A small store with big implications just popped up in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood of trendy boutique shops and upscale restaurants: The Drug Store.
It’s the first retail space for DIRTY LEMON: a digitally-native wellness beverage brand founded in 2015 that has sold over two million bottles, attracted an army of celebrity influencers and venture capitalists, and is now reportedly in talks with Coca-Cola.
Much like the rest of DIRTY LEMON’s business model, the Drug Store is downright unconventional: there are no lines, no cash registers, and no staff to monitor the refrigerators housed with the brand’s minimalist bright-colored “beauty elixirs” and “cleansing blends” that retail at over $10 a bottle.
That’s because customers pay the same way most of today’s generation conversates: through text message.
“Customers simply walk in, take what they want from the refrigerator, and send us a text message of what they took,” says Zak Normandin, Co-founder and CEO of DIRTY LEMON.
A retail concept based on text-messaging and the honor-system is unthinkable for most businesses, but for Normandin, it’s the embodiment of what DIRTY LEMON is all about.
“We’re moving beyond experiential marketing and into experimental — this type of engagement enables the convenience customers have come to expect from our brand. Our customer prefers conversational interaction — we’re committed to a transaction process that eliminates all unnecessary steps.”
-Zak Normandin, Co-founder and CEO of DIRTY LEMON
Pop-up stores and experiential marketing are just the tip of an otherwise enormous digital iceberg: the brand has cultivated a 100,000+ strong following on both Facebook and Instagram — and has a particularly strong presence within the highest echelons of Instagram’s socialites.
DIRTY LEMON’s digital influence has helped fuel demand for a growing variety of blends, boosters, and tonics — which promise to promote everything from anti-aging to energy and your immune system.
Plans for DIRTY LEMON extend far beyond simply selling luxury health beverages to today’s digital elite, however.
Normandin is also re-writing the direct-to-consumer playbook that growing digital brands have relied upon for the last 15 years.
We got a chance to meet the maker to learn more about how DIRTY LEMON has transformed from radical concept to two million bottles sold in just three years — while disrupting the non-alcoholic beverage industry in the process.
What’s the idea behind DIRTY LEMON — how did it all start?
DIRTY LEMON was created to offer the modern consumer better beverages to drink daily, replacing the high-sugar, high-calorie options that currently dominate the market.
We also aimed to solve an inefficient and antiquated distribution system — beverage distribution has had no true innovation in over 100 years. We chose to create a direct-to-consumer beverage line where all orders are placed by text message.
Can you tell us about the text ordering process — how does it work?
The process is simple, customers text us @ 917-588-0640 to set up an account, after they send a text message, a DIRTY LEMON customer service rep sends a secure link where the customer enters credit card and address information.
After the initial sign-up, customers only need to send a text message of their order to 917-588-0640, and subsequent orders are automatically charged to the card on file.
The beverage industry is saturated with health drinks, what makes DIRTY LEMON unique?
At DIRTY LEMON we create full-flavored, functional beverages without the sugar and calories typically associated with a flavorful beverage. Every beverage has only 1g of sugar, which is naturally occurring in organic lemon juice.
Each product starts with a base of purified water, organic lemon juice, ocean minerals, and sea salt. From there, we add flavor and function.
Our beverages are created with functional ingredients that have been commonly used in the naturopathic community for decades — we’re blending them into a convenient ready-to-drink format.
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We source the highest quality functional ingredients because we recognize that quality is directly related to efficacy.
For example, our CBD-infused beverage, +cbd, includes 20mg of full spectrum CBD per bottle, sourced in partnership with luxury cannabis company, Beboe.
What advantages does your customer-centric text message model offer that traditional CPG giants lack?
We’re speaking directly to our customers, which offers invaluable insight into what they’re looking to purchase.
Our vision is to change the way consumers access the beverage brands they love most, challenging the inefficiency of the CPG distribution system that most brands rely on to connect with consumers.
At the core, we’re a tech company distributing beverages. Our proprietary conversational commerce (cCommerce) platform enables all purchases of our products by text message.
Rather than sell through traditional channels, such as Whole Foods or Kroger, we wanted to take frictionless ordering to the next level.
We believe conversational commerce is the future of consumer ordering — 75 percent of American Gen Z and Millennials prefer to communicate via text message.
We have over 100,000 customers and have moved over 2 million bottles since the company started in 2015.
DIRTY LEMON’s Facebook and Instagram have blown past the 100k+ follower mark. How has your social presence helped your brand’s growth?
We view social media as an outlet to continue direct conversation with customers in between orders.
We want to provide a platform that is an extension of the brand voice rather than an obvious advertising channel.
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For this reason, we’ve been very deliberate in keeping the content fun, humorous and relatable.
DIRTY LEMON‘s packaging and creative can be described as very minimalist. What’s the idea behind it?
DIRTY LEMON lives at the intersection of fashion, lifestyle, and wellness. We believe that consumers identify strongly with beverages — the beverage someone drinks says something about them.
We created DIRTY LEMON as an accessory to your daily routine. We envision our customer walking out of the house with their phone, keys and a bottle of DIRTY LEMON.
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Let’s talk about digital advertising. How has that played into your marketing strategy?
When the brand launched, digital advertising was a huge part of our customer acquisition strategy.
However, the digital landscape is changing very quickly and has become less valuable to us.
For this reason, we are transitioning our strategy to invest in offline, physical activations to drive customer acquisition and retention.
The Drug Store, our retail concept, is our biggest investment in terms of brand awareness for 2019.
How do you succeed at breaking into an industry like CPG — and what are your thoughts on the current state of this industry?
Few marketplaces are tougher to break into than premium CPG – and DIRTY LEMON has succeeded not just due to high product quality, but because of its tech and the data it generates.
The data lets us develop in-demand products and improve how we interact with our customers, without the high cost of typical CPG shelf-space competition and distribution.
We believe that if Coca-Cola, Pepsi or any big CPG brand were re-building their core business, it would look like DIRTY LEMON: a personalized, direct-to-consumer buying experience that effortlessly brings the product to the customer and where customer experience is the priority.
Any advice for aspiring CPG brands trying to carve out success in today’s competitive market?
Focus on the customer.
Create a customer experience that builds brand value while pushing the boundaries to provide the utmost convenience.
Our customer is and always will be our priority — we’re constantly adapting and evolving to give customers a consistently heightened and frictionless experience.
What can we expect from DIRTY LEMON in the near future?
In 2019, we’re expanding The Drug Store concept to two additional cities – Chicago and Miami.
Want to learn more about CPG and experiential marketing?