Nicole Compen is the founder of Raye, a traveling showcase of emerging food, drink, and wellness brands championing natural ingredients and quality design. Raye gives consumers and industry leaders alike an opportunity to discover a curated range of new brands, often seen in-store for the very first time. We sat down with Nicole to get her take on how she identifies and supports emerging and innovative brands in the better-for-you and wellness space.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey that led you to building Raye.
I am originally from the Netherlands and studied in Belgium. I received my masters degree in strategic communication in 2015. Following graduation, I moved to New York for a couple months, then found my way to London. In 2018, I began working for a hospitality group, Farmstand, that focused on healthy lunch and breakfast services. It was here that I discovered my passion for wellness brands and began doing research on how food can affect and support your body in many ways from allergies to energy levels. I wanted to trial new products that I was seeing on Instagram but did not want to pay shipping fees or purchase the items in bulk. I realized there is an untapped opportunity to shop these products on-shelf and I started thinking about building my own physical space to do brand activation. Physical stores have a lot of overhead and you have to work with more established brands that have the budget, so I decided to bring in multiple brands from the same industry into the space so they can share the cost. In 2019, I joined a luxury coffee company in London, Watchhouse. Their founder shared my vision for Raye and supported me in working part-time to build Edition 1 which was launched in June 2021 with about 54 brands. Since then, we have grown significantly, with Edition 3 hosting just over 100 brands, and our latest Edition 04 on Regent Street in London was a collaboration with our first ever partner brand Patch Plants. Edition 05 to follow soon.
Q: What is your approach to Raye as a brand?
We make every edition unique because it is a way to continue to spark curiosity and do something different. We also adjust our offerings to fit each geographic area in which we host a pop-up. The name Raye represents a ray of sunshine which shines its light on brands.
Q: Who are your consumers?
Our consumers are predominantly women in their mid-20s to mid-30s. The products we showcase are higher in value and our audience is focused on health and well-being.
Q: What is your approach to the retail experience?
Our store experience is about discovery and tapping into the curiosity of consumers. We want to educate consumers as soon as they walk in the door and tell the story of each brand and why it went to market. Consumers tend to relate to the people behind each brand, so each product on our shelves is stocked next to an information card.
Q: What about a brand first draws you in?
Packaging design. I always explain to the brands we work with that if their packaging is not strong, a consumer is not going to pick it up and be curious to learn more. Brands should also have a strong brand story and be clear on their benefits and reasons for launching the brand.
Q: How do you select the brands you work with?
We typically source our brands through Instagram. We also have ongoing relationships with brands that are developing new product lines. When we start communicating with a brand, we always want to understand why their product is unique and why they created it. A number of the brands that launch with us have never been on-shelf before. Currently, we predominantly focus on UK brands so if consumers like the product, it is easily accessible for them to repurchase in the future.
Q: What is your vision for Raye?
Raye is about brand awareness for emerging brands. We are a retail space, but beyond that we host a range of activations and event programming. Each edition kicks off with a founder’s launch event where founders get to see the space and connect with each other. It is a supportive, welcome community where founders can share their knowledge. We then host press and influencer events, panel events which are open to the public and industry, and focus group sessions.
In addition to general consumers, we invite buyers and investment firms into the store. We want retailers to know we are at the forefront of discovering innovative brands. Our goal is to be the middle-man connecting brands to retailers.
Each edition is opened in a different area of London to collect data about how consumers connect with our space. Our hope is to eventually establish a permanent location based on what we find works during each edition. We’d like to also expand the pop-ups outside of the U.K.