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Good startup branding impacts CAC and conversion.

Focus on what the customer wants and put money into the details—a great product, a name with a story, thoughtful design and packaging, incredible customer support. Really care, and people will notice. #joyofspecs

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TL;DR Read time: 10 minutes

How to Brand a Retail Startup

Rivet & Sway was an online prescription eyewear boutique exclusively for women. Here’s how, in less than 3 years, we helped them cultivate a 92 Net Promoter Score from 16K customers and 25k orders on a $4.8M raise.

1. Spockhand

It always starts with the customer. In this case it was affluent women, ages 28-44, who wear glasses and care about looking stylish.

Through market research, informal focus groups and 1:1 interviews, we verified the most pressing problems facing bespectacled, busy women. Shopping for eyewear is stressful and inconvenient. Rivet & Sway made it as fun and easy as shopping for shoes or handbags by bringing the experience to the customer with a free home try-on model.

Identify what you stand for.

A defining element of the any size brand is the promise, or big idea. This is the single most important thing you stand for, the soul of your brand. Hence it should be emotional. For Rivet & Sway, it was Live Unapologetically.

Here’s a snippet of how we talked about the promise:

Rivet & Sway is about the woman who was kinda weird as a kid but grew up to be super smart and pretty cool. What makes her cool is that she has her own ideas—she’s creative, bookish, smart, casual and relatable. She’s been wearing glasses since she was a teenager.

Once we identified Live Unapologetically, the creative energy accelerated. When you nail your promise early on, you have a clear purpose and are more accountable to the brand. All of your decisions—product, customer service, marketing and hiring—get filtered through your brand lens.

We invested in brand strategy before our seed round, a commitment that led to developing a brand experience with a laser focus on our core audience. The results fueled our incredible customer service and accelerated brand loyalty.”
Sarah Bryar, CEO

Success Metrics

92 Net Promoter Score
98% Customer Satisfaction

2. Signature


The company incorporated with a placeholder name created by the co-founders—Project SeezIt, Inc. This is a common tactic for startups while they prove product-market fit. For beta testing the website, the co-founders choose the name to Optelle. Early feedback was unanimous—change the name.


Any successful naming project has specific criteria to guide decision making. Our criteria for this name was:

  • Must be able to acquire the .com domain name for a nominal cost ($9.99)
  • Must flex to accommodate a future male audience, should the company want to expand into a new market
  • Must tell a compelling story

To move fast on a budget, we used mind maps to produce a long list of words. (Mind mapping is a tool to jumpstart brainstorming.) With a long list of words to play with, we got creative with word blends, misspellings and compounds to form our long list of candidates.

From our long list, we whittled to our top 10 and pre-screened the names for availability and legal clearance. Of all the top names, Rivet & Sway stood out from the beginning. It met our criteria while being fun to say, deep with double-meaning and pre-loaded with emotion.

Truth Bomb

Truth bomb: The Rivet & Sway name cost about $10K. If you’re a startup founder, you’re probably thinking, “Holy #@%*!!!!”.

Honestly, that’s under fair market value for a consumer brand name. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding name pricing, but the reality is that it’s very time consuming to find a short, meaningful name for a consumer startup. The process requires the expertise of experienced namers who have backgrounds in subjects like linguists and creative writing. And it takes time. All not cheap. If you hire an agency like ours to name your company or product, expect to spend $15,000-25,000+ depending on your name’s criteria.

3. Facelesslady

For Rivet & Sway, the name drove the creative vision. From logo to web to packaging, our intent was to balance strength and femininity with a modern boutique aesthetic. A subtle color palette of black, white and coral allowed the products to shine.


a. Logo

Because this was a retail brand, the logo had to scale to work online and offline. We created a custom typeface and crafted the ampersand into a hidden, sideways pair of spectacles—a nod to how Rivet & Sway altered how women shop for eyewear.

b. Hand-lettering

How often do you see hand-lettering in any retail packaging? This approach reinforced the brand’s incredible level of care and service. Taking the time to illustrate copy added depth to the experience, like a handwritten thank-you note for a good friend.


c. Illustrations

We commissioned Toril Baekmark to draw a series of illustrations with both a light touch and an edge—feminine but certainly no fool. Each illustration was a vignette, a story within the story of our woman’s life.

See more of Toril’s work.

4. Thumbprint

Personalize the website to improve CAC and conversion.

The purpose of any retail website is to sell product. In this case, before the sale could be made, Rivet & Sway had to educate about a new way to shop, and send the potential customer the product to try on for free.

Getting the right frames into the Home Try On box was important for improving the conversion rates and lowering customer acquisition costs (CAC). The linchpin in that scenario? The Rivet & Sway personal stylists.

Before the customer would start shopping, they’d take a quick quiz to determine their size and style profile. This data was reviewed by a personal stylist trained in the collection and to fit eyewear, who would suggest personalized frame recommendations by email. Once the customer received the Home Try-On kit with the frames, the stylists would often get on Skype to review for fit.


Success Metrics

The personal stylists delivered 8x conversion rates

Interestingly, Rivet & Sway was the first online retailer to apply personal styling to eyewear. And almost everyone at the company did personal stylist duty at some point in their tenure.

5. Box

We knew our woman was busy, and often felt under-appreciated, so we treated her to a gift. Like a truffle that intensifies as it melts, every layer of the Rivet & Sway packaging system was meant to deepen the experience. The catch was a shockingly low per-unit budget on the packaging system. How do you pull off luxury with so little?

This is where the name proved invaluable to the creative process. We sourced the cheapest of cheap materials—chipboard and rivets. And we made the internal glasses boxes reusable and ridged so it stands up to shipping. That budget concession allowed us to make the packaging feel luxurious with fancier touches like foil stamping, die cuts and waxed string.

We also engineered the packaging system to pull double duty, both to make budget and address the customer’s need for convenience.

a. The Home Try-On Kit

Inspired by the sealing system from Netflix’s mailer envelopes, this box resealed easily for mailing via USPS. No extra taping or additional errands to make returns.


b. The Purchase Package

This piece was fashioned to be a shipping device and a carrying case. The microfiber pouch protected the specs in transit and could be used to clean the glasses.


Both packages were
100% recyclable

A well-crafted brand is powerful. Your brand is working when your customers are taking pictures of the packaging and sharing it on Instagram.”
Sarah Bryar, CEO

6. Cs Rivetandsway Section Icon Femme Fatale

Voice is an under utilized touch point in startup branding. Rivet & Sway invested in copywriting and product naming strategy from the beginning, and was rigorous about respecting women’s time and intelligence.

Encouraging and playful, the copy balanced straight up how-tos and product details with cultural references from sources like Seinfeld and The Joy of Sex. Customers noticed.


If you want to be interesting, hire a talented copywriter so you get copy like this:

What’s up with our name?

Let’s start with “rivet.” Remember Rosie the Riveter? She was the original modern woman who fearlessly went after what she wanted (and damn that girl had flex). Glasses have rivets. They’re fasteners—tough, durable pieces that connect two parts. Plus, rivet is a commanding verb that says, “I dare you to look away.”

As for the other half, “sway” moves side to side with an easy swagger. A lady with sway most certainly uses style to her advantage. She’s a mover and shaker who wields her power to make things happen and be who she wants to be.

There are many ways to move through life. Why not Rivet & Sway?

7. Mic

Influencer marketing is a hot topic for all companies. Influencers can be expensive and difficult to work with. Our experience proved effective, and even illuminating, because of the brand.

There were three key moments in our influencer development that led to dramatic business results.

Joy Cho

1. Joy Cho, Oh Joy!

This was our big break. A confession, we stalked Joy for months before we made our move, reading her blog and pinning her pins (she has 13M+ followers). We negotiated a sweetheart deal to have Joy feature our products on her site, offer a discount to her readers and run a giveaway. This campaign drove the majority of site traffic and revenue while in market (approximately 3 weeks).

2. The Art of Self Presentation Event with Go Mighty, Crave and Verily

This event moved the brand to a bigger stage. We worked with Go Mighty to sponsor women’s life goals and hosted an event in the Rivet & Sway office that included a panel of local business leaders discussing how they present themselves online. Speakers included Cass LaValle of Coco + Kelly, Shauna Causey, Brittany Gibbons of Brittany Herself and Kristen Knight, CEO of Filter Talent. To increase participation, we pulled in Melody Biringer, CEO of the CRAVE Company (with a large following), and promoted the event on Verily Magazine. The campaign drove 30% of the company’s revenue for the month it ran.

Go Mighty
Erin Loechner

3. Erin Loechner, Design for Mankind

We collaborated with Erin on the product naming strategy for the “Role Playing” Collection, hired her to style product vignettes for use in social media marketing, and commissioned two blog posts about the collaboration (no doubt some of the most poetic writing on the roles women play). The traffic and revenue results were lower than Joy’s, but the street cred we earned from working with an influencer of Erin’s caliber (who’s also an HGTV star) extended our brand awareness. And there could not be a more pleasant woman on Earth to Skype with about product and photoshoot details.

Truth Bomb

Before Joy Cho was a superstar designer for Target and the Land of Nod, we paid her $5,000 for a content marketing campaign. It included lifestyle photography, a blog post with a giveaway and use of her photos in an email campaign.

Today she likely charges 3-4X this amount for this type of integrated campaign. She worked with us because she loved the brand and how effortlessly the product fit into her lifestyle.

8. Balloon

Extend the experience offline.

To help raise a series A round, we worked with the Rivet & Sway team to develop the physical expression of their offline strategy—the pop-up shop. The plan was to prototype and test a unit that could hold the entire collection and support a personal stylist in fitting and ordering frames for customers.


Why a tricycle? Again, the brand. Cool girls ride bikes because it makes them feel free and alive. You see things differently from a bicycle. We made it a tricycle to support the weight of the case work. It’s eye-catching, right? And makes you want to hop in that saddle.

Complicating the challenge was a 2.5 month design-build deadline—from scratch—to hit the Q4 holiday sales surge. The prototype also had to be conceptualized to fabricate additional tricycles at a reduced cost for 25 additional units.

This tricycle prototype cost $75K to design and manufacture.

Shit no one else will tell you:

• The value of the Rivet & Sway brand strategy work amounted to about 4% of the company’s seed funding. Some startup founders and investors think branding is “fluff.” Yet the proof is in this story that early branding pays of in greater customer loyalty and the ability to make smart decisions for the brand that drive down CAC and improve conversion over time.

• Discounts drove most of Rivet & Sway’s website traffic. The lesson is that everyone loves a deal. This is a slippery slope when you have a premium brand strategy. When you get used to the traffic and sales to hit your monthly and quarterly numbers, it’s nearly impossible to stop discounting without impacting brand perception.

• If influencers love your brand, you can often negotiate discounted rates to work with them. The key is that you have to fit into their lifestyle with an aligned brand promise. And don’t send a PR intern to do the negotiations for you. Do your research and call personally.

• Despite the CAC declining from $355 to $146, the company just couldn’t get the CAC low enough to be sustainable. When Rivet & Sway did not get Series A funding, product inventory was sold to You can still order a pair.