Interior designer Benita Goldblatt and business consultant Jess Diehl saw an opportunity in 2012 to provide home decor items made from organic cotton, without what might be called “that special organic look”.
Designers certainly could find cotton products that weren’t grown with eco-damaging fertilizers and pesticides, but the palettes were limited. “Organic” too often translated to “dull”, which is partly what prompted the duo to launch Zestt in 2013.
“We wanted Zestt to be an organic and artisan style company,” Diehl says. “If you look at a lot of the organic textiles out there, they’re brown and kind of drab, and we wanted to offer something with life, something that catches your eye and brings happiness into your home.”
That instinct proved to have instant market traction. Zestt began retailing Goldblatt’s vibrant designs of everything from baby blankets to kitchen linen to pillows and bedding, but demand for the product quickly shifted Zestt into a combination of direct-to-consumer and wholesale through more than 450 trading partners that regularly stock their products.
“Our launch into wholesale was at the Atlanta Home and Gift Show. That was where we got our first run of stockists, and we had a great response in 2014,” says Diehl. “Not only was that our first experience bringing retailers on board, but the excitement that we got from them about what we were doing solidified it for us that this was the right direction.”
Further confirmation came two months later when they emailed a buyer from the department store chain, Nordstrom.
“We heard back within 24 hours,” Diehl says. “I don’t think we were expecting a response like that. That was a big win for us in those first few months of wholesaling.”
Zestt has experienced 600% growth since that time, selling through the likes of Nordstrom (in-store and online) among other big retailers such as All Modern, Magnolia Market and Ballard Designs, in addition to the hundreds of other retailers across North America. The company also sells online using Shopify, with direct-to-consumer revenue representing about 5% of total sales.
“Revenue-wise, we’re expecting continued growth through 2019 and are currently outpacing our projections.”
Diehl and Goldblatt have known each other for years. They were friends growing up in central Pennsylvania, but their paths diverged. Goldblatt found success as a licensed interior designer, while Diehl garnered great expertise in business development with the consulting firm she started in 2010.
It turned out their creative and business backgrounds have meshed nicely. “Home decor was not at all my background,” Diehl says. “Benita designs everything and for me it was the idea of working through this manufacturing and importing process, being able to look through the whole supply chain process and work with artisans around the globe. That was what really excited me. The ability to connect that with Benita’s designs and bring them to market, that was what got me on board.”
Zestt produces two catalogues a year, with seasonal and regular core products. They begin the sampling process six months ahead of a season, partner with five factories and artisan groups, mostly in India, and begin production runs 35 to 90 days prior to shipping to market.
Products are shipped to a company-owned facility in the US, from where Zestt distributes them to wholesale trading partners, with direct control over optional packaging, such as branded packing slips for some trading partners, and shipments packed with marketing literature.
Built-in EDI saves time and money
Diehl says the company has gone through its fair share of inventory management growing pains, which made life difficult at times, especially as Zestt changes its business focus from revenue growth to profitability.
“We were working with a couple different software programs,” Diehl says. “We had something for inventory, something for invoicing, and most of our projection planning was done within spreadsheets.”
Even maturing apparel companies have difficulty predicting seasonal demand. Spreadsheets don’t make that easier. So Zestt needed an inventory management solution that facilitated demand planning and integrated easily with its accounting solution.
“We’d previously tried using an ERP and doing accounting in-house,” says Diehl. “That’s great if you can get things integrated but sometimes these things just aren’t a ‘do-it-all’ tool. For us, Cin7 just made it so much easier to view our accounts in Quickbooks and to manage our processes. We still wanted all the things that were in our ERP that helped us manage our orders and inventory, but we needed that information in Quickbooks in realtime and that’s what prompted us to look at Cin7.”
Additionally, Zestt’s ongoing partnership with Nordstrom made EDI connectivity a significant factor in selecting Cin7. Zestt signed on in early 2016 and added EDI connectivity later in the year. Diehl says baked-in EDI has eliminated the monthly fee for transactions charged by its former third-party EDI partner and eliminated the need for manual data entry between inventory and EDI systems.
The solution has also made demand planning easier, as well as selling stock on-the-fly and adjusting purchase orders with suppliers.
“We’ve had situations before where we perhaps weren’t realizing until something came in and we’re getting ready to ship it that we were short by ten to 20 pieces,” says Diehl. “Something we really love about Cin7 is being able to sit down and say, ‘Here’s what we have incoming, here’s where we’re working from a purchase order standpoint, and here’s where the sales orders are coming out’. As we’re doing our pre-selling, we understand how those things are meshing.”
Diehl says Zestt hasn’t worked out the savings in terms of work hours, but with a small team of four on staff, every minute counts.
“For us to have a system that automatically pulls reports without having to have someone sit down in Excel and put the data together, having an easy way to figure out what has or hasn’t shipped, knowing where stock levels are, I think for us all that has been really attractive.”