INTERVIEW: WHY Brands CEO & CBO on Establishing a House of Brands, Staying Innovative – ExecEdge
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INTERVIEW: WHY Brands CEO & CBO on Establishing a House of Brands, Staying Innovative
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INTERVIEW: WHY Brands CEO & CBO on Establishing a House of Brands, Staying Innovative

  • Exec Edge interviewed WHY Brands Inc. Founder and CEO Steven Dunn, Chief Brand Officer & Creative Officer Diana Barnes
  • WHY has been transforming itself into a house of brands including Munchkin, Curio
  • Dunn and Ms. Barnes co-founded lifestyle products company Curio
  • Launched own R&D center to experiment and invent across product categories called RD8
  • Investors can compare WHY to other growth companies such as Yeti (NYSE: YETI) and SharkNinja (NYSE: SN)

By Karen E. Roman and Jarrett Banks

In the competitive landscape of consumer goods, WHY Brands Inc. has emerged as a standout, showcasing innovation and growth that has propelled it to the forefront of the industry.

Founded on a history of excellence with the iconic children’s brand Munchkin, WHY has expanded its reach with the launch of Curio, a venture into non-baby products that has captivated consumers with its creative twist on everyday items. The company is now transforming itself into a house of brands through the leadership of CEO Steven Dunn and Chief Brand Officer Diana Barnes.

What started as a company focused on innovative baby products has evolved into a lifestyle brand with a diverse range of offerings. This evolution has been driven by a commitment to innovation and a deep understanding of consumer needs. Today, Munchkin is not just a brand; it’s a way of life for millions of families around the world.

Munchkin was founded in 1991 by Mr. Dunn with the goal of making innovation the core of its business and distinguishing itself with creative solutions for everyday childcare challenges. Mr. Dunn, a former investment banker turned entrepreneur and new parent, realized there was an opportunity in the industry after having his first child.

“I looked at the products we were buying and there were quality issues, lack of design safety issues, and I just started coming up with some ideas I couldn’t get out of my head,” Mr. Dunn said in an interview with Exec Edge.

Munchkin, the cornerstone of WHY’s success, has a rich history rooted in innovation. From its beginnings, Munchkin has grown into a global brand, dominating the market with 13 products found in almost every household in the U.S. Over the last decade, Munchkin has transformed from a product supplier to a lifestyle brand, with a direct-to-consumer presence that has solidified its position as a household name.

“When I joined Munchkin almost a decade ago, I saw the potential to evolve the company from a supplier-based model to a consumer lifestyle brand with a strong DTC presence,” said Ms. Barnes. “We accomplished this by first establishing our mission, and it is a lofty one, to be the world’s most loved baby lifestyle brand.”

The company is first or second in eight of the 12 Munchkin categories, with more than 340 patented products. The brand also has a global presence in more than 40 countries with 23% of its sales coming from abroad. Munchkin has transformed in the last decade to become a lifestyle brand with direct-to-customer presence in the market, with 40% of its sales originating directly online. Amazon even included Munchkin in its supplier advisory board among billion-dollar selling brands.

“And we’ve been able to achieve that by authentically connecting and engaging with our customers by building direct relationships with them via our website, social media platforms, and reading all of our customer reviews religiously to help direct our product design,” said Ms. Barnes. “Our latest and greatest form of connection is through our podcast, Strollercoaster: A Parenting Podcast, which is already in the top 1% on Apple.”

Building on this success, Mr. Dunn and Ms. Barnes embarked on a new journey with the launch of Curio. Inspired by a desire to expand beyond the baby lifestyle business, Curio represents WHY’s foray into the $65 billion home furnishings market. With a focus on design and functionality, Curio has quickly gained traction, offering consumers products that redefine the ordinary.

“We were daydreaming out loud,” said Ms. Barnes. “We wanted to go beyond the baby lifestyle business and develop another innovative company that creates high design in beautiful, elevated consumer products for every room of the home.”

Curio’s success can be attributed to its approach to product design and packaging. Every product in Curio has a creative twist or surprise, making it stand out in a crowded market. The packaging is designed to create a first “wow” moment, setting the tone for a memorable consumer experience.

Curio started last year with artistically designed products and a creative high-end twist to bring out “wow” moments in customers who are design savvy, starting with the packaging.

The Ionic Collection is a set of dishwashing brushes with a magnetic holder which makes them conveniently stand tall and proud right where they belong, next to the faucet. Another Curio product is a weighted paper towel holder that hides a refillable spray bottle for countertop cleaning liquid inside the mounting rack.

The brand offers exclusive and yet practical hidden solutions inside imaginative designs and expects to launch its third category of products soon. Moreover, Curio presents a gifting model to dive into, since 30 to 40% of its sales in December 2023 were for gift-cards.

Curio can be found in high-end independent home goods stores in cities like Montecito, Los Angeles and San Francisco–among the 20 targeted cities by the end of this year. The best way to understand Curio is by associating it with a unique spa experience. The brand is focusing on the kitchen now as the heart of the home, and the bathroom will come next.

Looking ahead, with strategic acquisitions on the horizon and the establishment of RD8, WHY’s dedicated R&D center, the company is poised to disrupt the industry with products and initiatives.

RD8 is at the heart of WHY’s innovation strategy. It serves as a hub for creativity and experimentation, driving the development of new products and technologies that push the boundaries of what’s possible. With a team of talented designers and engineers, RD8 is constantly working on new ideas that will shape the future of consumer lifestyle products.

While WHY has made no indication of plans to go public, investors might compare it to other growth companies such as Yeti (NYSE: YELE) and SharkNinja (NYSE: SN). WHY has also made several strategic acquisitions which will be revealed later in 2024, such as a project to increase breastfeeding globally.

“WHY is only possible now due to the incredible bench strength and accomplishments of our Executive management team which has an average tenure of 10+ years,” said Mr. Dunn.

With a commitment to innovation and a focus on consumer needs, WHY is set to achieve meaningful growth in the coming years, further solidifying its position as a leader in the consumer lifestyle products market. Savvy investors will want to take note and keep an eye on this company.



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