Under The Hood: Courtney from Nori
How did Nori get started and where did you and your co-founder come up with the idea?
Courtney: Nori was an idea that very much stemmed from a personal pain point. I had just started my career in New York City and was living in a very cramped apartment. I was working at a job where I wanted to maintain a business casual wardrobe and make a strong first impression each day. But, I just didn't have the space for an ironing board and I hated the steamer I had from Bed Bath and Beyond. I also couldn't afford repeated dry cleaning.
So I’d wake up each morning and try a myriad of different DIY hacks – everything from shower steam, to putting an ice cube in the washing machine, or using a hair straightener.
This put a spotlight on what is a very large market. Ironing and steaming, and the even larger topic of clothing care, which has failed to see any meaningful innovation since the introduction of the steamer in the 1980s.
We embarked on a 2+ year customer discovery and product development journey, in which we sat down with over 500 plus consumers and asked, “are you satisfied with your iron? What are you using to remove wrinkles?” We began hearing the same narratives, but more so that there were no existing market solutions. Consumers had a really hard time naming brands in the ironing and steaming space, and almost all the shopping was happening in big box retailers.
We then recruited engineers from Conair, Remington, and Cuisinart to build our totally next generation steam iron, which would become our hero product. The Nori Press reinvents the form factor of an iron. It doesn't require an ironing board, but still delivers the same effectiveness of a traditional industrial grade iron.
We launched in May of 2021 and have been off to the races since then!
What were some of the challenges with developing, designing and manufacturing the initial Nori Press? What were some of the breakthroughs?
Courtney: Hardware is truly a game of its own, and very difficult. The fact that we were so naive almost gave us an advantage, because we didn't necessarily know entirely what we were in for. We were truly just approaching it from a consumer need perspective, of “this is what I want, let's make it happen.”
The idea of taking the form factor of a hair straightener, that has these two heated plates that can iron the front and back of your garment at the same time, we thought was really convenient, but we wanted to fully optimize it for clothing. So we were looking for features like elongated arms that reach across your garment, incorporating a steam component, incorporating fabric specific heat settings, and so on. It takes the guesswork out of how to approach certain articles of clothing. We wanted it to be dual voltage, so it could work overseas, and with a certain form factor so that it could be optimized for travel to fit and carry on.
We ended up interviewing over 19 development firms to make sure that we found someone that was really familiar with not only creating irons and steamers, but creating components that are necessary for what we were asking to create.
There was a lot of learning, but what we decided was that we wanted to run focus groups and get feedback internally, before we ever brought it to market. When you're introducing a new form factor, a new type of product, it's one thing to make adjustments along the way and to optimize for consumer feedback….but if you put out a half baked product, I don't think that your company can ramp up as quickly and get the buzz that is necessary to succeed as a DTC brand.
How’d you think about building the Nori brand early on in the journey? Did you have an idea of the type of brand you wanted to build Nori into when you started?
Courtney: We always operated under the assumption that the Nori Press was going to be the first product of a larger brand. This was really important, because as much as one product can be your hero, it can also be what you're known for…not only from an investor perspective and a fundraising perspective, but also from a brand building perspective.
You need to have a greater category or dream in sight. We really knew we wanted to create a clothing care brand, and create different tools and solutions that would allow consumers to increase the longevity of their most loved pieces, to build this capsule wardrobe that can last a lifetime because they have the tools to take care of it.
Nori is iron spelled backwards. We wanted to start with totally reinventing the way that people think about this type of product, but in turn, the way people think about caring for their clothes. It really almost positioned Nori as a wellness or beauty brand.
In doing so, Nori was offered as an aspirational, clean, and really refined brand that people were excited to invest in because it felt like a part of their greater wellness routine. Previously, irons were very bulky and industrial, and had no real modernized millennial branding. Nori was truly the first of its kind in this space, and this branding has held true as we've expanded our product line.
What were some of the key breakthroughs in getting to your first million in revenue? How did you do it?
Courtney: We really leaned into innovation. As I mentioned, there was this movement for quite some time of DTC businesses taking a product or a category and putting it online with new branding. But Nori had so much genuine innovation attached to it, which made it special.
I’d say our focus was innovation across our press, earned media arm of our marketing stack, and our paid acquisition. All of those then started to lean on one another. With press, we were telling editors and outlets about how we were recreating this type of product, let alone as two women in the hardware industry. Nori was one of Oprah's favorite household items. We were in Forbes and Vogue and Town and Country, and many others.
It's one thing to get that attention, but then you need to repurpose that in a paid capacity, or in an organic capacity on your social channels, in order to fully utilize the power of earned media. So we started to run ads of our Vogue article, “The Only Steamer I’ll Ever Use Again.” It showed validity, saying this is why you can trust our product and this is why you should try it.
We ended up doing over a million dollars within our first seven months of business.
How do you think about SKU expansion for Nori? How far do you plan to take your initial SKU, the Nori Press, before expanding?
Courtney: The cool thing about the Nori Press is that there are so many different markets in which this device can live. So obviously, a bulk of our business at this point has been DTC, getting Nori in the hands of consumers replacing their irons and steamers, and offering an option to cut down dry cleaning bills.
There's the wholesale channel, which is interesting because right now it's only 5% of our business. We have some more upscale retail relationships. We're with Williams Sonoma, Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, and the Container Store, but we've yet to hit mass retail. This is definitely on our docket, but we’d like to do so in a really meaningful and purposeful way.
We are also already in a few hotels, and hoping to lean into that further. We’d also like to put Nori in gyms, having consumers use it as they get ready for their workday before leaving the gym. Cruise ships are another big one for us. There's just a TON of places where this product can live.
What has been your most efficacious acquisition channel to date? What strategies have helped you rapidly scale performance?
Courtney: Paid acquisition has definitely been our most successful channel to date. At times I wish it wasn't, but it's a huge part of our success for a reason. It's really effective. Nori has been an anomaly in this sense. I think there's a lot of founders that were sort of shaking their heads at the iOS 14 update and a lot of other changes within the platform. But I think Nori is onto something that's really unique, in that it’s incredibly demonstrative…you're ironing with your Nori Press, and are watching wrinkles disappear. This type of content does really, really well from a conversion standpoint, which has definitely worked to our advantage.
As the company starts to diversify our channel split, I think paid media will continue to drive direct to consumer, but more community building is necessary to succeed in wholesale and beyond.
What’s the biggest challenge you and your team at Nori are facing nowadays?
Courtney: So many! Inventory planning is really difficult for us. Hardware requires these really lengthy lead times. You're making decisions about what you think your biggest quarter of the business (Q4) is going to be, somewhere in Q two, and therefore there's a big cost expenditure attached to it. You want to ensure that your supply chain is ready and able, and that your product and assembly line is being inspected and audited. So all those products coming out of it are sellable and you're getting as much revenue as possible out of what you've paid for in inventory. It's a year-long investment in what often is a seasonal spike.
Another challenge is not only making these educated guesses on how to optimize for the second part of the year, while also trying to find ways to even out our seasonality within the business. Wholesale has allowed us to counteract that, and in some ways also leaning into other gifting seasons, so that not so much rides on decisions made at the start of the year. That will then in turn come to fruition in the second part of the year.
What are some of the marketing peaks you create throughout the year outside of Black Friday & Cyber Monday?
Courtney: Of course Black Friday and Cyber Monday are huge. Prime day is Amazon's way to counteract seasonality. In turn, brands can lean into July and October, so there are some peaks there. We do smaller sales around holidays like the Fourth of July, and Memorial Day happens to fall on Nori’s birthday. So those are our biggest sales of the season, outside of Q4.
In addition, Nori is such a giftable product. It's perfect for things like wedding registries, baby shower registries, back to school, as well as “new year, new you” initiatives. From a marketing perspective, we're constantly trying to position the purchase incentive of the moment and how we position the product in that way and demonstrate that it truly is the perfect buy for XY, Z.
How do you tailor your marketing assets and content to consistently be driving the unique gifting angles of Nori (i.e. registries)?
Courtney: Part of it is finding the right partners. We're partnered with registry sites, Zola, Crate and Barrel, and Williams Sonoma, so consumers know that's where they're going. Nori already lives there.
We also did a co-branded partnership, specific to weddings, with a company called “Over the Moon,” that is focused towards wedding prep for a bride or groom's big day!
So part of it's finding the right partners, but also just getting scrappy with your content, especially in organic and paid capacity…taking the time to create assets that are focused towards those specific shopping windows.
What are some of your favorite tools in your tech stack at Nori?
Courtney: Our core is the very basic DTC – Shopify, Klaviyo and Recharge. Some others that I think are unique are affiliate programs, things like Awin, Share-a-Sale and LTK that allow us to interact and incentivize our affiliates and press partners. That is such a huge part of our business.
As mentioned previously, there's also a group called Brij, that allows you to create custom QR codes. As we start to venture more into wholesale, and build this greater community, QR codes have been a huge way for us to interact with our consumers. If they're finding us through the Nori Press, and they're buying that Nori Press in the Container Store, we want there to be a QR code where they can come back to the Nori branded experience, since how they met us was not on our DTC website. We’d love for consumers to learn more about our mission, our other products, how best to use their purchase, and then also try to interact with them out of home.
From a supply chain standpoint, which I know I mentioned is our greatest challenge…Factored Quality is a group that allows us to feel really confident in the goods that we are shipping out of our factory.
They run these low cost inspections of both our factory and our final goods. We’re able to tailor exactly what we want them to check for based on the products that we’re developing, and as we are increasing our POs to sizes that we've never touched thus far, it makes us feel really confident in our factory and in the goods, even when producing large quantities… we’re still delivering on quality.