In our last Small Business Spotlight, we featured menswear retailer, Division Road. This time around, we explore the process of bringing a physical product to market with Certain Standard, a Seattle based company that "believes in a higher standard of goods to equip you for a life less ordinary." Certain Standard launched this year with a beautiful line of incredibly well-made umbrellas and will be releasing other quality products in the near future. We caught up with Jason Sullivan, one of three founders, to learn more about the team, the company, and the launch process.
What’s the background of the founding team?
The best way to create something fresh is to come at it with fresh perspective. Well, we have that in spades given that none of us have a fashion pedigree.
Jason (Sullivan) spent 15+ years working at some of the world’s most successful advertising agencies on some of the world’s most famous brands. Most recently, he was Managing Director of Publicis Seattle, one of the industry’s most respected creative agencies.
Price (Eberts) started his career with a business intelligence startup before moving into more traditional management, brand, and technology consulting for big, blue-chip clients. Before Certain Standard, he was the COO of Conenza, a social networking technology company.
Clara (Mulligan) is a creative’s creative who is one of the most talented designers in the world. No joke. She’s owner her own branding firm, tinkered with her own fashion line, and has led the design discipline at some of the best agencies in the industry. She currently lives in London but still considers Seattle home.
What’s the mission behind Certain Standard
We don’t really get hung up on mission in the traditional sense, as much as we subscribe to a shared vision to raise the standard of the things we make and the way we behave as a brand. We make beautifully designed and incredibly well-made things that make people feel something. That’s why we’re maniacal on the design details. That’s why we’re sincere about the impact we make, and can make, on the world.
I can count the number of times I’ve opened an umbrella. I’m also probably too old to wear wet clothes to work. Can you convince Seattle locals to adopt the umbrella?
We certainly think so. Who’s to say that umbrellas and Gore-Tex can’t coexist? We own ski jackets and rain coats. We also use umbrellas. For us, it’s all about style and making sure you don’t have to compromise it because of a little weather. You want to wear that leather jacket, but it’s raining. Try an umbrella. Don’t feel like wearing a jacket at all. Try an umbrella. Not sure if it’s going to rain and don’t want to carry a jacket? Try an umbrella. Hiking in the Ho rainforest? Even we say go with the rain coat.
What is the giving program and how was it conceived?
Our giving program is simple. Simple, but focused. We wanted to support a couple organizations who are helping make the world a little brighter. The company you keep speaks volumes and we believe in putting that company out there. Not only that, we wanted to involve consumers by letting them choose which of our two partners their specific purchase supports. Our giving partners are Nest (buildanest.org) and Global Nomads Group (gng.org), two organizations that play in totally different arenas, yet share the goal of making our world a little brighter… better. Check them out when you get a chance.
There is something pleasing about watching a company do one thing and do it really well. What does the future hold for CS? Keep refining the umbrella offering, or add more products to the mix?
We’re an accessories brand. We’re starting with umbrellas but already have more products in the development pipeline. We’re thinking blankets as the next launch, but we’ll see. The art comes in finding the balance between diverse and fragmented.
Especially in Seattle, we hear mostly about people bringing digital products or services (e.g. coworking, restaurants) to market. What are the unique challenges of bringing a physical consumer product from idea to the shelves?
In general, making physical stuff is hard. It just takes time. Time to find the partners. Time to source the materials. Time to make the parts that are used to make the actual product. Time to prototype. Time to change or even start over. Time to get it all over the world.
Our process was far more difficult and took far longer because we were creating something from scratch. We didn’t want an off-the-shelf solution. We wanted to create a new, better designed umbrella using materials and looks that were new to the industry – natural cork handles, powder coated shafts, proprietary tips, custom colors, etc. These things weren’t new to the world, but they were to the industry and that took some time to do and do right without compromise.
What’s your retail strategy? Is the plan to follow in the footsteps of Warby Parker et al to use it as a showroom and marketing strategy, or do you expect to drive significant revenue at retail?
As much as we’d love to replicate the success of Warby Parker or Bonobos, those products are a bit different than ours in that fit is crucial part of the purchase. That said, we do subscribe to the showroom vs. traditional retail environment… at least for our branded store. We want it to be a place for people to interact with the brand vs. come to shop. Hang out talk a bit; and if you happen to buy something, then great.
As for strategy, we’ll continue to sell direct via our online storefront, and will be in other retailers soon – boutiques, department stores, and even some cool other nontraditional spots. In the end, it’s about the right retailers that fit our brand.
When can we visit you at the retail showroom? (3801 Stone Way N, Suite E)
Back to the whole things take time topic…, man, does it take forever to get into a new space. We hope to be in the new space and open in early June.
It’s easier than ever to serve highly tailored ads and find your target customer segment. It also seems that there are a lot of well-made products launching every day. For most of my existence online, I’d never clicked on a PPC ad. Now I order products from podcast sponsors and buy $50 towels from Instagram. With the proliferation of Shopify and small, quality consumer goods manufacturers, how do you separate yourself from the noise and compete for your piece of the disposable income pie?
Brand and Design.
Our backgrounds are in the brand marketing world, so we put a lot of stock into developing our own. What do we stand for? How do we behave? What’s our promise? It’s easy to copy a good product. It’s really hard to copy a good brand.
The other differentiator is design. It’s at the core of what we do. In fact, we’re as much a design company as we are an accessories company. We’re maniacal about the details that matter because great design is emotional. Our umbrellas should do more than keep you dry.
What has been the most rewarding part of launching this company?
Humility. Hands down. The amount of new stuff you learn, the process of moving from idea to application, and the pressure of controlling your own destiny, are all incredibly humbling.
What is the biggest mistake you made that you would never do again?
Assuming that you can make a great product in less than a year.
When you’re not working, your ideal day consists of ______?
To be honest, the good life is a lot of hanging out in the neighborhoods where we live. Going to shows and checking out new restaurants, walking dogs, and chasing kids. We’re all big into travelling, so maybe the ideal day is picking our way through an awesome new city on the other side of the world.