I recently sat down with Paula Belatti, co-founder of Clove, to discuss her journey building a specialized footwear brand for healthcare professionals. We dove into Clove's origin story, product development process, marketing strategies, and future plans. Paula shared valuable insights on customer-driven innovation, building brand loyalty, and expanding beyond a niche market.

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The Spark Behind Clove

Clove was born from a personal connection to healthcare workers' needs. Paula explains:

"My sister is a pharmacist and growing up, I remember I was in high school and she had just started working and she would come home after these long shifts in the pharmacy where she's standing 10, 12 hours and, you know, walking 10, 15,000 steps and her feet would be so sore at the end of the day."

This firsthand experience, combined with her co-founder's wife's struggles finding comfortable shoes as a nurse, led them to spot a gap in the market.

Research-Driven Product Development

Clove's approach to product development is deeply rooted in customer research. Paula describes their process:

"We did a massive survey and put it up on Facebook and promoted it to try and get people to click. I think we had three or four hundred responses. It was basically like, tell us about your existing footwear, what's the most important thing for you as a healthcare worker?"

This data-driven approach informed key design decisions, from material choices to specific features like a tongue-less construction and non-slip outsoles.

Building Brand Awareness

Early on, Clove leveraged PR to build brand awareness. Paula highlights a key moment:

"One of the very first articles that was written about us was Fast Company and they put us an article that mentioned also Crocs and Allbirds. We went in person and met with Liz, who is the journalist, and had this really amazing conversation with her about what are the unique challenges of healthcare footwear and all this detail about us and who we were."

This press coverage, combined with word-of-mouth marketing among healthcare workers, helped fuel Clove's initial growth.

Cultivating Customer Relationships

Clove has built a strong emotional connection with its audience by authentically representing healthcare workers. Paula explains:

"We only use real healthcare workers in our photo shoots, right? We are very thoughtful about what we put out in our social channels and our advertising, knowing that we wanna tell the real story of what it means to be a healthcare worker."

This approach has resonated strongly with their target audience.

Customer-Driven Innovation

Clove places a huge emphasis on customer feedback. Paula shares:

"We are obsessed with customer insights. I mentioned we're very data driven. We have an entire customer insights function. So there's literally dedicated employees whose entire job it is just talk to customers."

This feedback loop has led to numerous product improvements and new features.

Balancing Style and Functionality

While functionality is paramount, Clove also prioritizes style. Paula notes:

"While the functionality is like the most important thing, I think we've always thought of it also as a fashion brand, as bringing design thinking and style to what is a functional product."

This focus on aesthetics helps healthcare workers express their personalities in uniform-heavy environments.

Expanding Beyond the Niche

Clove is now exploring ways to broaden its audience. Paula explains:

"As we kind of head into this next year, one of our kind of strategic goals has been sort of rolling out some channel diversification. So we've just started now to kind of enter into wholesale, knowing that our customer health, our healthcare customers accessing our product there, but also, you know, there's kind of a broader audience there as well."

This expansion presents both opportunities and challenges for the brand.

Collaborations and Partnerships

Clove has found success through strategic collaborations. Paula shares a recent win:

"We just did a collaboration with Owala, which is a water bottle company, and that went over like gangbusters. It was crazy. We got so much traffic to the site. It was like Black Friday level of traffic."

These partnerships help Clove reach new audiences while staying true to their core customer base.

Lessons Learned

Reflecting on her entrepreneurial journey, Paula offers this insight:

"The thing I wish I would have known is that you're not always going to have the right answers or necessarily know where to find them... It's your job as an entrepreneur to kind of trust your gut, right? Go out, do the research, talk to people, get the advice, but then at the end of the day, you're the one that has to make the call."

This willingness to embrace uncertainty has been key to Clove's success.

Current Challenges and Priorities

Paula identifies two main focus areas for Clove:

"Making sure that our wholesale rollout goes smoothly, which so far it has. I mean, it's very different servicing kind of B2B than it is a consumer."

"Figuring out how we talk to a broader audience... As you're kind of transitioning from more of a niche into more of a broad market, it's really focusing on, well, what is the value that we bring?"

Navigating these challenges will be crucial for Clove's continued growth.

Clove's success stems from their deep understanding of their core customer, commitment to quality, and willingness to evolve. As they expand beyond their healthcare niche, it will be exciting to see how Clove's unique blend of style and function resonates with a broader audience.

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