I recently had the opportunity to interview Kathy Ireland, supermodel turned super entrepreneur and Smoke Wallin, Chairman and CEO of hemp and CBD company Vertical Wellness, Inc. They recently partnered to collaborate on a Health & Wellness CBD line of products. kathy ireland® Worldwide (kiWW®) has been successful in creating a full lifestyle brand and is responsible for billions of dollars in retail sales including fashion, jewelry, home furniture, housewares, fintech, pets, rugs and much more.
According to Hemp Industry Daily, Nielsen projects that CBD sales will reach $1.7 billion to $2 billion in 2020 and reach $6.9 billion by 2025 (a threefold increase over five years). The truth is, consumer-facing cannabis companies are confronted with the same tasks as any other brand or retailer – identify the target consumer, discover what they want, where they want to buy it and how much they’re willing to pay for it.
Greg Petro: What’s your goal in creating your Health & Wellness CBD Solution brand? Why now?
Kathy Ireland: I’ve been in this space for a very long time, I actually launched the kathy ireland® brand with hemp made socks in 1993 and then expanded into fashion and home. My first rugs were made of hemp (jute). As I mature, I want to expand the brand – it’s what keeps me going.
kiWW® is all about the ability to serve nonprofits in the health and wellness sector. I have a passion for what I have the privilege of doing. kiWW® chooses to work with amazing people and we were drawn to Smoke and his team. They are true leaders in this burgeoning industry and both our companies’ core values were aligned. The product is phenomenal and how they bring the product to market is even better.
Pain opens dangerous doors to addiction and finding healthy methods of managing pain is better for everyone. The science and all the possibilities that hemp provides is what’s so interesting.
Greg Petro: What attracted you to the CBD industry and Kathy Ireland?
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Smoke Wallin: Kathy is genuine and authentic; you can’t make it up. When thinking about building businesses I think about the people and how they establish their culture. It starts with integrity and builds from there.
If you don’t have core values, you’ll likely make poor decisions when there’s a down or when things aren’t going well. I recently read former Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness and that’s the stuff that matters. When I met Kathy there was an immediate alignment of how we see things and our joint effort in the CBD industry has been very productive.
Greg Petro: What was your path to the CBD industry?
Smoke Wallin: I spent a lot of years in the beverage industry learning how to come up with a brand and get the products to shelves. In my distribution days, I wasn’t creating brands, but I was executing brands in market plans at the store level. The distributor is the most critical link in the chain. It’s all about getting products in front of the consumer at the point they’re willing to buy. If you get it all right but without the distribution link it won’t work. That’s the unfair advantage we bring to the CBD market.
I wanted to bring a solution to people’s problems and match natural healing abilities to pain, anxiety relief and sleeplessness. The world is on board with the benefits of what this plant brings to the market.
Vertical Wellness is taking a conservative approach to the CBD industry in terms of health claims, but we’re conscious of what hemp can do and the efficacy of it. People are looking for natural ways to solve anxiety, sleeplessness and pain. Collaborating with Kathy brings a level of comfort and genuineness.
Greg Petro: From a customer’s perspective, the CBD industry is a very crowded space with a lot of uncertainty. Why should the consumer gravitate towards the Vertical Wellness Kathy Ireland Health & Wellness CBD Brand?
Kathy Ireland: The CBD industry is becoming a crowded space. We’ve built the brand on a grass roots level. We know the customer; we ask them what they think, and we have a close relationship with them. It’s about offering a solution to help their problem. The better the solution, the greater the value to the end consumer. I built my brand with the promise of fashion, value, quality and safety and it goes back to trust and how you deliver it. You can’t rest on yesterday’s success.
Vertical Wellness hopes to offer products that will be available from a physician and not require a prescription. We want to offer natural alternatives that aren’t addictive that will truly help and be effective. CBD is a great product. We give our kids grapes; we don’t give them wine.
Greg Petro: Statistics historically show that more than half of new products brought to market fail. How do you leverage consumer behavior to bring products to market in a unique way?
Kathy Ireland: Our brand is built on solutions. The DNA of the kathy ireland® brand always involves input from the customer. We continually strive to get feedback and information on what’s working and what’s not. Listening to our customer is the key to our success. We keep our ear to the ground in order to be nimble to pivot quickly. We anticipate what people are going to need even before they need it.
Smoke Wallin: Experiential has been a part of my history and world for decades. If you’re listening, you can learn a lot. There are so many ways to interact now and that’s a big part of our strategy to market. It’s about building an experiential experience for your new and current customers and aligning your message and social media to the demand.
The strategy to de-risk decision making is key. Leveraging experience management powered by predictive analytics can help identify product selection, pricing, marketing and branding decisions, consumer preferences and anticipated demand not only for retail but for any type of product or service.
Listening is an important part of understanding and solving. Consumers and brands have a natural symbiotic relationship of wanting to communicate, share and learn together. Brands that do this well ultimately end up being successful and still exist today. As consumers continue to be a moving target, incorporating and understanding the signal from the Voice of the Customer in real-time is more important than ever to not just survive but thrive.