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10 April 2024

Stories & Ink: How DTC design gets ready for retail

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Transitioning from a pure DTC business to a retail brand is a major milestone.

For brands who make it part of their business plan, securing supply contracts with retailers is a major shift, energising the business and promoting it to a whole new audience.

But it also presents immediate design challenges. Aside from having to upscale production, the difference between packaging design for online and retail sales is nuanced, but significant. Without an engaging website to highlight features, evidence benefits and tell the story, the packaging has to do all the heavy lifting on its own.

And for brands built on telling a compelling story, that’s a significant weight.

Tattoo skincare brand Stories & Ink faced just such a challenge. Designed and launched as a UK-centric DTC brand by skincare expert Stu Jolley and Robot Food Founder and Executive Creative Director Simon Forster, it’s recently been listed for launch in Target stores across the USA and in Superdrug outlets in the UK. On top of that, it’s also opening up to wholesale distribution to tattoo studios on both sides of the Atlantic – reinforcing a key connection to the brand story.

So how exactly does a packaging update meet a challenge on this scale?

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A DTC Success Story

Digital brand world and social platforms are a rich canvas for storytelling. Visuals, videos, testimonials, content and emotive copy can create a deep connection with the audience, cultivating brand loyalty by pulling on emotional levers.

This layering of touch points enables brands to communicate complex product information, but also speak to our innermost desires - to feel seen, heard and to belong.

In the DTC space packaging goes beyond being a protective shell. It leaves a lasting impression that extends beyond the moment of unboxing. It serves as an extension of the brand's digital narrative, contributing to the overall experience of the product.

A good example of this is Beauty Pie. The minimalist aesthetic, the tactility and collectibility of the products, the luxurious tissue paper that screams premium, the ownership of occasionality (“It’s a Pie Day”), the prompts to share the experience on social media – it all leads to a satisfying unboxing experience that places the consumer at the centre, feeling thoroughly indulged.

Beauty Pie

The Stories & Ink brand leant heavily on creating an immersive experience around the product that was community driven. It spoke to a specific audience, giving them a spotlight in a category where they were previously underrepresented.

As an extension of that experience, where the community drives the brand, the DTC packaging was therefore considered and understated.

The Retail Challenge

Retail packaging needs to convey a wealth of information while maintaining a clean and visually appealing aesthetic. Every element, from imagery to text, needs to contribute to the overall narrative, so that the consumer can quickly grasp the essence of the product.

It's about making the packaging a strategic tool that guides the consumer through the purchasing decision, while allowing for expansion of the product range. The pack is not merely a vessel, but a dynamic storyteller that adapts its narrative based on the channel it occupies.

Stories & Ink needed its retail packaging to firmly establish its place in the market and communicate those all-important trust signals that a new brand – as far as the average Target customer is concerned – needs. They wanted shelf-ready designs with aesthetic appeal and a strategic layout to help customers navigate the ranges.

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The Redesign

Fundamental to the redesign was preserving everything that had made the brand so popular, but adding that extra layer of retail functionality. “Designing for retail always provides its own set of challenges,” explains Robot Food Senior Designer Craig Lindsay.

“Our work was about keeping the aesthetic that people know and love, but strengthening our assets and making our benefits clear so the packs stand out and are instantly gettable on shelf.”

Senior Designer

RF Portraits 2022 Craig

Stories & Ink deliberately occupies a specific niche in skincare, so key to standing out was displaying each product's USPs prominently, using the sides of the pack for maximum impact. Annotated callouts on key ingredients provide a quick and informative snapshot, helping customers make informed choices, while use of colour helps them navigate the ranges.

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Another key decision was to include actual imagery of each product on the packaging, allowing consumers to visually connect with the product and see its texture. This reflects an increasing demand for transparency in retail, where consumers seek authenticity and a better understanding of the product before they buy.

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“We love the new look,” says Jolley. “Robot Food’s work keeps the aesthetic of the beautiful brand our customers connected with in the first place, but they manage to convey a lot more information. We’re still bold in our comms, we still tell our brand story and invite people into the experience, but now we also get down into the details that help customers make the right choice.

“Making the leap from being a pure DTC brand to selling across web, retail and wholesale is huge for us. We couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity, and key to that is knowing our retail packaging is fit for any shelf, ready to tell the same story and make the same impact with customers that our DTC experience does.”

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Need help getting your brand ready for retail? Get in touch.