By Lyndsey Arnold, vp of partnerships at Thinx, Inc.
When COVID-19 disrupted so many industries, there was no playbook for the retail industry and anyone associated with it on what to expect and how to move forward — including brands with teams dedicated to building retail partnerships.
Many companies perhaps considered giving up on wholesale and retail partnerships, but for some, conversely, challenging times can provide an opportunity to focus on relationships and build a partnership strategy that can adapt to trends.
In this interview with Lyndsey Arnold, vice president of partnerships at Thinx Inc, provides insight into how the brand secured five new retail partnerships since mid-March — during the height of the pandemic — and how brands can apply this success to their businesses.
Q. What steps did you take at the height of the pandemic to maintain contact with your brand partners and build on those relationships during a tricky time for many businesses?
Lyndsey Arnold: Relationships are more important now than ever before. We launched our wholesale business in 2018. Since then, we have built out great partnerships with large department stores, including Nordstrom and Selfridges, as well as dozens of amazing independent retailers and boutiques throughout the world. This was a key time for us to stay in contact with all partners, even the ones that hadn’t ordered from us in months. The smaller stores were most likely to have long-term effects from the shutdown, so we did what we could to support them, like working quickly to help get our product available to their online stores, even if we previously didn’t have online sales terms with them.
Even if a retailer hasn’t ordered with you in a while, stay in contact, and check in on them. On top of that, it’s essential to be empathetic — we’re all maneuvering a difficult time, so be understanding and lenient with payment and general business processes. It’s a great time to take a step back and work with them on a long term plan, as well as a contingency plan; this will make them see that you truly value them and their partnership.
Q. Thinx created a new strategy for wholesale; can you explain some of the thinking behind diversifying your channels and portfolio?
Lyndsey Arnold: We had to get creative and embark on a new plan. The strategy that we came up with will allow us to exceed our wholesale goals by 130 percent this year.
Part of the strategy was to expand the channels where we sell and diversify our portfolio. We’ve been successful in traditional brick-and-mortar retail spaces, such as Nordstrom’s lingerie and underwear department, but our product can also live next to pads and tampons, so this was the time to focus more on drugstores and online channels.
Actively monitoring retail’s online presence, as well as anticipating the reopening of stores, we saw the opportunity to highlight our essential products to buyers at stores, such as London Drugs in Canada. They have a strong business, online and off, and we knew they were looking to expand their product offerings.
With that, I encourage businesses to get creative and think outside the box. There is likely a clear channel that your product or service fits in, but where else can it go or be helpful? Think about what consumers are looking for right now and how you can contribute to the market in a different or unique way.
Q. As consumers migrate from an in-store experience to e-commerce, what is product education’s role in a DTC world?
Lyndsey Arnold: Thinx offerings are all essential — we make absorbent underwear for periods and light-to-moderate bladder leaks — and they don’t stop for a pandemic. We also do most of our business direct-to-consumer, so in a time where people are being told to stay home, our products can be delivered to your door. Additionally, people who have been curious but too nervous to try our product finally found the courage to do so as they spent more time at home. For these reasons, our DTC business also saw a lot of growth during the height of the pandemic.
Beyond saying we also have a product that works and people need, we had already been heavily focused on product education since the beginning of the year, and that work really came to fruition when the pandemic hit. For those of you who are not working with period underwear, the takeaway is to consider how you can best educate consumers about your product or service — what is it they may not know about the brand that would be key to them? Also, think about why they need it and how it will benefit them right now.
Q. What advice can you give to other businesses regarding reacting to trends and adapting quickly?
Lyndsey Arnold: In March, Congress passed the Cares Act to help businesses and individuals financially navigate what was happening. With this bill, we were able to start offering our underwear in the HSA and FSA store, meaning individuals can use their flex spending accounts to purchase.
We also monitored the quickly shifting trends as everyone began to shelter in place and start working remotely. One of the biggest trends was, of course, how loungewear became the new “uniform,” so we sought out ways to offer our underwear to retailers that were looking to expand their offerings, as well as known go-to stores for comfort wear. With that, we quickly increased our Amazon offerings, which previously only included Speax by Thinx and Thinx (BTWN), to include our core Thinx line. We also sought out new partnerships with stores like Urban Outfitters and Free People, knowing that they would be looking to increase their comfort offerings.
This is a reminder that you always have to be ready to react quickly to what is happening in the world. It’s important to have alternative sales and promotional strategies that keep inventory flow active, even if it wasn’t your first choice. Always be prepared with a second and third contingency plan. Sometimes you have to be willing to relinquish some of your pride to maintain the health of your business.
As brands look forward to what the next few months of business looks like, it might feel easier to stay within comfort zones, but those that get creative, stay motivated, look for new opportunities and most importantly, are kind, have the potential to start new relationships and build on existing ones to get through the pandemic in partnership.