Four years ago, line cook Ellen Bennett, now CEO of Los Angeles-based multimillion-dollar apron company Hedley & Bennett, got her first shot at success when her head chef ordered her line of aprons. Today her brand is in over 4,000 restaurants and coffee shops across America. Bennett credits part of her success to companies' willingness to collaborate with her, and she's eager for other new businesses to learn from her experience. She recently hosted her inaugural 'School of Hustle' in conjunction with Instagram for Business, a one-day event that trained business owners on the best ways to boost their brand.
For a panel titled Building Your Business Through Smart Collaborations, Janet Hayes, president of Williams Sonoma; Raquel Johnson Barrett, CEO of Funboy; and Los Angeles restaurateurs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo sat down together to discuss the best ways brands can work together.
Brand collaborations can have a huge return—but they work best if you first understand the basics.
Collaborating For Freshness
When Janet Hayes became president of Williams Sonoma in 2013, she asked herself what she envisioned as the future of the brand. “How do you take a brand that's 61 years old and keep it cool, fresh and relevant?" she said. The answer seemed obvious: smart collaborations that could add value and reach for the company. For Hayes, numbers weren't the focus of this exercise. “To think [collaborations] will be big every time is the wrong approach," she said. “Sometimes you do it because it's fun, and that's a success—it's not about the numbers."
But that doesn't mean she forgets about due diligence. “I'm usually face to face with whoever we do it with for a while before we go from dating to committing," she said. “I feel strongly that we need to work with good honest people."
—Janet Hayes, president, Williams Sonoma
According to Hayes, the key to a happy partnership is being clear what both sides are looking for—for example, audience, impressions and growth—and making sure that the partnership will meet expectations. “If I'm doing this, I have to make it unique," she said. “It's the power of two industries coming together."
The Takeaway: You don't have to be an 'it' brand to get high-profile collaborations, but you need to offer relevance, authenticity and a personal story.
The Importance Of Creating Clear Guidelines
In the summer of 2015, Funboy CEO Raquel Johnson Barrett's social media started blowing up. A famous singer had posted an Instagram shot featuring her partying with a model around a pool filled with Funboy floaties, including their white swan and Pegasus unicorn float.
This happened organically but boosted Funboy's profile significantly. Barrett immediately started thinking about how to capitalize on this. Barrett decided that Instagram artist and creative director at large for the Estée Lauder Companies, Donald Robertson, had an aesthetic that worked for the company and hired him to create float designs. At first, she gave him free rein to create what he liked but had to reassess when he presented her with a file with 60 colors and multiple shapes. “I learned to set boundaries," Barrett said. “Having a [clear] framework minimized time." With a new structure in place, Robertson created a line of mermaid-themed floats, which sold well and garnered press attention from outlets such as The L.A. Times.
The Takeaway: Set clear outlines for every project and make sure they're achievable, and use media to build on brand collaborations.
Collaborating Based On Hearts, Not Wallets
It can seem trite when businesspeople tell you that a successful collaboration depends on a good feeling instead of the bottom line, but when restaurant owners and chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo say this, it's based on an experience of a deal that went south. Eight years ago, Dotolo says the duo partnered with a brand based purely on profit expectations, which ended up being a very negative experience. Now they look for collaborations where everyone wins, where they don't have to compromise their creative vision.
“You're probably collaborating with someone who's an expert in what they're doing," Shook said. “Approach the situation maturely and listen with open ears." This philosophy starts in-house, as they pay attention to people involved in every process of production. “We start collaborating with the people at the top—the menu starts with us, and then we discuss it with the kitchen crew and collaborate on every level." Looking outwards, they've collaborated with Sarah Hymanson, chef and owner of Brooklyn falafel stand Madcapra, to build Kismet, a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant in Los Angeles, and are working with Delta Airlines to create a new menu for their first class passengers. "We built a facility to bring gourmet to the gate," said Dotolo, who added that they've spent three years working with flight attendants and the FAA to understand the airport infrastructure and the needs of passengers.
The Takeaway: When you work with experts, make sure you listen to them—they're there to make the process run more smoothly.