How we saw sales increase after switching from a direct-to-consumer company to an omnichannel business

hydrant profile header image
hydrant co founder image
John Sherwin (co-founder)
Founded: January 2017
No of employees: 16
Location: USA

Based in New York City with a mostly remote team, Hydrant is a refreshing hydration mix that helps people of all ages feel great by staying hydrated. The idea for the product came about after the company’s founders felt that all hydration drinks were either too sugary or contained artificial ingredients. As a result, they looked for ways to solve the problem by using natural ingredients and less sugar, creating Hydrant as a healthy alternative. 

After switching from a direct-to-consumer company to an omnichannel business they saw sales increase and brand growth. Since the company started, Hydrant is now stocked in all 50 states across the US and is sold nationwide in Walmart. We’re keen to find out more about how this happened, so we chat to the founders.

Who are you and what brand did you start?

Hydrant makes a powdered hydration mix product that tastes great and leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to take on whatever is thrown your way by your day. Typically customers will build one or more of our products into their daily routine so that they are always feeling and performing at their best. Our products currently include Hydrate, Energy, and Immunity, with new products on the way.

We’re based in New York City, but have much of our team working remotely around the USA. Our customers are mostly in the USA, with a few overseas who buy direct from our website to the UK, Canada or Korea. Our customers tend to be active people of any age, looking for healthy ways to stay hydrated and feeling great.

Since inception, we’ve sold Hydrant in all 50 states of the USA, and are now sold Nationwide in Walmart!

How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Hydrant?

Existing hydration products on the market were either too sugary, horrible tasting with lots of artificial ingredients, or completely ineffective at actually hydrating you and leaving you feeling good within minutes.

To us, this was a problem worth solving, because we knew we could make a product that had less sugar, was more effective and tasted fantastic with a more natural ingredient list. By launching in a powdered format we were also able to use ecommerce to grow our business. It’s a lot harder to ship water around the country, and expensive too!

Our brand name was really clear about what our product actually does, which is hydrate you. It shares the first 5 letters of “hydrate”, so there’s really no misunderstanding that the platform we are building our products on is hydration.  Our dot pattern logo is based on a sodium chloride molecule shape, but in two dimensions rather than three. We loved the idea of hiding one of our key electrolyte ingredients right there in our logo. Beyond that we wanted to move in a different direction to other brands in our space and add an interesting element that can be used in lots of different ways across the packaging.

Describe the process of launching Hydrant?

We were and are laser focused on making our products extremely functional while also tasting delicious, so the first step for us was researching what ingredients to include, and also what to leave out. We built the specifications for the product in terms of the functional ingredients, and then hired food scientists to help us make it taste good. In parallel we took this functional approach to a designer to help us turn it into a logo and a visual identity for the brand as a whole. This then led to our first packaging design which has been iterated on a few times as we’ve gotten feedback from customers and honed in on exactly who our customer is.

In the beginning much of our advertising was done via Facebook and Instagram advertising, as this allowed us to quickly test different value propositions with different audiences. From that we were able to shift our strategies and make key changes to our business to improve our odds of success. Our biggest early sales day came from a morning TV interview on Fox Business, where we were able to talk about the product and the benefits in detail. It was really exciting to see our subscriber based grow so fast at a relatively early stage in our business life cycle.

We ask people to fill out a survey after they complete a purchase with us, and another promising sign that we were onto something was the high percentage of respondents who were finding us through word of mouth rather than via paid ads.

Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?

Being extremely focused on interpreting the data that your business generates in the course of advertising and retaining customers is the most valuable thing you can do to get better. 

Retention data can be tricky to interpret at times, so it’s best to set up cohort analysis, and closely track your different approaches from month to month to see how they affect retention. For example, we did some early partnerships with other brands that led to some very cost effective acquisition for us, but when we looked at our cohort data a few months later, it was clear that the quality of those customers was low, and they weren’t coming back. From that learning we were able to make better decisions about how to attract high quality customers. We spend a lot of our time as a team thinking about retention vs acquisition.

*Cohort Analysis - is an analytical technique which focuses on the behavior of a group of customers over time. It can be seen as a slightly more technical difficult exercise, but if done, it enables brands to find insights about the experiences of their defined customer groups, ‘cohorts’. Such insights enable brands, like Hydrant, to see how they can improve the experience for customers in each cohort group, and in turn improve retention and more.

With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?

The biggest shift for Hydrant was going from being 100% direct to consumer, to being an omnichannel business that included retail distribution. This vastly increases the complexity of your business, and you lose control of much of the customer experience. But it gives you access to customers you might never otherwise reach, and allows you to grow your business much faster if you do well in those early accounts.

With regards to managing change during a crisis (e.g. Covid19), what are your biggest learnings and advice to others. 

  • Spend more time on hiring than you want to. It’s a skill that needs practice, and the temptation is to get it over with quickly to go back to building the business. This is a mistake.
  • Launch products faster so that you can get real feedback from people. Spending too long developing a product can be a huge drain on your resources.
  • Build redundancy into your supply chain, so that if one supplier or vendor gets taken out of commission for some reason, you can keep shipping product.

How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?

The shift to omnichannel is a big change for the company as we bring in experienced retail operators to help us succeed at retail. We also will continue to build out our product portfolio to better serve existing customers, and attract new ones too.

What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?

Launch when you’re still embarrassed by your product. I spent months perfecting the product before we launched it more broadly, and even then we still got valuable feedback from customers that we were able to use to improve. We’re now on our 4th version of the product, and could have saved precious time at the beginning by launching faster!

What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?

  1. What is your unfair advantage? If you’re in a relatively low barrier to entry space like beverages / supplements, you need to know how you’re going to be able to acquire customers and keep them better than anyone else. Do you have an existing audience to sell to for example?
  2. Avoid getting distracted by all the bells and whistles you can add via apps in your shopify store. Just get the simple page and checkout working and you can iterate from there.
  3. Don’t be afraid to invest money in advertising. It can be scary to spend money at first not knowing what the ROI might be, but you have to just dive in and start learning as fast as possible.

What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run Hydrant?

Shopify is the backbone of our business, and an extremely robust tool for setting up your business. Beyond that, you need a good email provider with an automation capability to create email flows, and you need the same for SMS too. Having a subscription function has been key to our success as well, so if it makes sense for your product, it’s a great thing to pursue. It does increase the complexity of your business significantly and requires some customer service.

TypeTool Name
Email MarketingKlaviyo
ShippingWe use a 3PL
Customer ServiceGorgias
PaymentsShopify Payments
AdvertisingFacebook, Instagram, Snapchat
Social Media ToolsLater
DesignAdobe Suite
Staff RecruitmentWorkable

See what ecommerce tools other founders are using.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?

“How I built this” is a great podcast to get early motivation for trying out different strategies for acquiring customers. It’s also generally good to hear these motivating stories from entrepreneurs who persevered through the tough times with their businesses to find success.

Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?

One of the most influential people we've met on our journey is Seth Berger, an early investor via the Sixers Innovation Lab.  He taught us to play to win, not to play not to lose. This is the idea that part of your edge as a startup is that you're able to nimbly take risks and quickly recover from them in a way that incumbents cannot. If you're not taking those risks, you're making a mistake and losing the edge that you have.

Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?

It's easy to fall into the trap of treating your journey like a sprint. It's always going to be a marathon, and you need to take care of your health physically and mentally at every stage of the journey.

Where can we go to learn more about your current offers and promotions? is the place to go to see everything we’re working on at the moment!

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