Selling Private to the Public

How Can Retailers Create a Brand to Call Their Own?


Private label brands have become very commonplace. Big retailers like Target can have up to 50 of their own private brands (they call them “owned brands”) and they range across categories from lingerie to laundry soap. Some are so successful that consumers don’t even know they are only found at one retailer.

Trade Joe’s is another retailer that is a prolific creator of owned brands. “Often the consumers don’t think of the Trader Joe’s private label as a private label,” said Kusum Ailawadi, a professor of marketing at Dartmouth College. “They think of it as exclusive products that I can’t find anywhere.”

What makes a private label successful? How can you entice consumers to deviate from a favorite brand and try one they’ve never encountered before? A recent survey stated price as the most important factor (88%) and 33% stated the packaging was the reason they gave it a try. That’s pretty big.

Creating a successful private label “label” depends on several critical elements:

  • Understanding the brand of the retailer that is creating it: How do they present themselves to their consumer and what is their brand promise? How will this new brand serve to further deliver on that promise?
  • Knowing the target audience: Who will be receptive to this new brand? What need set will it fill for them?
  • Integrating with the competitive environment: How do you communicate the same quality/benefits of leading brands in the category to ensure confidence?
  • Deviating from the competitive environment: How do you stand apart enough to intrigue?
  • Creating the perfect name: Does it fit with the category? Does it feel “familiar” with the same general feeling as the name brands? Is it ownable?
  • Bringing it all together in a cohesive and irresistible designed brand experience: Does is stand out on the shelf? Does it connect emotionally? Is it memorable?

We’ve been working with pet retailer, Pet Supplies Plus, for several years and have created five private label products with them. Designing a brand from the ground up is always an adventure. If that brand is also a private label product meant to attract loyal consumers in a crowded retail environment, it’s a true exercise in connecting with an audience in new way. Add in our sweet spot, the pet category, and it’s the cat’s pajamas.


Pet Supplies Plus - Private Label - Hartwick fields
View Hartwick Fields Case Study


Pet Supplies Plus - Private Label - Mitten's Morsels
View Mitten’s Morsels Case Study


Pet Supplies Plus - Private Label - Fins First
View Fins First Case Study


If you’re thinking of creating an “owned brand” or rejuvenating an existing private label brand drop us a line and let’s have a conversation.

Hello. You’re Groovy. Miss You.

The Holidays are decidedly different this year, but we try to be thankful anyway. Thankful for friends, thankful for our community, thankful that we have been able to continue to create.

This year, our Thankful Cards have an interactive quality to them to add messages of gratitude, of greeting, of love or just some snark about this messed up sinkhole of a year. Our cute critters can also be dressed up to add another layer of silliness, something we could all use.

We hope everyone can find a little thankfulness of their own and that these  little cards will bring moments of joy that can be sent on to others.

Happy Holidays from Willoughby.

We will be closed between December 24 and January 3 to recharge for the coming year. If you have a design emergency, we will be checking messages and are happy to help.

Practice Safe Six

Comeback KC is a private/public collaboration created to inform the greater Kansas City metro on how to protect themselves from COVID-19. They are also in coordination with public health departments to boost testing and contact tracing as a means to safely resume activities around the city.

When they asked us to contribute social media assets focused on social distancing and mask wearing as the best defense against the virus, we were more than happy to help. Because this is personal for us. Several members of our Willoughby team were infected with the Coronavirus in mid-March (all have thankfully recovered) so we felt compelled to contribute.

We created a series of still and motion images the encourage masks and social distancing while emphasizing the consequences of ignoring the dangers.

Please stay safe, sign up for contact tracing, keep a social distance of at least six feet, wear your mask and someday soon we hope to be able to completely reopen the city we love.

Our first iteration featured COVID-19 viruses enjoying a night out with consequences.

Practicing Safe Six - Billboard

Another message demonstrated the proper way to wear a mask.

Practicing Safe Six - So Close to Me

We played around with some familiar song lyrics in the images above to emphasize the benefits of social distancing. Finally, we decided to leave the soft approach behind to truly paint the ugly picture that can result when simple practices such as social distancing and mask-wearing aren’t followed. It’s not just about protecting yourself, it’s about being a community that cares about one another. We can come back stronger and better than ever if we work together.

Christmas in April

As you probably know, Christmas comes in December. Unless you specialize in seasonal retail and consumer products. In that case, you ring in the Yule right around the time the daffodils show up.

If you’re like us and have visions of sugarplums dancing in your head while the rest of the world is picnicking in the park, we hope you’ll enjoy some inspiration from holidays past.

Dixie Ultra Holiday Collection 2019

Dixie offers harmonious dinnerware that can stand alone or be mixed-and-matched to create festive tablescapes. Inspired by a trending return to cozy nostalgia, the 2019 holiday collection celebrates the season with light-hearted country scenes in a classic home for the holidays palette.

View Project

Willoughby Design - Holiday Blog - Dixie 2019

Panera Holiday

Willoughby developed several years of holiday campaigns for Panera. They were a terrific partner and each year we worked closely with their in-house marketing team to create new and imaginative concepts to bring joy to customers throughout the season. Campaigns were integrated across cups, bags, gift cards, in-store POS, throughout the restaurant experience and online.

View Project

Willoughby Design - Holiday Blog - Panera Bread

André’s Confiserie Suisse

The holiday season is one of the busiest times of year for André’s, so our redesign for their brand packaging has a holiday feel and covers them year-round as well. Each element of the refreshed identity is inspired by three generations of Swiss heritage, evoking simple scenes of chalets, snow, friends and family.

View Project

Willoughby Design - Holiday Blog - Andres

Willoughby Holiday 2019

Each year, we create a Willoughby holiday card that’s meant to be reused or regifted. For 2019, we sent a series of Thankful Cards that were risograph stencil printed using environmentally conscious soy ink.

Willoughby Design - Holiday Blog - Thankful Cards

We’re pretty good at finding the holiday spirit no matter what time of year it might be. If you have a holiday project that needs a head start, we’re holly, jolly and ready to go.

Download. Cheer Up.

The world is on our screens these days and we’re all just trying to get by in this weird new moment of life. So if you need to be the sunshine that you’re lacking, find your strength in numbers (even if those numbers happen to have four legs) or simply want to rally yourself and your co-workers, we present three ways to show the world that this is temporary and soon, we’ll get back to a new and even better normal.

We invite you to take what you need for your desktop, mobile wallpaper or video-conferencing background with our complements. Use them, share them, spread them far and wide.

One Terminal, So Many Places to Go.

We obviously love working on civic projects to help advance our city. KC Chamber, Visit KC, RideKC, Cultivate KC, KCU, KCA, KCGPA, KC Pet Project…  some days we wonder if we should open a branch office that only works on brands that include “KC.”

This time around we are thrilled to be working with the Kansas City Aviation Department to create a brand language for the communications that will keep locals and visitors up-to-date on the construction news as the new 1M square foot Kansas City International Airport Terminal is built. This baby is going to be yet another noteworthy addition to our increasingly world-class city.

So we are proud to present Build KCI. The focus on this campaign is first, to inform the public about terminal progress but most of all, generate excitement around the next phase of Kansas City transportation.

The name is straight forward and intuitive. Iconography cues travel and messaging is optimistic, with some airport clichés thrown in for fun. The campaign lives on its own website, social media channels, out of home and in the existing terminals to tell a complete and compelling visual and verbal story.

The rollout is just beginning so keep your eyes on the skies (or the interwebs, social and in the wild) as it comes to life.

Build KCI Logo - Civic Brand Design
Build KCI Digital Signage - Civic Brand Design
Build KCI Ad - Civic Brand Design
Build KCI Ad - Civic Brand Design
Build KCI Website Banner - Civic Brand Design
Build KCI Website - Civic Brand Design
Build KCI Billboard - Civic Brand Design

Jamming with Zuul at A15

This year, AIGA KC held its A15 Awards Gala at the spectacular Grand Hall in the Power and Light building. The P & L building is an Art Deco masterpiece and one of the inspirations for the spooky building at the end of Ghostbusters. There’s your trivia for the day.

We were thrilled to receive several awards for our work from the past year.

Dixie Ultra Holiday Collection – Award for Traditional and Promotion

Our first project for Dixie had visions of sugarplums and holiday trends dancing through our heads all summer long. The final collection flew off the shelves like Rudolph and we are happy to be awaiting the arrival of this year’s collection at retail in late November.

A15 Board - Dixie Holiday Plate - Surface Design

Cultivate KC Brand Identity – Awards for Branding and Advertising and Microsite.

Cultivate KC works every day to promote urban agriculture, engage in policy issues around equitable access to healthy food and in their words, “…create a democratic, just and sustainable food system that is resilient and adaptable…”

They have been a joy to work with and it’s been exciting to see them “grow.”

A15 - Cultivate KC Board - Non Profit Brand Identity

A Very Merry Recycled Christmas – Award for Sustainable Design

For the past few years, Willoughby has created custom gift and bottle tags for the holidays with a sustainable, pay it forward message. That led to a pretty good supply of past years’ cards that we decided were too pretty for the recycling bin. So during the month of December 2018 we punched, filled and sealed tiny bags filled with bits and bobs from the previous years along with a selection of previous tags. It made for a messy, but happy, end of our year.

A15 - Holiday Cards - Sustainable Design

Zingari – Awards for Branding & Advertising and Packaging Design

This new mens line began as manly products with manly names for manly men (or all the men) from Smitten Soapery. But when the owner of this hand-crafted grooming company became less smitten with the appeal of her brand, she reached out to us. We helped her find a more fitting name, Zingari Skin Care, and redesigned the packaging to work on products for both genders while still retaining the spirit of the original brand. Zingari means “gypsy,” and is made for anyone with a wandering spirit.

A15 - Zingari Man Board - Skincare Brand Identity

Rituals, Magic, Prismatikc, Aromatic at A14

A14, AIGAKC’s design awards, were handed out over the weekend and we were honored to bring home some wins.

The Alchemy of Design

Neenah Paper is beloved for its ability to transform paper into experiential magic. Luxurious textures, colors and weights help designers engage audiences in emotional and intriguing ways that ignite the senses and make lasting impressions. Bringing paper to life is any designer’s dream, so we were honored when invited to demonstrate the beauty, versatility and functionality of Neenah Papers.

Neenah - Alchemy of Design - Paper Design


The Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) raises awareness and grants funds for individuals impacted by HIV/AIDS. DIFFA KC brings together volunteers from our design community to further this work in Kansas City. Willoughby was asked to contribute creative support by branding and creating promotional materials for ShowKC, their largest fundraising event.

DIFFA - Contest Entry - Event Brand Strategy

Cerner Dining Pods

Willoughby partnered with the architects at Gould Evans to concept and design eight distinctive restaurant experiences within the new Cerner Innovation Campus. The energizing environment provides a place for employees and visitors to meet, find nourishment and discuss the next big idea.

Cerner Dining Pods - Environmental Design

Charlotte Street Foundation

The Charlotte Street Foundation discovers, fuels and sustains a vibrant, multi-disciplinary arts community in Kansas City, creating a home for artists to thrive. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, we created an identity and collateral for their annual costume party, deemed Future Ritual, to celebrate the past while looking to the future.

Future Ritual - Event Brand Identity

Branding Tails

Branding Trails - Pet Products, Pet Media, Conventions

Building Brand Strategy and Identities that Sit and Stay

If you’ve ever been to our studio, you’ve likely been greeted by Fritz, Colby, Gordon or Charlie. Pups in the house are the best thing ever. From helping Science Diet brand the very first dog treat to the invention of the Three Dog Bakery brand, the ground-breaking bakery for dogs that spread from Kansas City all the way to Hong Kong, we have a long history of working with companies that care for our furry friends. The tradition continues with pet products, pet media, conventions and the Raise the Woof campaign that we are thrilled to report helped bring a new animal shelter to our hometown.

How about a walk (walk!) through a few of our latest projects.


dvm360 Logo Before - Veterinary Conference Branding
dvm360 Logo After - Veterinary Conference Branding

As a company of animal lovers, we are always thrilled to work with pet product retailers and animal advocates. UBM, the largest events company in North America, owner of dvm360, one of the industry’s most influential veterinary media companies, engaged Willoughby to help refresh and align the veterinary group, UBM Veterinary, and its associated brands to better reflect the needs of its audiences and the mission of the UBM parent brand. The project included the dvm360 media brand over their flagship publication, dvm360 magazine and, as well as their national veterinary conference, The CVC, held three times each year.

dvm360 Logo - Veterinary Conference Branding

The CVC, a gathering place for vets, vet techs and their families, is produced by the dvm360 media brand but research revealed that no one associated the two. To add to the confusion, CVC stood for Central Veterinary Conference but the conference had expanded to the east and west coasts.

On our quest to bring these brands together so they could work better together, beginning with a new conference name, we went back to why vets become vets in the first place. They all love pets. And we quickly learned they need more play in their lives. What’s the oldest game? Fetch! So we extended the new dvm360 look to Fetch, locked them up together, and a new brand with shared equity was born.

fetch dvm360 veterinary conference logo

The vibrant and inviting evolution works across the entire brand family and was enthusiastically received by attendees and vendors alike as a natural extension of the positive and encouraging experience audiences already know and love from dvm360 and The CVC.

Read the full tale here.


Vet + Pet Logo

Following the launch of the rejuvenated dvm360 brands, an opportunity arose for a strategic alliance between UBM and the North American Veterinarian Community (NAVC) to create a new conference experience. We joined the team to name and design the inaugural event, Vet & Pet West, to unite veterinarians, pet retailers and pet parents in a three-tiered, inclusive conference experience that has never been done before. To complement the dvm360 event, FETCH, we christened the two new events, POUNCE and WAG. Naturally.

Fetch Logo - Veterinary Conference Branding
Pounce Logo - Veterinary Conference Branding
Wag Logo - Veterinary Conference Branding

The foundation of Pet & Vet West is the Fetch dvm360 conference that equips veterinarians with everything they need to succeed in practice and life. Pounce is a retail pet expo that goes beyond beds and collars to present new technologies and innovative pet products. Wag is a consumer pet conference for engaged pet parents who want to build the best relationships possible with their furry kids.

Graphics are bright and vibrant with energetic type and irresistible pet imagery. The brand personality is high tech with a communal, informative and inspirational vibe.

Read the full tail here.

Vet + Pet Signage - Veterinary Conference Branding
fetch dvm360 - Environmental Design Kansas City
fetch dvm360 - Environmental Design Kansas City


Petlinks Logo Before - Pet Care Branding
Petlinks Logo After - Pet Care Branding

Petlinks developed one of the first dedicated pet care “systems,” created to enhance the people/pet relationship with a foundation of love, sustainability, good health and fun.

But over time, the brand had been overtaken by competitors who had also created their own systems. The previous identity was also generic, corporate and very difficult to find in the highly populated, often overcrowded, pet needs aisle. It had become a brand in need of a good grooming and our job was to update the brand with a more emotional look and voice to grab pet parents by the heart strings.

Petlinks Packaging - Pet Care Branding
Petlinks Stamp - Pet Care Branding

Parent company, Worldwise, develops environmentally conscious products that are safe for pets, people and the planet. This benefit is still a key differentiator for Petlinks.

Dozens of prototyped packaging solutions were tested with consumers in focus groups and online testing. We tested every aspect of the package design including existing brand equity, color systems, photography, logos and language.

The Petlinks System package strategy took a drastic departure with more emotional photography and logotype. The new language focuses on educating Pet Parents to encourage the creation of a lifelong bond and a rewarding relationship with their pet. The choice of script typography also supports the premium retailer positioning.

Our consumer research also confirmed an opportunity for messaging that could come from a place of authority that specialty retailers have over the more mass merchandisers. To fulfill this, we launched the Petlinks Panel and added pet care advice to the packaging story.

Petlinks Tradeshow - Pet Care Branding

Standing out in the chaos meant assuming authority in meeting the needs of pets but also in refining the packaging for a more upscale, even sophisticated, look that made choosing a pet brand for consumers more like choosing products for their own children.

The line includes over 300 SKUs is rolling out across channels. And the proof is in the sales: The new package design is selling better than previous packaging.

Read the full tale here.

Pets make our lives better so anytime we find a chance to help make their lives better we’re all in. Plus, we love the kind of research that sits on our lap.

Petlinks Featured Image - Pet Care Branding

FeaturedCheers to 40 Years

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1978 was a good year.

“Boogie Oogie Oogie” was a Top Ten hit, The Star Wars Holiday Special was on television and everyone flocked to see Jaws 2 wearing the latest in disco fashion. Then they went home to their Harvest Gold kitchens and shag carpet to drink strawberry daiquiris.