This interview originally appeared in the cover story of Total Retail’s Summer issue, Game Changers. In this excerpt from the cover story, Miki Racine Berardelli, CEO of KIDBOX, was interviewed. Berardelli discusses why she believes in the future of subscription commerce, her style of leadership, what traditional retailers can learn from the startup brand, and much more in this wide-ranging profile.
Total Retail: What was the inspiration for the launch of KIDBOX?
Miki Racine Berardelli: Haim Dabah, our founder and chairman, launched the company in the fall of 2015 after being an early investor in Trunk Club through Greycroft Partners. He believed that the curated, push commerce model was going to take hold as a preferred way of shopping and that creating the concept in the children’s apparel space was even more relevant than menswear or womenswear due to the rapid growth of children and the fact that parents are busier than ever and time-starved.
Haim created KIDBOX as the first kid’s style box offering premier brands, significant savings, with a social mission at its core. He was laser-focused on building a company with a social mission at its core. Haim saw firsthand the impact of providing new clothing to children in need after serving on the board of directors of Delivering Good for more than a decade.
TR: What was the “ah-ha moment” when you realized you might have a successful business?
MRB: I’m a busy working mom of two boys, so I believed in the concept right away. My hunch was validated after shopping KIDBOX for my children and witnessing their anticipation and excitement, and then their joy after receiving the box, addressed to them and personally styled uniquely for them. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of retail doors closing. At KIDBOX, we believe the new retail “door” is the front door of every household across the country. We’re bringing the shopping experience into the living room, the new Main Street store. It’s amazing to have so many brands approaching us to be part of our box because they see us as a new and exciting distribution channel and a vehicle that literally brings their brand over the threshold and into a customer’s home.
TR: What was the pivotal marketing campaign or channel that really catapulted the business in its early days?
MRB: Our customer is actively engaged in social media, which is a natural extension to our business model. We’ve been extremely encouraged and amazed by the “earned media” we’ve garnered through Facebook. The KIDBOX unpacking experience lends itself to social media with mini fashion shows taking place in our customers’ homes, and parents snapping photos and posting on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. This creates a word-of-mouth phenomenon that continues to propel our growth and has since the beginning. We’re also excited about the “unboxing” trend that’s taking place on YouTube, where both influencers and everyday people are sharing their box experiences, spreading the word to others and driving awareness.
TR: How are you planning to scale the business?
MRB: First and foremost, we’ve assembled a seasoned executive team with a track record of scaling digitally native businesses. We see this as a key differentiator in the landscape. In order to keep up with the demand of our business, we also recently moved to a new third-party logistics provider, TradeGlobal. We’re now in a much better position to grow the business through TradeGlobal’s extensive logistics network, automation, and flexible operations model to meet our customers’ high expectations for fast and seamless shipping and returns processing. Now that we’re poised for significant growth operationally, we’re adding new marketing channels to our portfolio and setting our sights on adding new categories, services and brand partners to the mix. Our objective is to deliver a consistenly exceptional customer experience, always upping our game to drive growth.
TR: Can you tell us about a successful initiative your company launched in the last year?
MRB: We launched Baby by KIDBOX in the spring of 2017, and now offer the widest breadth of sizes in the children’s apparel box marketplace. By adding sizes newborn-24 months to our already existing sizes 2 to 14, we’re reaching more consumers and acquiring new customers through our gifting business. Furthermore, we’re adding new premier brands to our portfolio. We’re very pleased with the results thus far. We’re also proud to announce the creation of a kid’s board of directors. We want children to help us shape the company and create a movement of kids helping others and doing good in the world.
TR: What are your goals for the business for the remainder of 2017 and then 2018?
MRB: Sales growth; building a high-performance, best-in-class team and an amazing company culture. We’re a startup and want to preserve the passion and fast-paced environment that startups possess, but we want to drive the business through a thoughtful strategic plan, marked by key performance indicators and measurable results. We also know that we will win by the content of the box itself, so we’ll continue to add new brands to our mix to accelerate growth.
TR: What types of retail technology are you watching closely and/or thinking of implementing at KIDBOX?
MRB: KIDBOX is a technology company with proprietary algorithmic and data science practices that allow us to provide a predictive and personally curated box of style. We continue to evolve our mobile app and believe that it should serve as the customer’s “remote control” for their KIDBOX shopping experience.
We love what’s happening with chatbots and are watching the conversational commerce landscape closely. We will be adding technology to our customer service tool kit to enhance the customer experience and build even stronger connections with our customers. I believe that technology — especially retail technology — should enable customer and brand interactions, not just exist as technology for technology’s sake. If digital innovations aren’t working to grow the business, create measurable results and delight the customer, then they’re not worth the investment.
TR: Tell us about your hiring strategy.
MRB: Talent is everything. You simply cannot win without a world-class team that comes to work with a positive attitude and a relentless desire to win. I like to say “hire happy and humble.” I like to hire Tiggers, not Eeyores. If I’m picking up on malaise, melancholy or glass-half-empty when interviewing a candidate, I know they won’t be a culture fit at KIDBOX. I also avoid hubris and bravado because it tends to impede progress and toxify the team environment. When people know they’re safe, have each other’s backs and are marching in the same direction, positive results happen.
At KIDBOX, we’ve assembled a team that’s comprised of a balanced mix of seasoned and startup professionals, which I believe is unique for a brand new company.
TR: Tell us about your leadership style.
MRB: If there’s one quality I hope to exude is to be approachable. My door is open a lot more than it’s closed, and I’m the happiest when sitting with the team, working side by side. I also don’t believe that organizational charts exist to depict how communication flows. They exist to let people know whom they should go to when they need an obstacle moved out of their way or a decision to be made. Every one of my direct reports know that I will consistently walk the office, sit down with each and every employee in the organization, and ask them questions and get their feedback and input. As a leader in today’s competitive marketplace, you will not be successful or know all that you need to know to make the right decisions if your employees don’t feel that they can walk right up to you and share their thoughts.
Since we’re building a new retail brand with a unique and disruptive business model, it’s imperative that we lead with one foot in the “here and now” and the other foot in the future (i.e., strategic dimension of the business).
TR: What can traditional retailers learn from KIDBOX?
MRB: Agility is key in this new retail landscape. The customer is in the driver’s seat, with their mobile device serving as their command center, expecting brands to be where they are, precisely at the moment they want them to be there. It’s critical to listen to the customer; collect and harness analytics and data; and test, learn and adjust.
In addition, I also believe that social responsibility is table stakes in creating a relevant brand today, especially with millennials and Generation Z soon possessing the most purchasing power and influence in the marketplace. Philanthropy and social missions must be an authentic extension of a brand, never perceived by consumers as contrived, self-serving or gratuitous.
TR: Can you tell us the service providers you’re working with in your technology stack?
MRB: Due to KIDBOX’S unique business model and the shopping experience it provides customers, our technology for our site and mobile presence has been built in-house. We’re very focused on personalized, predictive, assisted commerce, and the continued enhancement and refinement of our proprietary algorithm that uses data science and machine learning to constantly improve the box assortment over time. It’s our vision to have the algorithm do 80 percent of the work and our in-house styling team to complete the remaining 20 percent as we scale the business.