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What We Learned From Pivoting Into A DTC Business In Two Weeks

Our co-founder, Sib Mahapatra, outlines how we pivoted our company in less than a month from selling direct to enterprise clients to serving the individual consumer to accommodate the new stay-at-home reality.

In early March, things at Branch HQ looked great: we were on track to achieve our best quarter ever by any metric, from web traffic to revenue to NPS.
As a refresher, we furnish corporate offices with high-quality desks and chairs, made in the same overseas factories as premium competitors but sold direct to save time and money. A few phrases in that description might give you pause, notably “overseas factories” and “corporate offices.” It probably goes without saying that COVID-19 came for us in March: first slowly, then all at once.
We initially felt the pandemic’s influence on our supply chain, with manufacturing and freight partners experiencing delays and extended closures after the Lunar New Year. But as teams around the country began working from home, we realized the coronavirus would impact demand for our core offering for an indefinite period.
As the majority of our pipeline evaporated, and despite making hard cuts to operate as efficiently as possible, we had to reorient Branch and find new ways to generate revenue to stay alive. The story is far from written, but I want to share a few of the things we’ve learned in the process of executing our temporary pandemic pivot into a DTC company—which brought us from a complete halt in revenue generation back to a seven figure run rate over the past two weeks.

1) Acquisition: Play To Your Strengths

On its face, our opportunity to pivot was obvious: until our enterprise customers returned to the workplace, we needed to stop selling furniture to businesses and start selling an ergonomic setup to the millions of people hunched over their kitchen tables, working from home.
The problem was that we had spent the past year building an engine to identify and acquire a very different kind of customer, typically a small or medium-sized business between 25 and 300 people.
We considered leaning hard into the standard DTC playbook—paid search and Instagram ads—but knew we’d be at a disadvantage bidding against competitors that have invested far more time and resources in optimizing those channels. We also considered marketplaces like Amazon and Wayfair, but building discoverability (Amazon SEO is its own dark art) and conversion (i.e., reviews) on these platforms takes more time than we had to spare, while abstracting our brand would commodify our product and further impact conversion.
With a limited budget, we decided to prioritize capital efficiency and risk mitigation by focusing on revenue-aligned organic channels, from press and affiliate partnerships to organic social and content (full disclosure: this post counts toward that effort!).
Notably, we also played to our relative strength in sales. Most consumer furniture companies attacking the “work from home” opportunity don’t have an enterprise-grade business development team—but we do.
So we launched a “B2B2C” program to enlist organizational stakeholders with influence over WFH purchasing decisions, including the following personas:
• Executives and HR leaders: We emailed leaders from hundreds of companies, offering ergonomic consultations, discounts on our furniture and other incentives for their teams
Brokers and landlords: We worked with the real estate community to provide advice and resources for their clients on recreating their work environment at home
Communities: We partnered with local tech interest groups, founder collectives, and VC platform teams to spread the word within groups with intrinsic affinity for our offering
With systems already in place to automate personalized outreach at scale, we’ve been lucky to land some of the biggest companies, landlords and communities in the world as Branch evangelists over the past two weeks.
Hacking partnerships to drive traffic provides a one-time boost that decays fast. But the reception and revenue from this effort exceeded our expectations—and helped us refine our messaging and online conversion funnel with cheap traffic, letting us now test scale channels like paid search and social with less risk.

2) Conversion: Revisit Your Beliefs

Though our branding takes cues from direct-to-consumer companies, our acquisition funnel has always been geared toward generating leads for our sales team to educate and convert.
Unsurprisingly, we’ve had to re-examine many of our beliefs to improve our ecommerce conversion rate. A few things we’ve observed during our CRO process:
Consumers like colors: Our enterprise clients prefer classic colors for their office chairs (think black). When we started marketing to consumers, the sole non-black color (gray) we had in stock sold out immediately. We weren’t sure if we could restock the gray chair, so we pulled it off the site. Once we knew more were coming, we added it back—and conversion on that PDP increased 25%, even though the variant is still sold out.
Consumers like details: We educate our enterprise customers on the ins and outs of our products during our space planning and quoting process, so our PDPs were light on specifications. We figured consumers would care less about those details, but our spec sheet download rate has increased 250% since we started marketing to consumers. Ultimately, a single $300 chair is about as significant a purchase to a consumer as a $30,000 furniture purchase is to a company—and a transaction requires a higher degree of certainty than filling out a lead form. We’re launching a more robust spec section for our PDPs to address this need.
Consumers want benefits, not features: Our larger enterprise buyers are masters of the arts of ergonomics, and can translate features (high-density foam cushion) into benefits (no sore butts) for the teams they represent. For that audience, using professional vocabulary in product copy can convey professionalism. Consumers don’t have that ability; they want to understand, at a glance, how our chair will make their lives better. Reworking copy to emphasize the benefits of our products has increased conversion across the funnel, from PDPs to abandoned cart emails.
Ultimately, improving our ecommerce conversion rate has meant taking the value proposition that we market implicitly to B2B customers during the sales process, making it clearer and more explicit, and improving discoverability throughout the digital customer journey.

3) Fulfillment: Volume Solves Problems

Because we serve most of our enterprise clients with white glove assembly and installation, we didn’t have an existing shipping partner or procedures to fulfill ecommerce orders. Two things we learned in standing up a brand new fulfillment operation in a week:
In-house fulfillment: From developing new packaging solutions to finding creative ways to add assembly guides to boxes (stickers with a QR code anyone), our in-house operations and warehousing team worked with our third-party logistics partners to help us adapt faster and cheaper than if we relied on third parties alone.
Volume solves problems: We wanted to offer a substantial discount and free shipping on our work from home products, but we couldn’t do that without finding an affordable shipping solution. The prices we got initially were insane, but when we worked with one of our advisors in the industry to ship under his bulk account, we reduced our quoted rates by 70%.
In general, the switch ended up being easier than we expected. We’re used to building our own logistics processes to serve the diverse needs of our enterprise clients, but there are well established third-party tools and rails for managing ecommerce fulfillment.

4) Customer Experience: Volume Creates (And Solves) Problems

Scaling customer service to handle ten times the volume of transactions has been an interesting experience. Relative to our enterprise clients, the main challenge has been building systems to keep track of the sheer volume of tasks and requests. Two notable lessons we’ve learned:
Email frequency: Our enterprise clients prefer overcommunication during the fulfillment process, but we experienced some hiccups in porting the same cadence to our consumers (likely because the fulfillment timeline is significantly compressed). We now send our ecommerce customers three fulfillment emails: order confirmation, welcome + assembly guide, and NPS survey.
Customer support: Enterprise clients tend to present us with unique problems related to the unpredictable nature of office furnishing (is the buildout done?). But nine out of ten of the consumer questions we’ve received fall into four categories (assembly instructions / advice, shipping questions / ETA, product usage question, discount request). So we’ve created automated flows to make fielding those questions a cinch, thanks to helpdesk software like Intercom and Gorgias.
More than 70% of our consumer promoters have cited “service” as a top reason for rating Branch a 9/10 or 10/10 (our consumer NPS is >65 so far) so it’s clear that investing in rapid, comprehensive customer service has made a big difference.

Serving Consumers Makes Us Better

Branch entered the DTC market out of necessity, and our pivot is serving its immediate purpose. As a business more vulnerable than many to the impact of COVID-19, we’re generating revenue and goodwill during a time when we expected to pause our operations.
Executing on this opportunity has required every person at the company to learn something new while firing on all cylinders and dealing with general chaos in the world around them. With that said, watching us rebuild the entire customer journey from the top of the funnel through shattering NPS records has been nothing short of inspiring.
Beyond achieving these milestones, our pivot will create enduring value for Branch when we return to serving our core customers (whose needs are changing fast; more on that soon). If you run or invest in e-commerce businesses you won’t be surprised by this observation, but consumers set the standard: they make decisions on a condensed timeline, with less upfront knowledge about our products, and without a sales team to qualify and educate them.
In the aggregate, they’re a discerning—but fair—audience across acquisition, conversion and fulfillment, and learning how to serve them better has already paid dividends across the Branch experience. Most importantly, reviews like these make the whole process worthwhile:
If you browse the site or buy a chair from us in the next few days, we’d love your suggestions on how to make our experience even better.

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