We sat down for an interview with Chris Breen, Head of Partnerships at Public Goods, which he often describes as a gentle way to say “Head of Sales.” Before joining Public Goods, Chris was at Resy during the acquisition of Reserve and before AMEX acquired the company. As the first partnerships hire at Public Goods, Chris was tasked with growing and scaling the entire department. Since just 2019, the team has grown to 10 members (and counting) and has doubled Sales year over year. Chris has led the team to forge partnerships primarily in the hospitality industry as well as in retail. Public Goods currently has more than 750 partners buying from them directly and over 1,000 with the help of marketplaces.
What is the origin story behind Public Goods?
Public Goods was founded by Morgan Hirsh in 2017, having been initially named “Morgans,” followed by “Don’t Run Out.” It was at this time the value proposition of a membership-based DTC store was formed. Public Goods would help consumers avoid dependence on running out of stores, ultimately facing the headache of too many product options. Not to mention untrustworthy options.
The original company pillars of simplicity, sustainability, and affordability drive our product line expansion to date. However, we found ourselves being considered a design-centric company somewhere along the way, thanks to our meticulous product development process led by our Co-founder Michael Ferchak. After initial success being in the top .2% of all Kickstarter campaigns, Public Goods has since raised millions of dollars in funding from the 500 Startups accelerator, Yes VC, Listen, and L Catterton.
How did you end up working for Public Goods?
I ended up at Public Goods because of the Kickstarter campaign. I had left Resy discouraged at the lack of input I could have at that stage; they had already experienced their growth phase, and I was a mere puzzle piece in the revenue-driving aspect of the business.
Luckily, my ego carried me out the door, and I spent my savings to force an early career pivot. I quickly realized that consumer products were my focus; tools like Shopify felt so natural and intuitive. Ultimately after a few failed drop-shipping stores and needing a steady income, I decided to seek an e-commerce startup on the ground floor. Public Goods was on Kickstarter and Indiegogo at the time, and after some pestering, I got my foot in the door.
Public Goods had their first significant hospitality partner (Zeus Living) and a few other small ones already. When I joined, the goal was simple; grow this sales channel. Ultimately I spent about a year closing deals myself before focusing my energy on hiring and management, which changed B2B as a mere sales channel into a separate department.
Public Goods is known for its sleek and clean design that works with every vibe. Where did the idea for the beautiful and straightforward branding come from?
It’s a mutual distaste we all share for a variety of marginally different items and drugstore shelves filled with an overwhelming selection of products gleaming for attention. Ultimately we feel this does the act of purchasing essentials overly complicated for consumers.
I’m a firm believer that there is an emotional connection inherent in the items we bring into our lives. When you deliver products that are quality and beautiful, you also provide trust and value. It’s remarkable when our customers allow us to create new products in new categories and continue to support category expansion by trying new items.
Public Goods is also known for their sustainability. Where and how do you source your products, and what makes them so great?
Sustainability is something that we all care about deeply and are in active pursuit of improvement. There is no end destination in sustainability; you can’t draw a line in the sand, but progress can be achieved with time and attention.
We’ve all taken an interest in learning about the truths of sustainability through product materials and packaging. And we’ve been fortunate enough to meet with academics and just now starting to work with Pure Strategies, who is helping us form our roadmap. Our goal is to figure out the science and stick to it, not just act based on the marketing benefits. For example, the consumer perception versus the reality when considering switching to aluminum products. I give this attention because of the amount of energy it takes to create virgin aluminum, therefore; not a perfect solution. Or glass, for example; it isn’t easy to ship (requires more packaging) and is heavier in transit. We’re looking to consider everything, including the energy needed to produce the products, followed by their journey through the supply chain.
We understand people need essentials, and we’d do the heavy lifting to provide them options they can be sure are not damaging the environment. We are excited to try new materials like recycled HDPE and consider innovative materials like green cell foam (cornstarch) and mycelium packaging. We will continue to partner with companies like one tree planted and other carbon offsetting initiatives. And lastly, we’re also looking forward to pursuing a B Corp certification and making our first in-house sustainability hire.
With so many other hospitality amenities providers out there, why is Public Goods the best fit for short-term rentals and the hospitality industry, in your opinion?
I think there are three reasons why we are perfectly positioned for this industry. Firstly, the products themselves are made with ingredients that anyone can use. When you’re renting out either your Airbnb or you’re a long-term rental company or a hotel, it’s crucial to have products that can be used for everyone.
Secondly, the design of the products enhances the space they are in; they don’t take away from it. If you are a hotel owner or a rental property owner, you probably thought a lot about design & enhancing the guest experience. Why put products in this space that will take away from those efforts?
Lastly is selection. We’re providing a wholesale store with case packs available in every essential product you would need to keep the business stocked up. Whether you need personal care or offer cooking supplies to the guest, we have it. And sooner than later, our selection will get even more comprehensive.
What is your favorite personal care product by Public Goods?
Either the shaving cream or the ayate wash clothes. Both get daily uses; both are one of a kind.
What products do you see most consistently across the vacation rental space, any surprises?
We see mainly purchasing in personal care, then household, and lastly followed by grocery. We are aiming to deepen our personal care offerings, which will be exciting. I’m also pushing the development of hospitality-focused supplies that aren’t harmful single used virgin plastics. Grocery is a category we are working with product development to launch more SKU’s suitable for the industry, like snackable/grab & go formats for a mini-bar selection.
We also recently launched our one-gallon-sized refills specifically for hospitality clients paired with our 12 oz bottles. We have a wall mount I designed that we sell, and I am currently sourcing a tamper-proof option for enterprise hospitality accounts.
Are there any new products our members can look forward to?
We are at about 300 now; 3,000 or so is the goal. So, in short, yes!
How has your experience working with HostGPO and our members been so far?
It’s been truly incredible. We love small and medium-sized businesses in hospitality that care deeply about their guest experience. For us to be positioned so firmly in that community and compete against more prominent players like Aesop or Malin & Goetz was my goal when starting. These partnerships also help us reach potential customers for our DTC business which is part of our omnichannel approach to customer acquisition.
What do you enjoy the most about your role at Public Goods?
Without question, it’s being a leader. I work for my team, and I do what I can to support their career development. I was able to find confidence in my abilities thanks to the freedom I received to be creative in the role, and I want to pass that on. I try my best to lead with transparency and invite input from everyone.
Once we scale up and the team keeps growing, I want to ensure the department’s culture follows a straightforward idea; People are far more capable than their job requirements.
Do you ever stay at vacation rentals when you travel, and if so, what’s your favorite or best experience?
All the time! I do my best to stay with smaller businesses. When I had left NY last winter for a CA excursion, I lived out of Airbnbs for three months. At one point in SF, I landed at a proper bed and breakfast hosted by a lovely woman named Gigi. Her business has pre-dated Airbnb for quite a long time, and the whole experience was incredible. It was my first time in SF, and I’ll never forget it.
Anything else you’d like to share about Public Goods?
Keep an eye out for future product launches; there is plenty to look forward to. Our team is also starting to get creative on new ways to add value to our membership for the DTC side of the business.
Lastly, if you know of anyone looking for a new role and you would think they’d be a good fit, let me know!