The last five years, 2017-2021, has been a ‘coming of age’ period for several DTC brands. In addition to a lot of transformation in the way DTC brands operate, we saw a flurry of activity in terms of DTC brands going public. At least 15 DTC companies came out with an IPO in the last couple of years. While not all of these brands were completely digital, all of them had a significant online sales channel presence.
We at PipeCandy were curious to peel the layers and look at what exactly was going on in the sector. Our research team pored through data from the S-1 filings. We’ve classified the brands as Digital Natives (almost all sales from own digital channel), DTC brands (most sales from own digital channel and own physical stores), and Omnichannel brands (significant indirect sales in addition to direct digital channels).
Here are some highlights from our study:
There were nine IPOs in 2021 with at least three of them in August 2021 alone. Seven of these IPOs were in the Fashion and Apparel category.
Digital natives took significantly less time since inception to go for an IPO than brands with physical store presence.
Digital native and DTC brands also attracted relatively high valuations than omnichannel brands.
DTC brands have taken longer to go public due to the time shift that has happened due to the pandemic.
Post-pandemic IPO brands also attracted relatively higher valuations while accumulated deficits reduced significantly. While post-pandemic IPO cohort companies seem to have taken longer to go public, the average revenues at the time of IPO were lower than the pre-pandemic IPO cohort by 42%.
DTC brands having physical stores have built a relatively bigger customer base than digital natives and omnichannel companies.
The customer acquisition cost goes up higher every month as digital gets expensive but few SKUs under a strongly positioned brand are supposed to give the right air cover for the brand to reign in their customer acquisition costs. Comparing operating cash flows and marketing expenses of brands having ‘many SKUs’ and ‘fewer SKUs’ (depending on product lines, models, and variants), we find that more brands with a lower SKU count are burning cash than ones with many SKUs. Embracing complexity helps.
A few DTC and digital-native brands have completed at least one business cycle after IPO. While there was no discernible change in marketing expenses before and after their respective IPOs, few have improved upon their profits.
Notable among companies with high marketing expenses are SmilesDirect Club that is trying to build a niche market with a single SKU (3D printed clear teeth aligners) and Casper, the mattresses brand. Both these brands have fewer SKUs and have had a high marketing expense before IPO.
List of 15 DTC brands featured in the analysis:
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