How DTC Startup The Flex Company Is Staying Close To Its Customers As It Enters Target
In Silicon Valley, where Lauren Schulte Wang was marketing and communications director for Upwork for two years prior to launching The Flex Company, she encountered greater interest in colonizing Mars than addressing menstruation. For her, though, improving the period experience was an extremely personal issue.
For 15 years of her life, Wang dealt with yeast infections following every period. She tried over 30 feminine-care products and nothing stopped them. Finally, a nurse practitioner advised her organic tampons could be contributing to the infections by fostering a high-moisture environment breeding yeast overgrowth. That advice helped lay the foundation for The Flex Company’s menstrual discs and cups, and underscored to Wang that she’d been forced to endure discomfort because people and brands had disregarded her problem. She vowed she and her brand would be different.
“I founded the company with the idea that women’s voices have been ignored for so long when it comes to our health,” says Wang. “I wanted to build a company that was by and for its customers.”
Before The Flex Company began in 2016, she hosted dinners during which she’d gather information from guests about their period concerns and, after it went live, she created The Uterati, a community with some 2,000 members who provide feedback on advertising campaigns, merchandise prototypes, packaging and more through focus groups, surveys and product reviews. The members were influential in convincing The Flex Company its menstrual cups had to be easily removed. The cups contain a patented element named a ReleaseRing that can be pulled similar to a tampon string for withdrawal.
Speaking of The Uterati members, Wang says, “They feel it’s a benefit to them. They are insiders, and they are the ones driving the strategy of the company. I don’t know of another consumer product company that [operates] this way.”
“I founded the company with the idea that women’s voices have been ignored for so long when it comes to our health. I wanted to build a company that was by and for its customers.”
From the outset, The Flex Company’s direct-to-consumer model has been crucial to cultivating a close connection with The Uterati and its broader customer base. Now, the brand has rolled out across Target. To retain the strong connection as it breaks into retail, The Flex Company is inviting Target shoppers to join The Uterati and access so-called Flexperts offering guidance on menstrual cup and disc usage. They can learn about the community and Flexperts by heading to the brand’s website, and text a phone number put on the products sold at the retailer to receive instructions on how to become a member of The Uterati. The Flex Company’s Target lineup features a $14.99 box with 12 menstrual discs and a $39.99 discovery pack with two discs and a cup.
“We are not trying to own customers. We are trying to service customers. We are trying to educate customers and make sure they like the product,” says Wang. “If they buy the product at Target, they are going to continue to buy the product at Target. To us, it’s about how do we make the Target guest successful with our product so they will keep returning to Target to buy it.”
The Flex Company’s effort to nurture The Uterati through its retail partnership is among a number of examples of DTC brands changing the nature of commerce at traditional stores. Digiday retail editor Hilary Milnes documents Target has accommodated the demands of DTC brands while stocking its shelves with them. She details the chain carries toothbrush brand Quip’s starter kits, but, to order subsequent brush heads, customers have to subscribe to Quip. They receive a code at Target to register the brush they purchased with their starter kits and can sign up with it online at Quip for brush-head refills.
On top of bringing buzzy products that have a potential to widen Target’s customer pool to younger shoppers and propel tremendous sales, Wang notes a DTC brand like The Flex Company can assist the retailer by imparting consumer data. “We have millions and millions of data points from our customers, and we can share insights with them about the market, customer preferences and pain points, and anything that might be going on in the mindset of our Target audience,” she says. “In that way, we are strategic partners.”
“We are not trying to own customers. We are trying to service customers. We are trying to educate customers and make sure they like the product.”
For The Flex Company, Wang suggests entering Target was a difficult decision. She explains many DTC brands have chosen to sell their products at big retailers because they’re facing increased digital advertising expenses and pressure from investors to balloon sales. The Flex Company isn’t in the same boat. Wang says, “Our DTC business has grown more than 300% over last year, and our cost of acquisition was steady over the last 12 months and, over the last two months, it has gone down.”
The Flex Company has raised $8.3 million from investors including Amplify.LA, BOW Capital, Halogen Ventures, Ellen Pao, Quest Venture Partners, Y Combinator and Gmail’s lead developer Paul Buchheit. Wang is still majority shareholder. “Our growth has been so extraordinary that we don’t need to raise money ever again. I don’t have any pressure from our investors. They are very happy,” she says. Wang declined to disclose The Flex Company’s annual sales. However, she revealed in the past that the brand generated $4 million in revenues in its first year.
Ultimately, Wang opted for Target because she concluded it would expand The Flex Company’s reach and enlarge The Uterati. Recounting her thought process, she says, “Our cost of acquisition was going down, and we are exploding in growth, so why are we going to do this? It came down to our core value of choosing love over fear. Who cares what everybody else is doing? Where are our customers? Wouldn’t it be great to get more customers into the fold to determine the future of period care?”