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Brandless was an ambitious startup when it came out of the San Francisco Bay Area in 2017. Brandless was founded to create brands without “brand names,” aiming to provide consumers with a mainstream store-brand-type product.

Despite its clever and somewhat ironic name, Brandless is a brand. “Of course Brandless is a brand,” said Emily Heyward to Fast Company. Heyward helped design the company’s original branding.

Two and a half years after the company launched, however, it came crashing back down. In February 2020, the company announced it was laying off 70 of its 80 workers and ceasing to take orders.

The company had just received a massive $240 million investment from Japanese conglomerate Softbank’s Vision Fund in 2018, adding to a $50 million investment already received. The investment prompted a leadership shakeup within the company, as cofounder and CEO Tina Sharkey was removed from her position and 13% of the company’s workforce was laid off

The company’s CFO, Evan Price, took over CEO duties before passing it to former Walmart COO John Rittenhouse just six months. The changes at the top weren’t enough to save a spiraling, nonprofitable company, though, and the company folded.

Relatively quickly, though, it received a second life. Just six months after Brandless collapsed, it was acquired by Clarke Capital Partners, an investment firm, and Ryan Treft, a Utah marketing executive who served as Brandless’s CEO until December 2020 when he was replaced by Cydni Tetro.

New Beginnings for Brandless

“I love the brand. I didn’t know much about how much they had raised. I didn’t know anything about how big they were. I honestly had no clue,” then-CEO Ryan Treft said to Business Insider.

Treft’s and Tetro’s passions for the company and its unique offerings have been exactly what the company needed for a fresh start. Much of the way that Brandless had done business was overhauled, new bundles were created to move unsold products, and the organization’s leadership team went to work to create the new-look Brandless.

Since its genesis (both the first time around and the second), Brandless has been about creating quality products at inexpensive prices that draw customers without flashy labels. “We are committed to making it easy for people to make good choices when it comes to their health and well-being,” said James Clarke, CEO of Clarke Capital, to Retail Dive.

Brandless’s staggered relaunch initially focused on fewer products than they initially sold, giving the company time to find a market foothold before pushing the scaling process. When it opened, Brandless sold all of its products for $3 with a few specialty products selling for more, but new CEO Treft said that slashing prices wasn’t the goal.

“It’s not about racing other brands to the bottom of being the cheapest, because that’s where people compromise on the quality, the ingredients,” then-CEO Treft said.

An Emphasis On New Product Offerings

Tetro’s leadership at Brandless has led the company to expand in different directions from the original 2017 vision. Brandless cut its travel and snack offerings to focus on being a company that promotes health, wellness, and other parts of one’s daily routine.

Today, Brandless’s offerings are split under three headers on its website, Brandless.com. Personal health, beauty, and home encompass the goods that the company sells, and a fourth header displays brands that Brandless has acquired, rather ironically.

In The Gummy Market, Brandless’s handful of gummy vitamin supplement concoctions are available for purchase. In another part of the website, customers can peruse baby lotions and vegan-produced makeup brushes and accessories. In yet another niche is found a dog bed and laundry detergents.

Brandless aims to operate in a very large segment of the direct-to-consumer market.

Bundles, Sales, and Offers, Oh My!

One of the ways that Brandless has created a repeat customer base is by frequently offering low prices and enticing sales. Though prices are low to begin with, Brandless is committed to offering prices that make consumers want to keep buying their self-identified “better for you” products. Each day, new free gifts are available with orders of qualifying prices.

Tetro’s goal for the company has been simple: focusing on quality and value. The value is clear–Brandless offers hundreds of different products, all the while honoring its original commitment to keeping products free of over 400 potentially harmful ingredients commonly found in mass-produced big-brand products. 

This includes parabens, sulfates, and synthetic dyes, terms heard often on the news recently as larger brands have been caught out using additives that could be potentially harmful and even carcinogenic. “We have millions of customers, thousands of new product requests, hundreds of products and categories and dozens of marketplace partners,” Clarke said.

Moving Forward

Treft’s vision for the company is to continue selling its products through its online platform and to derive most of its revenue directly from that source. It has also moved to sell on Amazon, however, and several of its products have been hot sellers.

The products are labeled as “small business” and “Climate Pledge Friendly,” which sums up much of the plan for Brandless. Since its beginnings, Brandless’s “brand” has been simple, white-labeled products that are friendly to consumers and the environment, and it is beginning to be recognized internet-wide.

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