William Shakespeare famously wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet” in 1595 — since then it’s been the world’s go-to reminder that what something is is separate from what it’s called.
Mostly sound advice — unless the thing in question is SharkNinja, the nation’s largest maker of coffee machines, vacuum cleaners and blenders. In that rare case, the name tells you almost everything you need to know about the firm.
First, that’s because it references their two best-known products — the Shark vacuum and the Ninja juice blender (and more recently the Ninja coffee maker) — and so it reminds you what the company does. Second, because it’s incredibly memorable, and as a direct-to-consumer brand it’s important that SharkNinja make a big impression on its users’ consciousness fairly immediately. And third, because the name more or less explains the company’s approach to the market. It seemed to sneak up out of nowhere, like ninjas, to pretty much swallow the markets it targeted whole — like a shark.
A decade ago, the Needham, Mass.–based company was known by a few dedicated users — and fans of its late-night infomercials on cable TV.
Today it does almost over $1 billion in annual sales, employs over a thousand people in the U.S. and China, and has added coffeemakers to the list of household goods where it is slowly but surely eating up market share.
And while it might be tempting to attribute that success to the one of the best company names in history, according to Ajay Kapoor, VP of digital transformation and strategy at SharkNinja, the answer is a little more complicated than that.What SharkNinja has found a way to do over the past 14 years is consistently deliver on the same consumer experience.
“The goal of retail is … putting the consumer at the center of that overall experience instead of trying to drive them into legacy infrastructure. All retail is becoming direct-to-consumer retail because consumers can look at a product branded or not branded and say they are equivalent — they were designed similarly and manufactured in similar factories.”
That, according to Kapoor, is the fundamental change in the market, and not so much the change from physical channels to digital channels. Consumer preferences are evolving online, he noted, but he thinks it is far from the point that anyone can say physical is dead, because that is clearly not the case. Consumers shop in physical stores — and often have a strong reason to prefer that experience.
“Immediacy is a real value. If you need a consumer good — like, say, a new vacuum or coffeemaker immediately — you very much need a physical store in proximity to buy that good — you can’t wait for two days’ shipping. The brick-and-mortars aren’t out of this business. I think it is just that the business is changing.”
The business is changing to one with an almost uncountable number of touch points on a consumer journey, “with mobile customers who have all the information they need at their fingertips and can order almost any product, at any time and any place.”
The problem is that when consumers can shop or research anytime, it is not easy to know which specific time is the right time to make the reach out and try to reach them. Finding that consumer central experience — for SharkNinja at any rate — is a data-heavy experience that mostly requires cooperatively looking at the consumer journey — and then trying to see not so much where it is working, but where it isn’t. Because those points where it isn’t, Kapoor noted, are where opportunity lies.
“Both from a manufacturing standpoint and when we work with our retail partners on servicing the consumer in the way they want to be serviced, it is a question about where we can add value across the gamut. That conversation can get focused on price — but that is too narrow, it’s much more about a long-term holistic proposition that serves the customer needs across the long term,” Kapoor said.
Price is an important part of that need set — but so is trust, which means part of providing for a full customer experience is providing transparency (i.e., how does it work? where was it made?). And convenience, according to Kapoor, is the third side of that triangle — the customer doesn’t have to work for it, because ultimately, the customer doesn’t have to and won’t.
Where SharkNinja has gone right, where other brands have struggled, is providing for all three. The product works — and is easy to learn about. It’s accessible through a wide variety of means — and priced better than comparable products in its segment.
And, most important, the brand is constantly engaged and staying in the forefront of users’ minds — which is not easy given that most consumers aren’t usually thinking about vacuuming or making a smoothie.
But, Kapoor noted, SharkNinja doesn’t need to convince every customer to buy a vacuum every day — it just needs to be the first place a consumer’s mind goes when it is time to buy a new vacuum, blender or smoothie and then make sure it’s easy to for them to chose the SharkNinja brand.
“The consumer wants to be empowered and now can be,” Kapoor noted. “We make sure that it’s easy for them to be empowered in the buying process — and be aware of that when they are buying.”
It’s not easy to provide for, Kapoor noted, because the consumer experience as we know it is still evolving; “digital retail is still in its Wild West days.” But ultimately, he said the firms that figure it out will be the ones that get to build the future of commerce on the Wild West foundations being put down. And SharkNinja is determined to be one of those builder brands.