5 Questions With Ali Kriegsman, Co-Founder & COO, Bulletin
Learn how the values-based retail startup is optimizing in-store experiences and making a difference in the community at SMWNYC.
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As e-commerce continues to grow alongside the relentless momentum of Amazon, retailers are finding new ways to connect customers with their brands in-store. Indeed, a new crop of entrepreneurs have emerged to meld the digital and physical worlds and offer deeper customer relationships that offer something different than their online-only counterparts.
One such entrepreneur is Ali Kriegsman, Co-Founder, and COO of Bulletin. Along with co-founder Alana Branston, Kriegsman and the Bulletin team infusing social activism and community into pop-up retail experiences. We sat down with Kriegsman to learn about the Bulletin mission and what we can expect to learn from them at SMWNYC.
SMW: Tell us about how the idea for Bulletin was born and why activism is core to the brand experience.
AK: Alana [Branston] and I started Bulletin in 2014 as a completely different business. It was still mission-driven, but we existed exclusively behind-the-screen and had not yet toyed with physical retail. It started out as a shoppable magazine that explicitly supported small, indie brands. For this reason, we emphasized motivating our audience to shop small and spend money with independent designers instead of going to mass retailers. We eventually opened a physical retail store at the end of 2016 under the same umbrella.
We were inspired to pivot following the 2016 Presidential Election, as many of the small brands we were working with began to produce explicitly feminist, pro-women products on their own. By May , we launched Bulletin Broads and began exclusively working with women-owned businesses, big and small. We had just been through a tech incubator program as one of very few women in a sea of male founders and were really irked and upset, but also motivated by the activism spurred by the election. We were inspired to turn our retail store into a space that supported and spoke to women, but also helped women, in a material way.
We proceeded to reach out to Planned Parenthood of NYC to establish a formal collaboration, where 10 percent of our sales would be sent to their clinics in the city. On the brand side, we wanted our store to become a space that uplifted and empowered female founders and women-owned retail companies (because we are one ourselves and know how tough it can be!). On the customer side, we wanted our shoppers to know that they were not only supporting a women-owned business by shopping with us, but also supporting women around the city that need affordable, accessible health care.
“We want to and need to support women full-cycle, from the product production to the brand behind it, to the customer experience and where their money is going.” – Ali Kriegsman, COO & Co-Founder, Bulletin
These values are core to the brand experience because there’s a fine line with selling feminist-leaning products. When Forever21 plasters “Feminist” on a shirt, it just feels like an on-trend product push and you know in your heart that shirt was made in a third world country by a woman, likely under undesirable working conditions. With Bulletin, we want to and need to support women full-cycle, from the product production to the brand behind it, to the customer experience and where their money is going.
SMW: Tell us about how you curate your products.
AK: From 2014 to mid-2017, Alana and I would dig through Etsy, Shopify, Instagram, Witchsy and the depths of the web to find amazing brands and products. It wasn’t very data-driven and neither of us has buying experience, so to be honest, it was mainly structured around personal taste.
Our entire business changed when we hired Maggie Braine, our Director of Product and Brand Experience, in April of 2017. She came equipped with experience from J Crew and C Wonder, among other retail big-wigs. We get a good number of brand applications now and Vanessa, our Product and Visuals Manager, works with Maggie to vet them. Vanessa actively pursues non-applicant brands we think would sell well, too. Together, they use a pretty tight system, analyzing factors across our existing sales data, top performing brands, and our Instagram performance. Due to the fact that we launch a new editorial concept in the store every quarter, they get to explore and test new product categories pretty regularly, which gives us a good sense of what our customer wants to see and what she doesn’t.
SMW: In many ways, the Bulletin model reflects an entirely new type of retail experience. What can other retailers and brands learn from your successes?
AK: Oddly enough, Alana and I had very limited retail experience before starting Bulletin. We tested a bunch of different versions of our company before landing on the retail membership model we use today. We were forced to think outside of the box because we didn’t come from “the box” in the first place. However, we did know that because of the evolution of the internet, e-commerce, and Instagram, retail has fundamentally changed. It’s scary for big retailers and big brands to rethink their stores from scratch, but I think referencing the web instead of seeing it as the enemy is a good place to start in crafting a relevant store experience in 2018.
SMW: Can you talk about the role of community when it comes to the Bulletin brand?
AK: The notion of community is central to what we do. Shopping has become such an isolated experience for people in general, but especially many women our age. We are bound to our phones, laptops, and in some cases, a bunch of high tech screens across existing retail stores. We wanted to bring back the feeling of shopping as discovery, and revamp it as a fun way to spend a day with friends.
“Referencing the web instead of seeing it as the enemy is a good place to start in crafting a relevant store experience in 2018.”
The mission-driven element of our company lends itself to community building, which is why we actively host a ton of events and programming in our stores. These surround topics spanning political issues, reproductive rights, sex positivity, and intersectionality. This all goes back to our goal of supporting women with every inch of our stores. We’re not just selling empowering products and supporting small businesses, but also providing a space where our customers can ask our staff questions about Planned Parenthood, feel comfortable consulting our retail team on a vibrator purchase, and connect with other women about the issues she cares about.
SMW: What’s next for Bulletin in 2018 and beyond?
AK: We are opening a big flagship location in April. I can’t reveal the location yet, but it will be our most ambitious store to date. We are also set to expand to Los Angeles in the near future.
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