Creating Credibility with Customers
Andres Modak, WG’12 and Rachel Cohen, WG’12
Co-Founders and Co-CEOs, SNOWE
By the time Andres Modak, WG’12, entered Wharton, he’d lived in India, Australia, Hong Kong and Indonesia, and had visited almost 100 countries. An early career in management consulting brought him to Wharton where he rediscovered his passion for design. This eventually led to the creation of Snowe, a digital-first home goods brand, which he co-founded with his classmate Rachel Cohen, WG’12. As readers know, the retail industry is in a hyper-challenging and dynamic mode today. Thousands of stores close each year. Yet to those who invest in customer relationships and can master the requisite technology, keep faithful to their products, and inspire others to join them, they earn the right to be trusted and to grow.
We’re building a home goods destination for the next generation. At Snowe, we simplify and streamline the experience of shopping for your home by creating exceptional quality essentials at a great price point, along with the guidance to help customers make the most of every purchase. Our customers can shop a la carte, or bundle their purchases, to get everything they need for their bed, bath, table and more.
How did Snowe start?
Rachel and I met at Wharton. After we became a couple and graduated, we moved to New York City to set up our first home together. We found the process rife with problems and opportunities. Where were the timeless, high-quality pieces that we wanted to fill our home with? We weren’t satisfied by the quality available from mass-market retailers, nor did we respond to the pretentiousness (and prices) of traditional luxury stores. We saw an opening in an enormous, rapidly changing market. We set out to create a brand that offered the products we and others were looking for.
What is a direct-to-consumer company?
A direct-to-consumer (DTC) company offers branded products directly to customers, without intermediaries. Interacting directly with the customer gives us the chance to have an ongoing dialogue with the customer, learning and iterating along the way. Since we launched in 2015, DTC brands have been popping up almost weekly, it seems. Barriers to entry have been reduced.
Barriers to entry may appear low. However, for companies to get and sustain the relationship with customers, aren’t the hurdles as high as ever? For example, Snowe’s photography and the content in its shoppable magazine are remarkable.
I agree. While the hurdles to get something out there are low, the ability to build a differentiated, long-lasting brand is actually more challenging than one would think. All the more reason I appreciate your kind words! From the get go, we focused on making the Snowe lifestyle come to life — from the design of the user experience online, to the effort that goes into the photography, to every detail of the brand voice. These layers are critical to give customers an experience they enjoy, to bring them back — and to make them want to tell their friends about. Doing this well demands time, money and an obsession with consistency in every aesthetic detail.
Can you share the process that goes into creating the images and stories at Snowe.com?
Our photography sets out to create images that balance aspiration and the authenticity of everyday life. I’m personally involved in directing all shoots and content creation efforts to ensure we’re hitting the notes of uniqueness and consistency that are critical to building our brand. Our marketing and creative teams put their hearts and souls into designing, photographing and writing the content we share with the world.
Your Snowehome magazine had a piece that showcased Maxwell Ryan of Apartment Therapy and your products.
We showcased Maxwell and his home because he is a friend, a tastemaker and a fan of our products. We got to know him through the design industry, and he opened his home to us to share with our community. One of the goals of our content is to highlight the interesting ways that diverse people live with Snowe every day.
We’ve done similar stories on chefs, interior designers and entrepreneurs who inspire us and who we feel would inspire our customers. Content is a critical layer that adds value to the customer experience.
Does Snowe have a physical presence?
Our first store was The Whitespace, an immersive showroom connected to our home in Union Square in New York City. Customers made appointments to shop in person. We created an intimate experience that brought to life the Snowe lifestyle and gave us a space for one-on-one moments with customers to test things and learn — we thought of it as a retail lab. In 2017, we launched a pop-up in Soho and, in 2018, a new pop-up in the Flatiron District on Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street that runs through Spring 2019.
How did you tackle the opening of physical stores?
Customers asked to see our products in person. We began testing events and trunk shows, which were an immediate success. However, the risks associated with long leases and buildout costs, and the challenges of creating and managing a unique store experience, were daunting. We wanted to create a roadmap that allowed us to test before leaning in. So, we approached things iteratively, gradually testing different formats, locations, seasons, user experiences and marketing tactics. With new stores in the pipeline, we’re still figuring out Snowe’s unique formula for success.
What did you learn at Wharton that helps you today?
That’s a hard one, mostly because Wharton had an enormous impact on my life. The incredible professors and faculty at Wharton and the Lauder Program were a key piece of this, but so were the other students we built an incredible bond with. The Director of the Lauder Institute, Mauro F. Guillén, encouraged us to go off the beaten path. He advised us to shoot a documentary for our thesis on The Resource Curse, allowing us to travel to New Caledonia and Equatorial Guinea — a highlight of my second year. David Wessels taught one of my favorite courses, on venture capital finance, a particularly insightful ride through a world that is often misrepresented. He gave us a pragmatic view of the space and the challenges facing the companies that seek to partner with venture capitalists. It was invaluable to our journey with Snowe.
Rachel remembers Professor Adam Grant fondly, and her negotiations professor, who is now a global thought leader. For her, the Wharton Venture Initiation Program was impactful: “WVIP was instrumental — particularly the mentorship we received from advisors, many of whom were seasoned entrepreneurs. Patrick Fitzgerald’s Management Implementation class was also influential. It was open only to students actively working on a venture. He brought inspiring entrepreneurs in to speak to the class about every step of the process, which I found invaluable. Last year, I was invited to be one of those visiting entrepreneurs — a truly fulfilling, full-circle moment that reminded me of the incredible value of Wharton.”
The Wharton effect continues at Snowe, as we now have employees from Wharton!
What’s in store for your future?
At Snowe, we’re at an exciting inflection point. Our team is growing. We are adding new product categories, launching new digital experiences and opening new stores in new cities.