands of customer requests we received seeking our mattress recommendations, and the response has been fantastic. We dedicated countless hours of design concepting, material selection and prototype testing to provide our customers with a superior sleep experience. With the addition of The Parachute Mattress we now round-out the bedroom by providing an all-encompassing sleep experience.
We are looking forward to launching additional new products and categories this year, as well as opening stores in more markets. We’re dreaming big!
What big learning moments have you had along the way?
Like many new business owners, I decided to err on the side of caution and produce only a limited run of inventory for Parachute’s launch. Our projections were too conservative, and we ended up selling out of certain bedding sets in our first weekend! Realizing that we couldn’t fulfill orders was extremely disappointing, especially because this was customers’ first experience with us.
We recognized that it wasn’t the best idea to start so small but turned the situation around. We communicated directly with customers and set a precedent for being best in class when it comes to service. We decided to make sure that at every step – from ordering to shipping and unboxing – that our customers are not only satisfied but delighted. I still read through our customer service emails and social media. I often reach out directly if people have questions or are unhappy with any part of the Parachute experience. From that first weekend forward, we built a strong and engaged community, and we committed ourselves to doing everything possible to making their experience best in class.
What unique skills or characteristics do you look for when hiring and developing your teams?
“We will always be a scrappy startup at heart so we need employees who are passionate, open and always willing to learn. ”
Beyond expertise in their particular field, we want to hire dreamers who aren’t afraid to take risks. We will always be a scrappy startup at heart so we need employees who are passionate, open and always willing to learn.
I try not to focus on the optics of start up success, but rather the true health of the business, my team, what customers are saying, and how we can provide them all with the best experience possible. I think this has been instrumental not only in building a successful brand, but in developing a thriving team. For me, it has been crucial to provide people with the skills they need to evolve with the company. I promote continued education and love when members of the team attend seminars/classes to hone their craft. I want all my employees to be armed with the resources, knowledge and connections they need to scale with the company, in addition to bettering themselves personally.
What advice would you give to other marketing pioneers?
Trust your instincts, because when you’re doing something you love, you can’t imagine doing anything else.