Brooklinen founders Rich and Vicki Fulop had (quite literally) been resting on their million-dollar business idea their whole lives.
The idea was to offer a simple solution to buy beautiful, luxury-grade sheets at an accessible price-point, delivered straight to your door.
Turning a simple everyday household item into an aspirational lifestyle brand probably seemed like a challenging feat a few years ago, but through the right technologies, great products and strong customer experience the Brooklyn-based direct-to-consumer brand Brooklinen is living proof that it is possible
In this case study, we take a deeper look into Brooklinen’s impressive growth story and how the brand acquires and converts their customers online.
Brooklinen founders Rich and Vicki experienced their first taste of luxury bed linen during a hotel stay. At the end of the stay, they tried purchasing a set to keep and were appalled by the $800 price tag that came along with it.
Rich thought to himself “What could possibly cost so much about a set of sheets?”
This question sparked a long-overdue discovery into what Rich described as: “an old and bloated distribution system primarily benefiting giant retailers, distribution systems and licensees.” And after spending a year researching the industry, visiting factories and testing fabrics, Rich and Vicki decided to launch Brooklinen through Kickstarter in 2014.
They set a funding goal of $50,000 and were blown away with the support of backers who helped them reach close to a quarter of a million dollars.
With no experience in textiles or manufacturing, Rich and Vicki launched Brooklinen by leveraging the skill sets they had each acquired from their professional backgrounds. Rich had a background in finance and Vicki was a lawyer-turned-Public Relations executive.
Vicki’s experience in building brands and pitching to editors was crucial in the early stages as they wanted to position Brooklinen to be a lifestyle brand from day one.
When Brooklinen first launched on April 22, 2014 (the exact same day as Casper), it had to be profitable to keep the minds of sceptical investors at ease. The team had to bootstrap the company until they raised $10 million in Series A funding from FirstMark Capital in 2017. From then, it took two years for Brooklinen to return to profitability in 2019.
By 2020, the companies disciplined approach to growth was recognised by Summit Partners who invested $50 million to help Brooklinen open more stores and expand internationally. At this time the company was reported to be on track to reach $100 million in annual revenue (up from $60 million in 2018).
So, how did they do it?
Let’s take a look at how Brooklinen has been able to continually master the balancing act of growth and profitability.
Before we start, let's take a quick moment to review Brooklinen’s marketing stack.
As a major online brand, it doesn't come as a surprise that they are using the popular Shopify Plus platform as their ecommerce platform of choice.
Here are the main Shopify compatible plugins that BuiltWith listed at the time of writing:
Before they turned to Kickstarter, Rich and Vicki took a notepad and pen and visited a number of bedding retail stores. At the stores, they interviewed people on the spot to gain a deeper insight into the type of product that their customers were looking for. After surveying around 500 strangers, they began to find patterns in what people were looking for.
For Brooklinen, talking to their customers has been a crucial step in ensuring they were able to launch and grow a brand in such a commoditised market.
With these insights and their customer data, the team set out building an entire website experience, product design, messaging and brand imagery to meet their customer's needs.
Even though Rich and Vicki raised $237,000 in their Kickstarter campaign, they were still committed to bootstrapping the company.
In an interview with FastCompany Rich and Vicki said they wanted to be cautious about how they grew. By bootstrapping the company they were able to take their time to understand what the customer wanted, rather than churning out new products for the sake of doing so.
So, they focused on building a lean, yet effective, marketing strategy that supported a high-quality product.
Word of mouth referrals were incredibly important in the beginning. Bringing Vicki’s PR background to the forefront, they rented a Zipcar and drove around New York City delivering sheets to bloggers and influencers with handwritten notes, asking them to try the products for themselves and share their experiences. It was so well-received that they saw a quarter-million dollars in their first month.
Eventually, these referrals were complemented by subway ads, email marketing and social media across Facebook and Instagram.
In the beginning, there were only three of them - Rich, Vicki and their General Manager. So all of the marketing operations were managed in-house. They used a 50/50 split between paid and organic social promotion to drive sales.
They’ve been able to scale their social media efforts by:
Something that many successful direct-to-consumers companies have in common is how they successfully build relationships with their customers.
It’s something that has become completely ingrained in the culture at Brooklinen.
“Our company’s philosophy is to always speak to a customer like they’re your friend. We need to know how customers feel about us so we can be better at our jobs and in turn create positive experiences for more and more customers to come.” - Jack Lorentzen, Customer Experience Manager at Brooklinen
Brooklinen have a really good grasp on who their customers are (and aren't) and this has helped shape their entire aesthetic. It’s also helped them make some really cost-efficient decisions on their product offering. They were able to find out what their customers really wanted, and what they didn’t.
Data from Similiarweb provides some interesting insights into Brooklinen’s traffic sources on desktop.
The high percentage for direct traffic makes sense, considering Brooklinen is a strong brand and isn’t shy of any online press. The largest source of traffic (search) also supports the strength of the brand as well as their acquisition activity across Google Ads.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into Brooklinen’s search marketing strategy and their distribution of traffic.
According to an analysis of all-time traffic trends in SEMrush, Brooklinen scaled up their paid traffic steeply in January 2018. Interestingly, their organic traffic has continued to grow and experienced a strong spike in line with an increase in paid activity.
As part of their paid search marketing strategy, Brooklinen bids aggressively on broad and highly competitive keywords such as ‘sheets,’ ‘duvet covers’ and ‘pillows.’ This allows them to capitalise on common search-related queries on top of their top branded keyword ‘Brooklinen.’ They're able to do this effectively as they balance this with strong organic performance and a broad mix of digital channels.
If we look at the most recent analysis of the search marketing traffic for Brooklinen’s website, they still receive the most traffic through branded traffic compared to non-branded traffic. This is no surprise, considering Brooklinen built momentum in the beginning based on word of mouth referrals, have continued rolling out physical stores and have not stopped their PR activity.
Let’s dig deeper into how they approach paid advertising.
Brooklinen was once spending up to 75% of its overall ad budget on Facebook & Instagram. This high allocation to demand generation channels is a standard play for many direct to consumer brands looking to drive awareness and conversion of their product.
But as many advertisers find, it becomes challenging to endlessly scale a single channel like Facebook. So with this in mind, Brooklinen has moved towards a more diverse mix of digital channels.
When it comes to messaging on each of the ads, the brand is consistent in their selling points and call to actions. Generally, the ads will include one or more of the following:
As you can see from the screenshots below, Brooklinen focuses on one product for each ad and delivers their brand promise message. Other variations typically involve a discount campaign or promotional offer to convert users at the bottom of the funnel.
Display as a channel only plays a small part in how Brooklinen acquires traffic which is reinforced by the low numbers of traffic recorded in SEMrush.
Their ads predominately feature a person in bed and most have the same bold, yet simple ad copy “Best Sheets Ever.”
What’s interesting is looking at their audience targeting. It’s 50/50 male and female predominantly aged between 25-34. The male split is interesting because Brooklinen has designed a product that is gender-neutral and makes it a lot easier to purchase an item that everyone needs.
Using Klaviyo for their email marketing, Brooklinen takes a very price and product-focused approach to their emails strategy,
“Email was the first where we did a lot of testing very cheaply. Now, we have a way more robust email campaign, with a lot AB tests on every email we send, and a lot of segmentation. It took a while to build to that point.” Rich Fulop, Co-Founder Brooklinen
Each email will typically have:
When you sign up to Brooklinen’s newsletter, you receive a whole series of emails over the course of 5 days. Each with the intention of moving the customer closer to purchase.
Here’s an inbox overview:
Whether it’s intentional or not, there are some clear tactics to the number of emails they send - They switch between sending one or two emails on non-consecutive days and also use holidays (like memorial day) as reasons to communicate to customers.
When you subscribe to their newsletter — you’re greeted with a ‘thanks for joining!’ message. Here we can see at the time of subscribing that they were running a campaign wide Memorial Day 15% off sale.
Let's look at a detailed breakdown of the welcome series flow in Klaviyo.
Things to note: Quite a short welcome email considering it’s a good opportunity to tell the customer more about the brand story. However, this could be due to the fact that they have a major sitewide sale, making it a prime time to drive customers to the site to buy.
However, they do add in their brand promise, followed by a ‘fan favourites’ section.
The second email on day-of sign-up presents another CTA to claim the discount and introduces their policy on returns.
Things to note: Another reminder about the ‘exclusive deal’ left in the cart. They also introduce other parts of their product range and speak to the payment options they provide.
Things to note: They reinforce their promise to customers and the number of reviews. By the sixth email, the customer is reminded of Brooklinen's ‘quality and comfort’ first mantra.
Things to note: The customer is introduced to the benefits of the rewards program.
Things to note: By this point, there is more focus on the products and introducing the savings on bundles. Below is a snapshot of the unique selling points of the products which relate to the pain points many people experience when making the bed.
Things to note: A final attempt at converting the customer and inviting them to take advantage of the savings.
From browsing to checkout, Brooklinen have nailed their online user experience.
Users are guided through three steps that help them build the whole look of their bed linen. The hardest choice would be the colour or pattern, but Brooklinen eases this decision by allowing the product imagery (all of the images) update to the chosen colour to help the user see the sheets in context.
And see those three empty boxes at the bottom of the screenshot above? As the user goes through the steps and makes the decision on colours and size of the bedding, these boxes populate with their choice so it’s easier to see how all the colours work together.
They are very clear on what is included for the price for the user and they leverage their reviews very well across the entire purchasing experience.
If you scroll down, the user can find more details about the product, care instructions and warranty information.
Scroll even further down the page and they highlight:
There are two cart stages. The first page allows the customer to review what they have purchased and the costs are clearly outlined. They use this as an opportunity to upsell their All-Purpose Bleach Alternative.
Another little detail we love is the opportunity to add a message to the order.
Users are offered another checkout page option which allows them a number of express checkout options with multiple payment methods including the recently launched accelerated checkout experience Shop Pay.
And if you aren't sure where to start, they’ve created an easy 3-step quiz to guide your decision-making process.
Like several other successful direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands have done, Brooklinen tested out their first pop-up shop in SOHO in November 2018. They built a B.Y.O.B (build your own bundle) station which was a very cool way of making the shopping experience even more hands-on.
As of January 2020, Brooklinen opened their first permanent store in a very fitting location; Brooklyn. Brooklinen’s new store allows customers to browse their expanding product range and most importantly, allows customers to experience Brooklinen’s comfort promise in real-life.
Brooklinen recently celebrated their 6th year in business. To mark the occasion they posted on social a timeline of the milestones they’ve marked.
What started out as a sheet set that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, Brooklinen has grown into a lifestyle brand with a mission to bring everyday comfort into your home.
What’s clever about Brooklinen’s approach is how they relate these products of comfort into a lifestyle choice in their marketing.
And creating partnerships that complement their comfort mission.
The definition of ‘luxury’ has somewhat changed for Millenials. These days, it’s something that is far more attainable and not exclusive. Brooklinen has been able to strike this balance well by creating a brand that still has a quality product, at an affordable price.
This, for starters, is a major differentiation in a market that is highly commoditized and is something that is common to other direct-to-consumer brands. But what really sets Brooklinen apart is the intimacy and understanding they have of their customers and how they use this deep understanding to help them make business decisions that help them grow, while delivering exactly what the consumer wants. Something we think all brands can take away from this.