Scaling Celebrity-Backed Brands: The Chamberlain Coffee Success


Chris Gallant, CEO of Chamberlain Coffee

Chris Gallant is the CEO of Chamberlain Coffee, a thriving coffee, matcha, and tea brand founded by renowned YouTube influencer Emma Chamberlain. Launched in 2019, Chamberlain Coffee has expanded from an online DTC brand to rapidly branching out to over 10,000 stores nationwide. With over 15 years of experience in commercial beverage management, Chris spearheads the brand’s growth strategy and expansion. He holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, bringing insights into growing brands with a focus on product quality and consumer behaviors for sustained growth.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [2:21] Chris Gallant shares insights into Chamberlain Coffee's nearly four years of growth
  • [3:02] Scaling a celebrity brand beyond the star's fame
  • [4:36] How to navigate digital marketing challenges and seize opportunities
  • [6:40] Tactical approaches to ensure product velocity and sales in retail stores
  • [11:15] What is the right time to pivot from DTC to retail stores?
  • [11:42] The importance of planning and capital for efficient retail launches
  • [12:51] Balancing sales strategies across DTC and retail channels
  • [16:25] Chamberlain Coffee's identity and future growth plan

In this episode…

Can celebrity appeal translate into exponential growth for a brand? With the right marketing strategy and engaging presence, a celebrity-backed product can move from revered status to regular purchase, sustaining itself in the highly competitive retail environment. However, how do you draw the line between leveraging influencer fame and establishing an independent brand identity?

Beverage growth strategist Chris Gallant takes listeners through Chamberlain Coffee's birth during the pandemic and the brand’s monumental expansion within four years. Highlighting the impact of Founder Emma Chamberlain's genuine connection to the brand, he maintains the value of aligning with your target audience to stay ahead of competitors. Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of having a well-planned expansion to retail, secure funding, and an adaptive supply chain while maintaining individuality from the celebrity founder. Chris’ approach prioritizes developing a compelling marketing plan to drive product velocity in retail stores, adopting an omnichannel strategy, and catering to diverse shopping behaviors to maximize reach.

In his episode of Minds of Ecommerce, Raphael Paulin-Daigle chats with Chris Gallant, the CEO of Chamberlain Coffee, to explore the complexities of scaling a celebrity-backed DTC brand. Chris analyzes critical marketing strategies and growth channels for retail and DTC sales, hones in on consumer engagement, and shares how to balance celebrity influence and marketing drive to build a reliable, independent brand identity that resonates with a broader audience.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Quotable Moments:

  • "We have a really strong built-in base to start off with, which is a really great starting point for any brand."
  • "Awareness buys you the first purchase from a consumer; the right product buys you the repeat consumer."
  • "We let the consumer shop where they want to shop, whether it's our store or at Walmart."
  • "You've got to have a nimble supply chain that can meet your capacity as you grow."
  • "For any food and beverage brand, the path to profitability lies with retail."

Action Steps:

  1. Develop a strong marketing plan to drive product velocity in retail stores: Velocity is crucial for maintaining shelf space and ensuring product turnover.
  2. Consider an omnichannel approach, giving consumers the freedom to shop where they prefer: This addresses the challenge of catering to diverse shopping behaviors and maximizes reach.
  3. Make storytelling a central part of marketing, especially the founder's story: This builds a genuine connection with consumers and distinguishes the brand from competitors.
  4. Seek out funding and capital that align with your brand’s growth plans: This helps ensure sustainable expansion and the ability to respond to market demands.
  5. Stay up-to-date and flexible with your supply chain management: It is critical for meeting changing demands and supporting business scalability.

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by SplitBase.

At SplitBase, we design, test, and manage high-converting landing pages and on-site experiences for fashion, luxury, and lifestyle ecommerce brands. Our optimization program pinpoints exactly where your store is losing money most, and then we help you fix that.

The result? Increased conversions and profits for our clients.

With our team of conversion optimization specialists, performance marketers, and conversion-focused designers, we've got your back when it comes to testing and optimization.

Request a proposal on SplitBase.com today, and learn how we can help you get the most out of your marketing spend.

You can find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Don’t miss out on our exclusive podcasts at Minds of Ecommerce.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:00  


Raphael Paulin-Daigle  0:06  

Welcome to the Minds of Ecommerce podcast where you'll learn one key strategy that made leading e commerce companies grow exponentially. We cut the and keep the meat in a 15 minute episode. Founders and executives take us through a deep dive of a strategy, so you'll get to learn and grow your online sales. All right, in the last episode, I talked to Justin Silver, the co-founder of AAVRANI, a highly successful haircare and skincare brand. Now today on episode number 40. Well, get ready, because we've got Chris Galant, and he's the CEO of Chamberlain Coffee, which is a coffee matcha and tea brand launched by Emma Chamberlain, and they're available in over 10,000 stores nationwide now. So very, very successful both DTC and retail. Now we're going to be discussing how to scale a celebrity brand, and we might broach the topic of retail for a DTC brand. I'm your host, Rafael Paulin Daigle, and I'm the founder of SplitBase. This is Minds of Ecommerce. Now this episode is brought to you by SplitBase. At SplitBase, we help leading direct-to-consumer brands such as Dr Squash, Hyperice and Amica AB test, design, build and manage high-converting landing pages and on site experiences. We generate a combined 100 million dollars in additional revenue for our clients every single year. Our optimization program pinpoints exactly where your store is losing money most, and then, well, we help you fix it. The result increased conversions, AOV, and, of course, improve marketing efficiency. So if you want to scale your ecommerce brand profitably, we're the ones to call so go to splitbase.com today to request a proposal. All right, Chris, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here.

Chris Gallant  1:53  

Thank you for having me on. Yeah. So

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  1:54  

as you know, this podcast is really all about going deep in one topic and dissecting one key growth strategy, so our listeners can get most value right away. And just to provide people some context for how long has Chamberlain Coffee been around for?

Chris Gallant  2:10  

Yeah, we launched in the fall of 2020 so this will be our fourth year in business. Perfect.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  2:17  

And I believe you've been CEO almost all along, correct? Yeah, starting in

Chris Gallant  2:21  

2021 Yeah, for about three years, yeah. So I came on a little, a little under a year into the

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  2:26  

business, awesome. So one of the main things I wanted us to go over, obviously Chamberlain Coffee is a celebrity back brand, right? So it was launched by Emma, and now there is obviously some celebrity appeal to it, but obviously, I'm sure you're building the brand to be bigger than just one person, right? So I'd love to understand, you know, in your experience, what is the difference when you're scaling a celebrity back brand? What is the difference between scaling that type of brand and scaling a brand that isn't celebrity, celebrity back? Do you is it? Is it vastly different when it comes to marketing and growth? Yeah, I think you

Chris Gallant  3:02  

have a lot of built in awareness and a lot of built in engagement. If you start with the you know, talent led brand, especially with celebrity or talent who is highly engaged with their audience, as Emma is. And so what we see is right out of the gate, we have, you know, a lot of awareness, especially with our target consumer, which is the the Gen Z consumer. People know Emma, and therefore they know our brand, and they're engaged with her, and they engage with our brand. So you know, for example, if you look at engagement rates on most brands in the beverage space, they're under 1% where, you know, five to 7% so we have a really strong built in base to start off with. And so that's that's a really great starting point for any brand to be to start buildings that have that awareness already there, and then we can amplify that because of Emma's, Emma's presence, and you know, she's had our product on The Tonight Show. She's been featured on the cover of magazines with our product, and so we continue to expand our awareness that way over time. Ultimately, you've got to have a great product or people are coming back, right? So awareness buys you the first purchase from a consumer, right? The great product that buys you the repeat consumer. I've, you

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  4:16  

know, we've worked with a lot of celery back brands in the past, and what I've heard from a lot of them is, well, you know, having that celebrity face is great, but you know that can't only be your only channel of growth. You got to go beyond that as well. Otherwise it's not sustainable. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?

Chris Gallant  4:36  

I do agree, because you know, most celebrities have a target demographic, right? So we can go beyond that target demographic. We do that by a couple of means, like one is creating a product that is not even though our name is named after our namesake partner, right? And Emma with Chamberlain coffee, we create a brand with a big backstory behind it, with bright, beautiful colors, very. Differentiated from what's in the market. So we create a brand that can live on its own, and then we have to go through different marketing channels to try to reach a different audience. So we go, whether it's through social or through earned media, through billboards, through shelf displays in stores, we really seek to meet a different audience than what we already have built into the brand. Do

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  5:21  

you think having a celebrity face behind really is a cheat code to growth? Does it facilitate a lot entering into retail markets? Does it facilitate a lot your customer acquisition costs? Or, you know, do you still feel like every other DTC brand out there where it's like, oh my god, we gotta figure out our Facebook ads as well? That's also important. And, yeah, what's the importance that you give to other channels when you've got, you know, really massive one, which is the founder of the brand? Yeah, look, I

Chris Gallant  5:48  

don't know if it's a cheat code. It certainly gives us a good boost to start, right, right? But we, we have to, you know, for every channel era we're in, we have to engage in the same marketing tools as as everyone else, right? And so we still need to run no paid ads again to get outside of her core audience. You know, we still need to send out emails and SMS, just like any other brand when we go to retail. We need to think about things like off shelf displays. We need to think about promos, because we put out, you know, a ready to drink product, and someone walks through the store that isn't aware of our product, or maybe aware of Emma, like we need them to try it, so we have to promo the product and discount it to get them to sample it for the first time. So we really use the same suite of tools that all food and beverage brands use. We just have a bit of

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  6:40  

a head start. So you mentioned, you know, going outside your core audience, or I guess Emma's core audience, um, I'm curious at that point, right? Like, when I go through your website, on the product pages, there's a video of Emma explaining the products, and really beautiful website, by the way, I think the branding is totally on point, um, but when we, when we look at how you're utilizing, obviously, her name is in the brand. She's got some videos there. Where do you draw the line of, okay, this is too much of the brand. Is there such a line that exists? Is, you know, because not everybody will know eventually, who the founder of the brand is, right? So is there a risk to, you know, rely too much on Celebrity messaging.

Chris Gallant  7:24  

Yeah, look, I don't think there's a definitive set of rules we use, but, you know, we're, you know, we are not a brand that went out and hired somebody to represent us, right? We're a brand that was founded by her. I came on after she started it, right? And so we are telling the true story of the company, the true story of the founding of it. So for us, and I think for any brand that's founded by a talent or founded by anyone like I think it's important to tell that founder story there. Now, when we go to retail again, we have to do all the things that that normal brands do in terms of getting the product into hands of people. When we go to Amazon, we promote in this in the same way a lot of brands do. So yeah, I mean to answer your question, no, there's no definitive set of rules. I think we do what feels right to us. And because she started the company, she's still a massive part of the company, it's important to tell that story.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  8:15

Awesome. You mentioned story, and telling her story is important. And how she founded the brand. It's not just like a portfolio company with her name on it, right? Ultimately, and for anyone listening, I highly recommend you going to the site and actually looking at the story, because I think you guys tell it really well, right? There's a story about how Emma is a coffee snob, and that's what pushed her to create the brand, you know, for you, right? Like when, when you tell that story, ultimately, is that something that when it comes to retail, how do you still manage to tell that story? How do you still stand out when there's a million other coffee brands out there, and you know you're also going beyond Emma's name, is there anything? Because I know it's been pretty recent that you guys went retail, but you've obviously been successful at it. If you're now at over 10,000 stores. Yeah,

Chris Gallant  9:06  

we launched about a year, a year ago into retail, and yeah, it's a lot harder, it's a lot harder to tell any story at retail, because you have two seconds that somebody passes by your product on the shelf, and so you can employ tactics like off shelf displays. That's a huge help. You know, you can tell the brand story on the packaging. Ultimately, you've got to have some really eye catching packaging to get people to pull it off the shelf and take a look at it. And then we use tools, like we talked about, like sampling. We use a lot. We do a lot of work with Instacart, because so many people purchase via click and collect or delivery. But yeah, you have to use a whole suite of tools to try to grab intention in that like one or two seconds you have as consumers walk by you in the store.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  9:48  

So Chris, the brand's been around for almost four years now, but you've been retail for about a year. So what was that moment where you guys said, Oh, now is the time to go retail? As a DTC brand, what, what happened? What changed?

Chris Gallant  10:03

Yeah, I think for us, you know, we started during covid, when everyone was buying everything online. I think the realization we came to is as as covid, wom down, behaviors went back to normal. People wanted to start buying basket goods in a basket, right? And so nobody wanted, you know, 2530 subscriptions in their life to, you know, hair gel and toothpaste and coffee and or some people did, but by and large, people want to start buying their coffee back at the grocery store or on Amazon. So we started looking at expanding, you know, where we had our product for sale. And if people want to do their buying habits on Amazon, we need to, you know, or have their buying habits on Amazon or Amazon Fresh. We need to be there if people want to start buying their coffee at retail, we need to be there. And so that was the big, big driver for us. behaviors are returning to normal. People want to buy coffee at retail. Not every good, not everyone's going to buy everything online forever. So we need to start working with retail partners now. Retailers, at the same time, are starting to think, Okay, this new cohort of consumers Gen Z is is now graduating high school, graduating college, starting to buy groceries on their own. I need to bring them into my store. And I think it made a really nice marriage between what we were looking to do and the consumers that retailers were looking to get into their stores. Awesome.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  11:15  

Um, but you know, you guys, you guys, you guys, got to 10,000 stores pretty quickly. Obviously, you had that celebrity backing that helps. But is there anything you've learned along the way of, you know, what are the do's and don'ts? Maybe for a brand that's your size, that's been around for a little while, and now they're looking to get into retail, whether they have celebrity backing or not, you know, doesn't matter. But what are your top learnings from that experience so far?

Chris Gallant  11:42

Yeah, I think make sure you have a really good plan to drive velocity in place. Because velocity is key. Winning doors is great, but making sure it comes, it comes and gets pulled off the shelf is more important. So do you have the right, you know, social media plan? Do you have the right PR plan? Do you have the right product to get pulled off the shelf? Do you have enough funding? Do you have enough trade dollars to put against that, to do promos, to do shelf talkers, to do whatever it is that's needed to pull that product off the shelf

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  12:16

velocity? So you need to get those sales in retail stores in order for it to work out. Yes, but then you also have your own DTC store where you also want to get people to buy from. So you said you have to build a plan to get velocity. How do you do that? How do you decide where to spend, how to divide your attention? Because I know you know, generally, brands want to get as many customers as possible through their own stores, and they don't want to send people to Walmart's website, but at the same time, you know, you need to get those sales. So it ends up being a bit of a catch 22 so curious about how you guys approach it, yeah.

Chris Gallant  12:51  

I mean, look, we let consumers shop where they want to shop, right? And if it's on our store group, it's at Walmart, or if it's at Target, or other places are available, that's great. And then we need to support all of them. Now, there's absolutely cannibalization that happens across those because you can't expect all channels to continue to grow while you're expanding, you know, one rapidly. And so, you know, we look at supporting retail now, because, you know, I think for any, any food and beverage, although, you know, there's massive benefits of having, you know, DTC, you can test out new products. You can have a much stronger connection to the consumer. Ultimately, that you know, the path to profitability lies with retail, right because, on a fully loaded basis, especially with how difficult you know digital marketing is now, how inefficient it has become over the past couple of years. You know, the fully loaded margins are much better at retail. Yeah. So, you know, we look at that and say, like, how can we support our retail partners the best? Because ultimately, for us, our consumers want to, mostly want to shop there are our margins are better there. How can we, how can we support those partners the best to create a real long-standing business there. Now that then begs the question of, you know what? What becomes of DTC? What can we do that's fun there, that's different than retail. Can we offer limited time products? Can we do consumer testing? Can we build a better engagement platform? And those are, those are questions we're wrestling with now, as sort of that retail channel grows, as our Amazon channel grows, how do we offer something new, different, fun, exciting to consumers that want to have that connection with us on DTC? I don't have the answer for you today, but, but that's absolutely something we're working on.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  14:37  

Awesome. Now, I know we've only got a couple minutes left, but I'm curious, right? Like, obviously, there might be other operators of celebrity backed DTC brands. Is there anything you know when you think of how you approach this now you've been in your position for also almost four years, right? Is there any mistakes you wish you would have avoided, or. There on the flip side, right? We can also send the positive. Is there anything that you know you recommend, or any guidelines that you would recommend those operators to keep in mind that is vital when you run a celebrity back brain? Yeah,

Chris Gallant  15:12  

I mean, look, we've made hundreds of mistakes like any operators at any startup, right? And that's how you grow by learning, um, look, I think we, you know, a couple of things we talked about is like, really, be really thoughtful about your channel strategy as you grow. That's one, and that's that's important, not just for celebrity back brands, not just for stars, but for any brand. Be really thoughtful about your channel strategy should grow. Think about what you want to get out of each channel, whether it's margin, whether it's top line growth, whether it's ubiquity and sort of awareness, be really thoughtful there. I think the other thing is make sure you have the capital and funding to grow, whether that's equity capital, whether that's coming from margin, whether that's some sort of line of credit or debt funding. Make sure that you have the capital to grow and only grow at the speed that you have the capital for. I think it's another big one. And then the last is, you know, supply chain is key, right? And so have have a nimble supply chain that can be able to produce incredibly high-quality products at a reasonable margin as you grow and they can meet your capacity. And you're going to have to change that over time, right? You're going to have to start out with smaller players, and you're going to have to graduate to bigger players over time, but yeah, make sure your supply chain's in order. Chris, that was

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  16:25  

tremendous advice. Thank you so much. Now, everyone, we've been talking to Chris Gallant, who's the CEO of Chamberlain Coffee. And now Chris, so if people want to learn more about you, about the brand, where should they go? What should they do next?

Chris Gallant  16:37  

Easy, go to chamberlaincoffee.com. And across all social media. We're Chamberlain Coffee

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  16:41  

awesome. Well, Chris, thank you so much. All right, thank you. All right. Well, that's it for today's episode, and thank you so much for tuning in. Now, if you like what you've heard and you don't want to miss any of the new episodes that are about to come out, make sure you subscribe to the podcast and well, bonus points if you also leave a review in the iTunes Store or wherever you're listening to this. Now, if you're working on an ecommerce tour that does over a million dollars in revenue, and you need help with conversion optimization or landing pages, well, I've got some good news, because there's a pretty good chance we can help with that. Go to splitbase.com to learn more, or even to request a proposal. If you have any guest requests, questions or comments, tweet me @rpaulindaigle, and I'll be super happy to hear from you and again, thanks again for listening. This is Minds of Ecommerce.