Purpose trumps product for Jessica Alba’s Honest Co.

The company’s slogan — to empower and inspire people to live healthy, happy lives — noticeably lacks the word product, said cofounder and chief purpose officer Christopher Gavigan. He and Ikea U.S. president Lars Petersson gave the Tuesday afternoon keynote address at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show. Both executives addressed consumer trust, including how they handled issues that have come up during the rise of their respective businesses with that trust in mind.

“Notice we don’t talk about product in that statement, we talk about our core purpose,” Gavigan said, of the company’s mission. “That is the distinguishing factor in any amazing brand…you know what their purpose is, you know what they’re doing in the world.” Honest aims to make toxin-free consumer products, spanning diapers to shampoo.

“You fail the consumer once, they’re going to really notice,” Gavigan said. “Now, we’re not the perfect company, we’re the Honest Company, and the honesty is around transparency. It’s around a commitment to having and creating the best-in-class standards because there is no guardian at the gate.”

That lack of gate patrol is what led Gavigan, Alba and the Honest Co.’s other cofounders to start the business in the first place — they were looking to make products to address consumer confusion about what to buy, with an ingredient-safety focus. Now five years old, the Honest Co. has 125 products, Gavigan said, and while it has 12,000 distribution points, more than 60 percent of its sales are still direct-to-consumer via its web site. Industry sources have pegged the business to have about $300 million in annual revenues.

Gavigan also addressed the company’s sunscreen, which came under recent scrutiny after consumers reported sunburns. “Because it was a physical block, it was sitting on top of the skin…we had consumers that were applying it and applying it in a way that wasn’t based on use as directed,” Gavigan said. “As a products company, you have to own that. You have to own the fact that you need to do the extended outreach and extended education…we had to do the heavy lifting around education, around public service engagements, and really helping them understand that here’s this specific product and there’s a point of difference.”

Petersson also addressed an Ikea recall, in which the company recalled dressers that were not secured to the wall because of a potential tipping hazard. “We’re really committed to take this very seriously, the tip-over risk for furniture at home, we did it indeed the way a really transparent company should do — we went out in TV commercials, here you can see a print ad…where we encouraged people to attach their product to the wall,” he said.

Petersson stressed consistency, “in all touch points, from the material that you put into the products to the people…in order to build long-term trust with everyone.”

Both executives stressed the need for transparency and the need to interact directly with consumers. “We really built a trust portfolio that has brought in a relationship,” Gavigan said, adding that he personally takes between 25 and 40 calls with consumers per week to get their thoughts and feedback.

Ikea in the U.S. is doing more than 1,000 home visits a year, “peeking under people’s beds, with permission of course,” Petersson said, to get an idea of how their consumers live at home.