E-commerce Brand Aggregators Are All the Rage; Here's One That Stands Out
Growve specializes in acquiring, operating and growing world-class brands in the active lifestyle, beauty and personal care, dietary supplement, health and lifestyle foods, home and leisure, and pet care and nutrition verticals
Bringing brands to life has worked out well for some of the biggest names in American business. Think of Ford and its rumbling assembly lines from Mustang to F-Series; Procter and Gamble’s household names from Pampers to Tide to Crest; Marriott International with 7,000-plus properties pampering travelers across 131 countries and territories; and Clive Davis as ageless aegis to iconic artists from Whitney Houston to Aretha Franklin to Billy Joel
Meet Growve, a company for our times where any entrepreneur with a passion and a sound revenue model has a chance to partner within 60 days and be part of a stunning trajectory of success. “We bring brands to life. Let us invest in yours.” That’s the company tagline and a rallying cry that is proving irresistible in 2021. As unicorns become increasingly common in fintech circles these days, thoughts of decacorn status drive this brand aggregator founded by Brian Baer and Matt Newman and headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Growve specializes in acquiring, operating and growing world-class brands in the active lifestyle, beauty and personal care, dietary supplement, health and lifestyle foods, home and leisure, and pet care and nutrition verticals. Its team of 500-plus derives its value from aggregating brands and driving growth through in-house expertise in marketplace management, digital marketing, creative services, innovation, distribution, retail sales, manufacturing, supply chain management, regulatory and accounting. The company’s bourgeoning portfolio includes 25-plus brands and thousands of unique products resulting in over $450 million revenue and counting.
“This has been a blockbuster year for e-commerce brand aggregators, and it will be crucial to differentiate yourself as the field inevitably narrows to the strongest and smartest,” Baer said. “At Growve, we have a proven track record and a diverse business model that separate us from the pack in many ways. If you’re a brand seller looking for an exit strategy, you know that Growve has grown profits at virtually every brand we’ve acquired, you know that we put your products everywhere through omnichannel reach, and you know that you can stay on with Growve and roll equity for a much bigger picture. It’s been a remarkable year, but we’re still just getting started and we’ll be announcing more funding news in the near future.”
Amazon aggregators are all the rage in 2021, with story after story of mom-and-pop brands riding the digital behemoth’s coattails and raking in millions by ranking high in categories ranging from charcuterie boards to surfboards. Many of those sellers, enjoying sudden leverage and shopping around for a buyout, are being snapped up by well-funded aggregators who add the revenue to their bottom line and send those newly minted millionaires off to greener pastures with a golden ticket and a pat on the back.
Growve has power backing as well, with a recent $175 million funding announcement and a major debt ceiling expansion it expects to announce soon. Truist Bank, Compeer Financial, Wells Fargo, First Horizon Bank, JPMorgan Chase and Co., Synovus Bank, South State Bank, Atlantic Capital Bank, HSBC Bank USA, and Seaside Bank and Trust have all contributed to the financing. Palm Beach Capital made a minority stake in the company, sparking a steady rollout of fintech buzz.
But here is where Growve execs say the company differentiates itself in many ways from other leaders like Thrasio, Perch and Heyday in the red-hot aggregator space:
With manufacturing and packaging facilities across the nation, and with a retail dream team experienced in big sales successes, Growve goes far beyond Amazon. Its platform diversity is an important strength and a fundamental that investors love.
Growve is an Amazon/e-commerce marketplace operator and omnichannel marketer that helps businesses expand into retail and direct-to-consumer channels (DTC). If you hit it big on Amazon or Shopify, this company is uniquely positioned to take your products and scale the revenue model for additional placement on supermarket shelves and wherever customers live.
Consider the launch success of Fruily, the company’s own gummy vitamin brand. Everything was built in-house, and a national sales team helped ensure it is widely available to families across North America. These gummies are certified organic “all fruit, no junk”: making it a revolutionary player in a crowded field of gummy-makers. Growve designed, produced and sold Fruily in-house this past spring, negotiating an exclusive deal with the IP holder, now a division of Dupont. Mom-approved, it won back-to-back Buyer's Choice Awards from food, pharmacy, mass and specialty shops for the most creative new product, and in addition to Amazon and all major digital marketplaces, it is available in more than 15,000 retail locations like Target, Kroger, CVS, Rite Aid, Sprouts and, coming soon, Sam’s Club stores nationwide. That is an appealing story for a brand wanting to go all the way.
The Fruily story shows another key differentiator that makes Growve so appealing. Unlike other aggregators, the company manufactures some of its products, including gummies like Fruily as well as powder products for a long list of nutritional supplements. Growve has packaging plants in Illinois and Wisconsin, manufacturing facilities located in Utah and Minnesota, and sales/marketing, creative studio and distribution centers in Utah and Florida. It can develop its own brands or acquire one and fortify it through new manufacturing capabilities.
Focus, Focus, Focus
If you think about the company’s own name, consider a grove of orange trees or seasonal pines. The planter has a specialization there that makes it all work, as opposed to a grove crowded with orange trees, peach trees, apple trees and pines. Too much to take care of, too inefficient. Growve has a true business grove. The company focuses on building and acquiring brands in health, home and lifestyle categories, optimizing their Amazon results, then implementing any omnichannel marketing and distribution strategy as appropriate.
“Rather than be category agnostic like most other aggregators, we focus on wellness, beauty and lifestyle because frankly that’s where our team is most experienced, they are high-growth categories, and we know our ability to drive impressive growth that way,” Growve CEO Dave Bunch said. “This focus lets us have control over regulatory and quality, and it gives us a cross-promotional synergy in marketing numerous brands across multiple channels to common consumer profiles.”
Whether it's nutritional supplements, healthy meals, personal care, beauty, pet care or household products, Growve’s focus is helping to further establish brands for a better, happier living.
Rolling Equity Program
Another key difference-maker is what Growve does with all those entrepreneurs once a deal happens: practically nothing. Growve’s strategy enables founders and sellers to stay on and roll equity into their brand. It will take a majority position in whatever company it acquires, but the entrepreneur is both paid and incentivized to keep reaching for more.
“That’s a unique approach if you look around at other aggregators,” said Newman, whose own experience starting top Amazon brands has exemplified Growve’s overall expertise in identifying acquisition targets. “It became apparent to us that we can bring founders along with us and contribute to our overall growth strategy. They are about the brand, and the founder will be able to get a higher multiple upon exit being a part of Growve’s platform versus being their own.”
Vertical Integration of Shared Services
One of Growve’s key competitive advantages is its integrated shared services operation, which enables acquired companies or active clients to benefit from a soup-to-nuts package that is both reliable and comprehensive in building omnichannel brands. Growve’s focus allows it to vertically integrate in areas where they can have the most impact on the business, from supply chain to compliance to distribution and logistics.
“This omnichannel, integrated shared services platform makes us truly unique and is a big separator for us,” Bunch said. “We’re among the foremost Amazon and e-commerce operators with hundreds of millions in revenue annually. Our creative services feature a world-class design team that can make your brand and products stand out in so many ways, from ideation to creation. Our national retail sales force can access all important retail accounts to offer our brands key expansion opportunities. The digital marketing team drives awareness and leads, and it optimizes conversion to scale our marketing initiatives along every stage of the funnel. It’s an operation you can’t just go out and replicate.”
Growve’s net sales have doubled in the last two years, and adjusted EBITDA has more than tripled. In the last year, it added a private equity partner and closed the aforementioned $175 million bank syndication to support acquisitions and other expansion plans, with a debt ceiling expansion expected to be announced soon.
The company’s plans for the 2021-22 Fiscal Year are to continue to buy and collaborate with businesses that fall within one of its six strategic verticals: active nutrition, beauty and personal care, dietary supplements, health and lifestyle foods, home and leisure, and pet care and nutrition.
“We have a robust pipeline of target companies and several under term sheet that will close within the next 12 weeks,” Bunch stated recently to Yahoo Finance. “In addition to our dominant footprint domestically, we will continue to expand into international markets and add to our existing teams in Europe and Asia.”
Bunch, who has an M.B.A. from Brigham Young University and a B.S. in Finance from Utah State, served as a key executive at Nutraceutical for 21 years. There, he said he helped the company achieve a 3x return on invested capital and a $600 million value. Bunch oversaw M&A activities and was a part of more than 50 acquisitions. He also oversaw sales and a team of 150
employees that helped the company achieve its best organic sales increase in over a decade.Now Bunch oversees a team that is ever-growing and keeping it fun and rewarding along the way. Growve is routinely recognized as one of the Great Places to Work, in part through quarterly "Growve Gives" campaigns and company-sponsored health and team activities. Employees exhibit servant leadership traits such as enthusiasm, honesty, respect, inventiveness and collaboration.
It is an atmosphere fostered by Baer and Newman as they created and grew an operation of wildly successful Amazon brands that gradually grew into something far more -- omnichannel, global and ready to chat with that next aspiring success story. Growve found itself in the right place at the right time, and some of the most popular brands in our daily lives are lining up to be part of whatever comes next.