#113. Pressed Juicery is a California-based juice brand. We talk with founder Hayden Slater about how the company attacked offline retail from day one, when Pressed Juicery’s store consisted of a single refrigerator, and how the company grew to the 100+ stores it operates today. Retail is Alive talks with the founders, executives, designers and builders illuminating the spaces and experiences defining modern retail.

Check out the full transcript below.

Hayden: [00:00:13] We are a retailer, and retail will always be our DNA and a part of our business, and our go-forward-always made it adapt and change over time. Possibly.

Richie: [00:00:19] That’s Hayden Slater, a co-founder of Pressed Juicery, a California-based food and beverage brand. Despite working his way up as a creative at HBO, Hayden was won over by a juice cleanse during a trip to Southeast Asia, and decided to pursue it professionally upon returning to Los Angeles.

Richie: [00:00:33] I’m Richie Siegel the founder of Loose Threads which analyzes and advises next-generation consumer companies, and FaceLift by Loose Threads, retail incubator and accelerator for leading brands and retailers. For our latest analysis and insights check out our free weekly newsletter at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:51] This is the second episode of Retail is Alive, the third show in the Loose Threads Podcast network, where we talk with the founders, executives, designers, and builders defining modern retail. With so many industry players claiming that retail is dead, I was excited to talk with Hayden about how Pressed Juicery tackled retail from day one, starting with a single refrigerator and growing into over 100 locations today. Here’s how it all began.

Hayden: [00:01:20] There was no plan to start a juice company ever. I really just was introduced to the product. I kind of fell in love with how it made me feel and the effect it had on me. I never went abroad in college, which was a huge regret, so when I finish that HBO show I spent about almost eight months floating around Southeast Asia, and I attempted a juice cleanse and I kind of fell in love with it. And when I came back to the States I decided to pursue it professionally.

Richie: [00:01:46] So talk us through the experience of building out the first store.

Hayden: [00:01:49] You can call it a store… most people wouldn’t. What we did was, we bought a juice machine, and we started just making product. We got a cupcake shop in West LA to give us their kitchen at night, so they would use it in the day we would use it at night, and we would make juices. And then in West LA there was this center called the Brentwood Town Center which I had grown up really close to, and a really popular yoga studio above it, and there was this—it was like a broom closet, you know, that they had. And I had convinced the landlord to give it to us. And what we did is we took the door off, we put a Dutch door, a single refrigerator. You could actually literally fit like, one person inside of it.

Richie: [00:02:27] It’s like, have you seen the Ordinary Store?

Hayden: [00:02:28] I feel like I’ve walked [past it].

Richie: [00:02:30] It’s literally a closet.

Hayden: [00:02:30] Yeah. That’s what this was. And the response was really dynamic from the beginning.

Richie: [00:02:35] Was it you working it? Like, what—

Hayden: [00:02:37] Totally. I would make juice from like 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. every day. You know, with two dudes on Craigslist. I’d load up my car, drive it across town, I’d fill up the fridge—which seems like such an easy task, but it’s actually really, really challenging.

Richie: [00:02:52] That’s like, a lot of liquid.

Hayden: [00:02:52] It’s a lot of liquid, but it’s like, you gotta figure out, you know first thing you gotta take that old stuff—it takes so long. Anyway, I’d stock up the fridge in our kiosk, and then I would go crash and my partner Carly would work the store. You know, we had one employee who would kind of work with us, and that’s essentially how it all began.

Richie: [00:03:09] What gives you the signal then that we should do more, or go into more stores?

Hayden: [00:03:12] Yeah. So the response was amazing from the beginning. Looking back, I think it was kind of this combination of, it was a great product at a really compelling price point but, obviously, the timing was ideal as well. There was clearly a pent up demand for a product like this. And I think also being in LA, the epicenter of health and wellness, definitely helped us, but the response was so strong.

Hayden: [00:03:36] The first couple months we kept thinking it was our moms and their friends that were just going and buying all the juice. But when we realized it was actually people coming from all over town to grab it, it gave us the confidence to open a second location. And our landlord actually owned a building in Malibu and asked us to sign a lease there, but being an LA kid and knowing how seasonal Malibu could be, I essentially convinced him to rent us a parking spot, where I took a food truck, made it a permanent retail location, and kept it parked there. And that was our second location. Fortunately, the response to that was equally as strong, so it just gave us confidence that we were doing something that was working.

Richie: [00:04:15] It seems that both of those moves were like, kind of risk-adjusted, in terms of—I mean, it was literally a closet, it was a truck, you could drive it away. Was that intentional, or was that just like, the easiest way to do it?

Hayden: [00:04:24] I think both. We had each put $30,000 of our own money into this company, and we didn’t ever raise money. You know, we didn’t have this kind of influx of capital. So I think what it did is it made us penny-pinch, it made us realize that every dollar we spend really has to move the needle. Not that there’s a right or wrong way, but I think a lot of businesses raise money and it gives them the ability to do these beautiful offices with standing desks and whatnot, and we didn’t have any of that. You know, every single thing we did really went to product or—you know, we barely even had spend for marketing. So it’s really kind of guerrilla, word-of-mouth marketing. But looking back, I think it taught us really early on how to just be disciplined about our spending.

Richie: [00:05:09] Did you ever think like, “Let me go sell juices online,” or it started immediately and was gonna be this in-person thing?

Hayden: [00:05:15] So I think it’s twofold. I think online, yes, we definitely felt that we wanted to get it to people, and people that maybe couldn’t drive to our locations. We were also really, really passionate about having our own retail locations. I think it was Whole Foods who approached us literally within our first month of being opened, and it was before they had split into regional buying, and they had chatted with us about potentially putting our product in Whole Foods nationally. And, I mean, being a young company this was like, thrilling, but when we really thought long and hard about it, it didn’t really make sense for us at that time.

Hayden: [00:05:52] We were three founders who were so passionate about it and wanted to share our experience and why, and I don’t want to say “always,” but I think often when you sit in the grocery channels it’s really easy to feel story-less—

Richie: [00:06:08] Or just, commoditized.

Hayden: [00:06:09] Yeah. I mean, you sit on a shelf with everyone else, you blend in, you have two seconds to capture someone’s attention. Like, how much are you really educating them? Where in retail you really have the ability to talk to people, to meet with them, to understand what they’re looking for. In a concept like Pressed, we’ve always felt everyone’s in a different place in their journey, and how do we meet them there and guide them. So it was always meant to be this kind of personal, you know, let’s handhold and do it together type of environment.

Richie: [00:06:34] What was like, the script, or what were the conversations at that point, in terms of—if I walk into a store, are you just kind of like, riffing about what this is? Is it defined?

Hayden: [00:06:42] Yeah, no, it was always kind of just about conversation. You know, who are you, what are you looking for, what are you hoping to get out of this? And we never wanted to be a cleanse company, we always felt so strong about being a juice company. So many people I remember in the early days would say, “You know, what cleanse should we do?” And we’d often say, “Don’t cleanse.” Drink a juice a day or a juice a week, whatever it is, and see how you feel. If you like it, drink more, if you don’t, it’s all good, you know? Everyone’s gotta find what works for them with where they’re at.

Richie: [00:07:10] The first two stores opened in the first year, basically. What was like, the most surprising part of just having physical space, and having people show up and so forth, whether good or bad?

Hayden: [00:07:19] Yeah. I mean, just learning retail, and there’s just a complexity to retail that no one ever teaches you, and having no prior knowledge it’s not something we ever thought we were gonna have these hurdles. You know, of opening shop, closing shop, bathroom breaks, HR compliance, you know, all of these things that just, you learn over time as you do it, but it was definitely a learning for us. I mean, you always hear, “Oh, money disappears,” and “No, money won’t disappear at Pressed Juicery.” But, of course, money disappears, and you gotta kind of figure out how you cope with that.

Hayden: [00:07:53] Even basic things like writing people up. You know, when we started building teams and people wouldn’t show up, you know, you have a truck in Malibu, the waves get good, people just shut down the truck and they want to go surfing. You can’t run a business like that. So it was really a learning for us, on just the 101 of like, first and foremost, we gotta make sure that during our open hours, we’re actually open. And, you know, make sure that we’re creating an environment for our team members that they enjoy what it is they’re doing.

Richie: [00:08:19] When did you know to go to three, four and five?

Hayden: [00:08:22] I think we got confidence from the first two. Three was, West Hollywood, was about one year in, and it was a huge location for us at the time. I think it was 100 square feet. So we’ve gone from 22 square feet to now 100. Which is, again, nothing.

Richie: [00:08:38] Yeah I guess your sales per square foot always looked good.

Hayden: [00:08:40] It was very good. And we didn’t even know what that meant, at the time, you kind of learn that. But I think at that point they were kind of LA landlords that were coming to us saying, “We love what you’ve done.” And what we didn’t even realize at the time, but it was this win-win of we could take unusable space and actually make money from it. So for landlords it became this really kind of fascinating idea of, oh, well I’ve got this pocket or I’ve got this dead space, and Pressed Juicery could be the solution for it.

Richie: [00:09:08] Right. And at this time are you only making juices, or are there—like, what is the product assortment, and how does that correlate to what space you need, also?

Hayden: [00:09:17] So at the time we were only making cold pressed juice, and we were very, very focused and committed to only making cold pressed juice.

Richie: [00:09:25] Right. And you were making them offsite, effectively, right?

Hayden: [00:09:27] Yeah. So we were making them in that bakery kitchen and then we would drive them to our location.

Richie: [00:09:31] Right. So you need checkout and fridges.

Hayden: [00:09:33] Correct, for the most part. I mean, sales are strong, so we ended up needing backup space and rack up refrigeration. And we have moved away from the 22 square feet because, as much as it looks good, running it is really complex. It’s actually a lot more challenging than having a back-of-house where you can just go and refill. We’ve always kept our footprint small compared to retail overall but we’ve moved on from those teeny little closet spaces.

Richie: [00:10:01] So West Hollywood’s a hundred square feet, and then the next two…

Hayden: [00:10:03] Probably about 400, 500 square feet.

Richie: [00:10:06] So, quite bigger.

Hayden: [00:10:06] Yeah. A couple of years ago we introduced a product called Freeze. We spent about two years taking our juice and turning it into a soft-serve. We say it kind of competes with an ice cream or a frozen yogurt, but it’s just made from essentially produce and nuts. But when we launched that and we realized people wanted it, it kind of forced us to start getting even a larger footprint. Six, seven hundred square feet is ideal, often really hard-to-find in great locations, usually you find smaller or bigger, but that’s typically what we look for.

Richie: [00:10:36] In the beginning you mentioned being basically adjacent to a yoga studio. How did the thoughts involve a like, co-tenancy perspective of where you wanted to kind of end up and be near?

Hayden: [00:10:45] I think again it goes back to timing. I feel really, really fortunate that Pressed launched when it did, because it was kind of this boom of modern retail. You know, Dry Bar SoulCycle, Pressed, Warby, Sweetgreen. And what it did [is] it gave us the ability to kind of handhold and work together. So we realized that we were often serving the same customer, so we would go into deals, and often bring each other in, kind of go to landlords with two, three of us at a time, and we started almost creating these mini-destinations. We were often even partnering with Equinox and SoulCycle, where SoulCycle would take a box, they’d carve out 500 square feet, and we would run a separate business so it wasn’t inside, but they would actually become our landlord.

Richie: [00:11:30] And how did those work compared to the ones that were standalone. Like, did you see benefit, or operate it differently, or the same, or…?

Hayden: [00:11:36] I don’t think it was too different, because even our standalone locations, we were always laser focused on co-tenants. You know, making sure that we were in locations that brought our customer. We have 100 locations now, so you learn quickly what makes a good spot and what doesn’t. You kind of want to, you know, pivot and adjust your real estate model accordingly and quickly.

Richie: [00:12:00] Are you signing like, long-term leases at this point, or they’re pretty short?

Hayden: [00:12:03] Yeah. Especially in areas in which we have confidence. You know, we’re not as bullish when we go into a new market, but when you look at California, New York, we’re pretty bullish with the terms.

Richie: [00:12:13] In terms of like, the density, did you have a sense at that time of how much is too much? Or it’s such like a local, on-demand thing that there was a big appetite for density?

Hayden: [00:12:25] So we actually learned that in San Francisco. So we learned really early on that San Francisco has something called “retail formula.” So if you have over, I think, ten, 11 locations, you have to essentially work with the city and get voted in, which can be pretty complex. I believe we had five locations, but we were building out five or six of them at that time. We paused our buildout literally in the midst of it, went to San Francisco and kind of identified five locations as quickly as we could, just so we could make sure that we could be in San Francisco, which was such an important market for us to be in. In that we had, I want to say three locations within a mile, and they all performed really well. So it kind of early on helped us realize that this could almost be more of a Starbucks concept, where you could be way more dense than we anticipated.

Hayden: [00:13:14] Now, it’s changed a little bit because we’ve evolved. Meaning, you know, now there’s the Uber Eats and Postmates and all of that. So when we looked at the New York strategy it was less about let’s have five downtown, and really let’s look at Manhattan, and let’s get 12 locations spread out in a way where we can lean on delivery to make sure that we can get to every person that lives in—yeah.

Richie: [00:13:40] Interesting. When did you feel that the delivery started to impact how you would expand?

Hayden: [00:13:44] Maybe year four or five. At first you watched Postmates blow up, and no one really knew if it was sustainable just given the cost structure to it. But when you started seeing [it] more and more and getting more aggressive, it just made us realize that this isn’t going to disappear, and let’s look at it as, we could partner with these guys. And so I think it was then where we really started introducing them into our models and creating a strategy that allowed us to get outside of our box. Also you know people changed. I always say technology, especially even social media, has created this immediacy where people want things right away. And I believe that as a retailer, as a business, it’s our job to meet them wherever it is they are and get them the product. So we were always open-minded about different types of formats that we could play with that would, again, deliver, create more ease to the—yeah.

Richie: [00:14:39] So in this early phase, first five or so stores, are you doing anything marketing-wise? Are you purely relying on foot traffic to get people to show up? Like, how are you thinking about the demand part?

Hayden: [00:14:48] Yeah, it was all word of mouth. You know, I’m not gonna lie, I think being in West LA and having just a lot of influencers support us organically really early on definitely helped, but it kind of was just like this ripple effect. People just would talk about it. You know, I don’t think we had any sort of marketing strategy. I mean don’t get me wrong, we would participate with yoga studios or locally or, you know, but there was no real marketing strategy other than just this guerrilla style, like, let’s just have fun and throw events and be a part of [the] community.

Richie: [00:15:23] Were the first five all in LA.?

Hayden: [00:15:24] They were. And then after that we went to San Francisco.

Richie: [00:15:27] Okay. So five to ten is where San Francisco starts to come in. What is it like to do this outside of your home city?

Hayden: [00:15:33] It was actually twofold. Part of it was really scary, primarily because of Starbucks, and the other part was really exciting. So the scary part was Starbucks was, when we entered San Francisco it was the exact time Starbucks acquired Evolution Fresh, and their strategy at the time that they had announced was we were gonna do a roll out of retail locations. And I remember being in San Francisco, the bulk of the locations that we had identified, literally Starbucks was in talks with them as well. And as you can imagine, any landlord is going to bet on Starbucks over a five store retail concept from LA, with very little backing ability. So I think that there was this fear of, not just entering San Francisco, but if Starbucks creates Starbucks out of Evolution, what does that look like for us?

Hayden: [00:16:20] We really said, let’s just focus on who we are and what we do, and trust that however it’s gonna unfold, it will, but we shouldn’t allow anything to stop us. We’re proud of what we were creating and we didn’t want to let this unknown prevent us from continuing our game plan. But I’d say the most exciting part about San Francisco was when we opened our first location and we had success. It was the first time that we said, okay, we’re not just this small LA. concept, we actually have the ability to be in other markets. And you could argue that San Francisco and LA. are similar but, to us, it was all we needed to know, okay, we can really grow this. And, you know, it gave us permission to really think through where do we want to take this, how big do we want to go, where could you go, and it even got us exploring different types of markets. We went into Sacramento from there. There are very few demographics of Brentwood in the country but there are a lot of similar ones to Sacramento. And, you know, when we started performing really well in markets like Sacramento, again, it just started giving us that confidence of, okay, what we’re doing is working and let’s grow it.

Hayden: [00:17:31] Look as a founder I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a profitable business but, at our core, we were so passionate about the product that we really wanted to get it into as many hands as we could. We really believe that we were bettering people’s diets when they incorporated products like this. And it wasn’t just, “Drink Pressed or else,” it was, you know, drink this if you can. And if not, find any other products [that are] similar, but it’s just, you know, drink these type of things or consume these types of products over the alternatives, which we know just aren’t good for you.

Richie: [00:18:03] So as you go from five to ten, how do your priorities change, in terms of where you’re focused on the business?

Hayden: [00:18:09] I would say that going from five to ten or even beyond that changed primarily for me, personally—I founded this with two co-founders who are today two of my closest friends. One of them was always meant to be kind of a silent partner. She had a young kid and she really wanted to focus on being a mom. My other partner was kind of meant to be my right hand, and I don’t want to say “unfortunately” because it was beautiful, but right when we started the company she got pregnant and had her first child. And then, you know, now she’s mom of three, so she’s always been involved, but less day-to-day, let’s hold hands and do this.

Hayden: [00:18:46] So what that did for me was, it gave me permission and the ability to really build a team. I’ve always been confident in my ability to lead this organization, but as a leader I’ve never had qualms or insecurities about acknowledging my weaknesses. And as a film and theater major at NYU and this being my first business, there were a lot of weaknesses in areas that I just wasn’t—so I was really passionate about building the best possible team that I could. I believed in what we were doing, and once I saw what this could be, I said, you know I’m never gonna be able to do this alone, so let’s build it out, hand-hold, and build something great together. I even say to the team, and I don’t just say it to say it, Carly, Hedi and I took the first step. We took the risk in starting it. But this has always been a collaborative atmosphere. It has always been the people of Pressed that have turned it into what it is.

Richie: [00:19:41] So you open five in San Francisco then. So now you’re in LA, San Francisco, you’re at about ten. You said that was when you really started to think through the larger scale and potential markets and so forth. Where do you go from there, from 15 to 20?

Hayden: [00:19:53] So we didn’t just go from 15 to 20, I think we went from ten to 40. We opened 34 locations in a year.

Richie: [00:19:59] That’s insane.

Hayden: [00:19:59] Yeah it was.

Richie: [00:20:00] Talk through that.

Hayden: [00:20:02] It was madness. You know, we really wanted to just go for it. There were two things that were happening. There was a saturation in the market. A lot of people were entering cold-pressed juice, and we had created a format that was working and we wanted to just run with it. What we did simultaneously is we took a year and really focused on our back end. You know, we kind of created a proprietary process that took juice making, which has always been like a batch process, and made it more of a continuous flow, which gave us the ability to make product as fresh as anyone else but at scale. And at pricing that allowed us to really step on the gas a bit. And so much of that was created because of, let’s build a team, and we brought people into the family who really were experts in this, and they helped us kind of strategize and think through how do we differentiate ourselves. So once we had kind of unlocked that magic of the back end it gave us, you know, the blessing to, okay, let’s really go for it.

Hayden: [00:21:04] And we stacked up internally, we had a real estate, we brought on our architects, our designers. You know, started to beef up the retail team and just went for it. But opening 34 locations, it’s a lot, and if you think about it, you’re looking at over a hundred spaces in order to get to 30.

Richie: [00:21:23] When did you know you had the formula or the playbook to go do that?

Hayden: [00:21:27] I think once we were [at] ten locations and performance was strong, customer feedback was strong, you know, product was strong. We had the infrastructure to really do it. It was all around that time that we said, okay, we feel confident that we can go and attack this.

Richie: [00:21:42] Yeah. In terms of like, the funding, are the landlords helping pay for all this? Are you raising capital to do it?

Hayden: [00:21:47] No. We got to 28 stores self-funded.

Richie: [00:21:48] Wow.

Hayden: [00:21:49] It goes back to the discipline of penny-pinching. You know, none of us were taking crazy salaries, we—

Richie: [00:21:54] Just reinvesting everything.

Hayden: [00:21:54] You know, every penny we had was going back into the organization. For us it worked. I would always longingly look at my friends who kind of had these amazing offices and could do all these fun marketing things, but I also, on the same hand, really wanted to stay focused. And I don’t want to say that it’s distractions, but it almost forced us to build culture without being able to manufacture it. It gave us the ability to build real relationships and not just, let’s kind of pay for fun. And I’m not saying that others do that, but everyone really rolled up their sleeves and dove into this. And we were such a family and such a team that there was like a magic to it. I don’t know what to compare it to, this was just our normal, so it worked.

Richie: [00:22:38] And so after 28 did you start to raise capital?

Hayden: [00:22:41] Yeah. What got us to raise capital is that the markets are getting saturated. I want to say there were 19 juice shops in a 1.4 mile radius in West Hollywood. And we felt it. I mean, we definitely, at that time, felt how it was affecting our own stores.

Richie: [00:22:57] Do you consider the product a commodity? Or, how do you think about like, the switching and replacement cost in a situation like that?

Hayden: [00:23:03] I mean it’s hard. In LA, was it becoming one? Absolutely. I mean, you couldn’t go two blocks without finding a place that sold this, whether it was a juice shop or now a coffee shop, or— Coke and Pepsi were beginning to kind of get into it with Suja and Naked, and really kind of infiltrate the grocery and wholesale channels. So it absolutely was. But there were still markets in which it wasn’t. You know, New York had juice players [in] retail, but it never really hit the grocery world, or it hadn’t at that time yet. And then, even other markets—you know, when we got into Seattle later on and Boston, we still felt like one of the early players entering this space.

Richie: [00:23:38] And, so sorry, I cut you off. You were saying you raised capital to…

Hayden: [00:23:41] Yeah, we raised capital because it was really for that back end. It was less about, let’s use it to build stores, it was more of, let’s invest in this back end. And often people would look at Pressed and try to create similar products, names, you know, look/feel, thinking that was our magic sauce, but it really wasn’t. I mean what really differentiated us was the back end, and what we were capable of, you know, how we were producing in our capabilities in manufacturing that really kind of set us apart from anyone else. And, in hindsight, I really believe had we not stopped and made that our main focus and invested the way that we did, I don’t know if we would have made it, cause I think a lot of juice players came and went, and I think that there’s a good chance that Pressed could have been one of those.

Richie: [00:24:30] So did you pause for, what, a year? Or…

Hayden: [00:24:32] We never paused, we just slowed down. It kind of happened, you know, simultaneously, at the same time, but we definitely needed the bulk of that capital that we raised to go into the back end.

Richie: [00:24:44] Walking out of opening 34 stores in a year, what is a lesson or lessons you take from it? Is it like, this was a horrible idea? Or like, we actually turned out okay.

Hayden: [00:24:52] No, I mean, for us it worked. We’re almost at 100 locations now, so it definitely was the right move for us at the time. Every business is so different, and we had uncovered or unlocked a retail model with how we manufactured, and how we supplied our stores, and being fully vertically integrated, that really allowed us to grow like that. Can all companies? I couldn’t say. I mean, our return on buildout was so short that it gave us the ability to just keep putting—you know I think our ROI was like four months. Which is, you know, in retail, pretty insane.

Hayden: [00:25:27] Look, you make mistakes. A lot of those locations probably weren’t ideal, and you feel it. I think, you know, people always say in retail like, location is everything. It’s so true. I mean you bet right and that store has the ability to just crush it. And you bet a little wrong, that delta is so massive that I think—you know, if I were to do it over, it’s not that I would slow down, I think I would have just been much stricter about, you know—

Richie: [00:25:56] The acceptance criteria.

Hayden: [00:25:57] Correct. Exactly.

Richie: [00:25:57] Yeah. What have you learned about that criteria, in terms of, what makes those little differences in location?

Hayden: [00:26:02] It’s hard. I mean, visibility, parking. I mean, every market we’re in kind of has something different. LA is a driving city, so it’s like, if you don’t have parking people aren’t going to stop. You know, New York, you think that you can just open anywhere and become a destination. But people in New York walk, and they typically have their route that they walk. And if you’re not on that route it’s really hard for people to kind of start. So it was all these small learnings that we started to find. But even visibility. You know, often landlords would say, “You can only have this size sign.” And we would cave. But you come to learn that like, the size of your sign is almost like make it or break it.

Richie: [00:26:43] OK so we’re in 2015. Where does the priority or the focus shift, then?

Hayden: [00:26:47] I think it’s just, okay, like, what’s next? And what we really started focusing is, we went through another push of about 35 stores to get us to probably about 75, 80 locations. And that’s when we got into Boston, we got into Hawaii, we got into Seattle. But also we had launched Freeze, which was that soft-serve, so it started giving us a little bit of product differentiation. And then from there it was really about strategy. We knew that we wanted to enter wholesale in the grocery channel, so it was really thinking through what does that look like, and when does that feel appropriate, combined with digital. We always had a shipping component but it wasn’t as, let’s get to them immediately, and we knew that we wanted to create both membership and also a digital strategy of delivery that would align with what we were doing. So I would say about 2016 is when—you know, we did another big push in stores, but we also started focusing on different paths of the business, and building both infrastructure and teams to start building those out and pursue them.

Richie: [00:27:55] So as you saw from a strategy perspective about wholesale, about the digital channel, are you looking at those as individual endeavors, or are you looking at how they all will kind of drive the cycle in your retail channel together?

Hayden: [00:28:06] No, I think we’ve always been about working together. You know, how is one going to support the other. You know, the way we look at it is we’re never going to launch all 30 SKUs in wholesale, let’s identify maybe five or six. And let’s get them into markets where we’re probably not gonna focus on having a retail presence in for a long time. And, primarily, how can we use wholesale for brand recognition. Use that to kind of inform them on the brand, to either drive them to our website or to our retail locations. Our retail locations we had, you know, now Freeze and a larger selection of SKUs that they could get a more familiar with who we were and what our offerings were. Wholesale we could kind of get them set up on reoccurring. And then also, at the same time, how do we take all this information and utilize it. Allow it to support our R&D, allow it to support the products we made, and even where we were gonna open locations.

Richie: [00:28:54] Right, ’cause a lot of brands today that start online have all the zip code data and so forth. You’re kind of going backwards, in a sense.

Hayden: [00:28:59] Correct. Totally. Someone early on made this comment that really resonated, which is: grocery stores aren’t the most loyal. You know, they’re loyal to movement. So there’s always an opportunity to enter those channels, it’s not like, “Uh, you can’t get in now.” You know, they’re constantly wanting to test new brands, new flavors. So we knew that like, there was no need to race into it just because others were, let’s take our time and when it feels right we can enter it.

Richie: [00:29:27] Did you feel the changes in the real estate market from the time you started, to 2016, 2017, when you’re at 80 stores? Do you feel like you were negotiating the same ways, that the options were the same or was there—?

Hayden: [00:29:37] I mean, first off we didn’t have to personally guarantee stores anymore.

Richie: [00:29:40] When did you stop doing that?

Hayden: [00:29:41] Once we had a track record, it was, you know, we could stop doing that, which personally felt better.

Richie: [00:29:46] Yes.

Hayden: [00:29:46] But we definitely had stronger negotiating power. In the early days they would say their terms and we would accept it or we would look for another space, but now we could really revisit and really talk through. And we were even chatting with rates in some of these larger—you know, the Simon [Property Group’s mall] Westfield and we were having larger conversations about, let’s not talk about one, let’s talk about seven, eight, ten, locations. It gave us the ability to just have a bit more power with how we negotiated.

Richie: [00:30:18] How did you see the evolution from starting on the street, effectively, and moving more into malls or kind of balancing that growth?

Hayden: [00:30:25] Yeah. Malls are really interesting. I remember when we started Pressed I said we would never be a mall concept, but then you go to Stanford Shopping Center or the Grove, U-Village in Seattle and you realize that they’re exceptional. I mean these are like, lifestyle, beautiful experiences that you would be crazy to not be a part of. So our focus really was, let’s identify those top-tier locations and go after them, so that it’s Pressed in them versus one of the other juice players.

Richie: [00:30:53] Right. Almost offensive.

Hayden: [00:30:54] Yeah, for sure. Especially with the malls. You know, on street retail I can always open up next door, but when you go into the mall locations they are a lot stricter about having two coffee players, and one juice player, and one fitness. So you know, we had to be a bit more strategic with our approach there.

Richie: [00:31:10] But almost using it to your advantage.

Hayden: [00:31:11] Absolutely. And it was funny because the discovery is, Pressed performs exceptionally well in mall properties, but typically in the location that most would think is like, the worst location in the mall. So when you look at retail it’s always about corners and visibility but, in malls, when we are in like, the parking lots, like, the exterior of the mall, we just perform really well. And I think it’s because the mall does a great job of bringing traffic to the mall, but often people don’t want to have to go in or, you know, they can just jump out, grab it. Just the convenience factor. So even in that sense it gave us some negotiating power, because we were typically taking less desirable properties, they just worked with our concept.

Richie: [00:31:58] How did the marketing approach or strategies change over that period where you’re now, again, at dozens of stores? Are you still relying on the foot traffic, are you starting to be more proactive?

Hayden: [00:32:08] No, at that point you have to become more proactive. And you know, you start learning that retail is a beast. I mean you have to wake up every day to fight, and you gotta fight to win, because you’re essentially losing customers more than you’re filling it. And that’s kind of the mentality you have to have as a retailer, is how do you constantly fill the funnel, and how do you get creative and smart about it. Different demographics, different people resonate to different marketing, and I think that old school, outdoor—for me, it was never Pressed going on billboards and going in subways and going commercials and radio. Like, that just wasn’t our approach. You know, you can spend a lot of money there and not often always get the ROI. We were always about, you know, let’s do partnerships and collaborations. Let’s get out and work with our customers wherever they are. Let’s go into community. Let’s go, you know.

Richie: [00:32:59] The softer sell.

Hayden: [00:33:00] Yeah, we were just more creative about how we did it. You know, it was less like, in your face in bold, but we felt that it aligned more with our mission and our concept, and it seemed to resonate with people. You have to get creative about how you market. You had to play in the world of Facebook and Instagram advertising because it’s such a strong tool that it would be negligent to not be a part of it.

Richie: [00:33:26] Yeah. So getting basically up to a hundred is basically the last two years. So it’s kind of 20 more from, I guess, what, 2017 to 2019?

Hayden: [00:33:35] Yep.

Richie: [00:33:35] So that was almost a down year in terms of store growth numbers.

Hayden: [00:33:37] Correct.

Richie: [00:33:37] What was the thinking behind that?

Hayden: [00:33:41] Well, it wasn’t thinking, it was what we were doing. We had purchased a very, very large facility. It was almost our future growth, our “Tesla moment.” You know, I think it’s close to three hundred thousand square feet in central California. And we haven’t even outgrown our current, so this was really thinking about the future and where we wanted to take this. So we acquired that which was a huge undertaking.

Richie: [00:34:04] Instead of leasing.

Hayden: [00:34:06] Correct. But even identifying and, you know, that whole process just consumed a lot of the team’s time and energy. But an investment that we felt was extremely important to the organization. And at the same time we really started developing and entering the grocery channels, getting feedback. We started with the partnership with Sprouts. It was a really interesting entry for us. We didn’t realize that our R&D and our ability to understand what customers gravitate within our stores of our SKUs, how much that would benefit the wholesale buyers. Because there was never a, “Hey, take this SKU and let’s cross our fingers.” We already knew that there would be movement, you know, based on our stores.

Hayden: [00:34:49] So we really started entering the wholesale channels, and then digital. You know, we did a huge digital push, launched a membership which ultimately dropped our pricing from $6.50 or $8.00 a bottle to $5.00 a bottle. We have our principles that we live by. You know, make it taste great, make it delicious, make it nutritious, accessible, affordable for everyone. But I think what differentiates Pressed and what I really focus on is affordability and accessibility. You know, there’s juice players in the $9.50 to $12.00 a bottle range, and to those that can afford it, it’s an amazing product, but there’s a lot of people [to whom] that’s just not a realistic purchase.

Richie: [00:35:29] Yeah. Is it actually a better product? Is that just greediness? Is it both?

Hayden: [00:35:32] I think it’s a combination of a bunch of things. Often they don’t have the scale. You know, a lot of them are 100% organic glass bottles which, to those who can afford a $12.00 [juice], it’s amazing. But it all kind of depends on where they are in their cycle. For me, personally, I used to obsess over Starbucks. They had trained our world that five dollars was an appropriate price to pay for beverage. If we could get to that price point, just think about the white space, and think about how many people we could actually get this to.

Richie: [00:36:02] So there’s an interesting pattern. You grew a good amount, you paused. You grew a ton and then paused. Is there on the horizon a much larger growth spurt in terms of retail, or what does the future look like in terms of scale?

Hayden: [00:36:14] Yeah. I think the future is growth in all three channels. Honestly, I think early on you could say that all of our growth was in retail because that’s the only channel that we had at the time, but now that we’re this multi-channel we really look at dividing and growing all equally. So you might not get 40 stores opened in a year, but 20 to us plus entering, you know, a thousand wholesale doors, the pie is growing so much larger than just investing in just one channel.

Richie: [00:36:43] I assume retail is still the largest part of the business from a dollar perspective.

Hayden: [00:36:46] M-hmm.

Richie: [00:36:46] Do you envision that will be the same for the future or do you think the other two are going to rebalance it out?

Hayden: [00:36:51] They’ll probably rebalance a bit. I think as you enter more and more doors you just grow that channel. And even the direct-to-consumer, the response to it has surpassed our expectations by quite a bit. So it’s giving us a lot of confidence that there is, you know, a real path digitally as well. So I think that they will all grow together.

Richie: [00:37:11] What’s it like as a retailer adding the direct channel? Was there or is there still this process of like, adapting a team and so forth to think differently, or are you finding that the corollary between selling online and in-store is very similar? Like, what is the mentality shift, if any?

Hayden: [00:37:26] We always want to beef up the team, because it just gives us the ability to be a stronger organization, and I think every person adds a different skill set and mindset that just makes us better. If you ever get into a place where you know the customer and what they want, and you’re not always doing constant work, like, there’s almost a bit of arrogance to that, where people’s minds are always evolving, we’re always growing and changing. And I think you have to be a part of that conversation in order to provide them with the best possible products, what it is they’re looking for. Don’t get me wrong. You know, knowing what we know and having the ability to talk to people directly through our stores teaches us a lot, and we’re constantly using that information to guide us to make our other decisions. But it’s a combination of all of it.

Richie: [00:38:11] What’s been the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned building the business so far?

Hayden: [00:38:16] I look at something like vending machines. You know, I remember being really passionate about vending ’cause it would give us the opportunity, I thought at the time, to get into hospitals and universities and colleges.

Richie: [00:38:25] Right. The ultimate closet store.

Hayden: [00:38:26] And, you know, we had to put a couple million dollars into that investment, and it did not work.

Richie: [00:38:33] Why do you think that was?

Hayden: [00:38:35] Twofold. I think one is people wanted the human element. You know, there was something about a product like this sitting in a machine. Just, it didn’t have the feel that—

Richie: [00:38:43] Contradictory, almost.

Hayden: [00:38:44] Yeah, totally. And the other thing is a lot of the places we wanted to get in have contracts with some of the big guys like Coke and Pepsi. And so, you know, had we known that we probably wouldn’t have been as bullish. At the time it was a massive capital investment. In hindsight it was a great learning. So it’s almost both, in a way.

Richie: [00:39:04] So looking into the future, then, what is your outlook on retail generally, and then also just for your own business? Obviously you’ve added two new channels that are playing a big role.

Hayden: [00:39:14] Yeah. You know, look we are a retailer, and retail will always be our DNA and a part of our business, and our go-forward-always made it adapt and change over time? Possibly. The digital and the membership has been so explosive and so amazing. You know there was this moment of, whoa, shall we kind of pause on this idea of being Starbucks and maybe be more of a Nespresso? Where you kind of open these flagship locations that are way more experiential, and you almost sell membership out of them, and, you know. So there’s kind of like, we will evolve however it’s meant to be, but I think we’re not afraid to test different things to just see what our consumer responds to and what people want.

Richie: [00:39:54] On a similar note, I mean, there’s been a lot of talk from a lot more digitally native brands about using a store’s marketing, and they’re happy if it breaks even and so forth. What do you think of that mentality which is like, store as a marketing-driver not a sales-driver, primarily?

Hayden: [00:40:08] Yeah. I mean, we have the discipline that a break-even store for us, we wouldn’t look at that as success. But do you learn from them? Sure. And is every store going to serve a different purpose? Absolutely. I mean we have locations. You know, we signed a spot in Brooklyn that came with a 200 foot wall that gave us the ability to almost act as a billboard. There is a location in Hawaii or Vegas where if you look at the marketing that you’re getting from just the eyeballs on it, of course you’re willing to kind of spend more on rent structures, because they provide more than just a retail location, it provides a marketing tool.

Hayden: [00:40:45] So, you know, we’re always looking at different elements, but I think the future is a blend of all of it. I think it’s who we were when we started the company. It’s evolved and changed, for sure, but I think that these paths and potentially future paths will continue to take us to where it is we’re going.

Richie: [00:41:04] Have you visited every store?

Hayden: [00:41:05] I have. I have gone to every store. You know, when I started the company, I said, “I will be at every store opening and I will know everyone’s name,” and it kills me that I could not keep that promise. You open three stores in three different states on the same day. It’s just not, you know, physically possible.

Richie: [00:41:22] Use a private jet to…

Hayden: [00:41:22] Yeah. Even that, I don’t even know if you could do it.

Richie: [00:41:26] Yeah. If you were to give advice to landlords about making your life easier, what is the wish list of like, two or three things you would tell them?

Hayden: [00:41:34] I believe personally in the spirit of partnership. I think often when you’re negotiating leases it’s a, “My business and this is your business.” And I think that if we were to really hold hands early, early on. You know, split buildout costs, do a better job curating, you know, co-tenancy, all of that, I think that in the long run it would benefit the property and the landlord a lot more. Don’t get me wrong this is their business, they know what they’re doing, they know their numbers. I’m not saying I know that better than they do, but I think that if we could almost have that open conversation of defining success for both of us early, early on, and figuring out how this becomes a win-win, I just think you create better destinations.

Richie: [00:42:20] Have you thought about buying more of your real estate?

Hayden: [00:42:22] We’ve toyed with it, it just, our ROI on stores are so strong that it’s just…

Richie: [00:42:27] Why mess with it?

Hayden: [00:42:27] Yeah.

Richie: [00:42:28] Yeah. What is your daily juice arrangement?

Hayden: [00:42:32] I’m a greens guy. I typically always start my day with a green juice. I don’t have one, I kinda, you know, depends what mood I’m in. But there’s just something about, I feel like I’m getting my leafy greens in that just makes me feel better. So that’s typically my go-to.

Richie: [00:42:47] Very cool. Thanks so much for talking.

Hayden: [00:42:48] For sure. Thanks for having me.

Richie: [00:42:53] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave review on iTunes, we always appreciate it, and thanks to George Drake Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests and we hope you tune in next week.