Meet Deena Bahri, the first-ever CMO of StockX, who’s helping the company reach meteoric heights
Story by Leena Rao
Photograph by Emily Berger
As a kid growing up in New Jersey, Deena Bahri preferred watching commercials — especially car ads — to
cartoons. “They were so cinematic,” she says. “They almost seemed to be anthemic. I watched them all the time.”
Her fascination would prove prescient: After years of cultivating a passion for fusing storytelling with consumer goods, Bahri is the first chief marketing officer at StockX, the Detroit-based online sneaker empire and collectibles marketplace founded by Dan Gilbert, Josh Luber and Greg Schwartz. Founded in 2016, the company is worth nearly $3 billion (and is rumored to be considering an IPO).
Before joining StockX, Bahri, a mom of three, was an executive at a health-care startup in the Bay Area. The family moved to Birmingham in 2019 for her StockX role, which entails crafting the company’s creative strategy around reaching, attracting and growing customers. “I love it even more than I thought I would,” says Bahri, adding that she especially connected with the company’s own brand of Midwestern friendliness: “They are open and caring, yet curious and want to win. And we’ve all been able to bond really quickly despite being in a pandemic.”
Bahri, who oversees 75 employees, joined StockX only a few months before Covid-19 hit, but a switch to remote work didn’t faze her. She drilled down on company data and channeled a strategy that ecommerce giant Amazon pioneered: delivering more personalization to the site’s buyers. (That means that customers see different recommendations of shoes or handbags based on their purchase history.) She’s also inked a few major deals for the site: StockX recently partnered with the NBA’s minor league organization, the G league, to include branding on player jerseys and at games.
Thanks in part to Bahri’s efforts, StockX is defying the pandemic’s negative impact on retail. Sales of sneakers, handbags and other collectibles increased by 75 percent in the third quarter of 2020, compared to 2019, and the number of buyers on the site grew 90 percent in 2020. “It’s equal parts joy and sobriety,” says Bahri, who can’t help but compare the growth to what she sees closer to home. “I look at the hardship I see in downtown Birmingham and it’s so sad to see such a vibrant retail community on hold. But people still want to spend and so they now spend online.”
The daughter of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, Bahri was born with what she calls the “traditional immigrant mentality of working hard to succeed.” That work ethic led her to Harvard Business School, then a job heading up marketing for women’s sneakers and apparel at Reebok in New York City, where she discovered the power of culture in selling retail. (She’s also an alum of online retailer Gilt Groupe and makeup startup Birch Box.) “The retail brands that are successful capture the heart and mind of the customer,” she says. “Youth culture is now driving fashion and StockX is a part of that. And we’re are seeing customers across generations buy into this. I used to see moms at pickup dressed in (Nike) Air Force 1s.”
Along with managing StockX’s meteoric growth, Bahri has been focusing her efforts on marketing to buyers on social media apps like Instagram and Facebook. She’s also overseeing an expansion of advertising on connected TVs and Spotify, a music-streaming service. “Deena has been a phenomenal addition to our team,” says Greg Schwartz, StockX’s chief operating officer, who adds that Bahri’s work on targeted marketing is critical to the company’s growth, as well as her ability to recruit and maintain talent in the company and score big brand campaigns (like the NBA G League deal). “She has the perfect balance of marketing experience and growth knowledge.”
Indeed, Bahri says that her role at StockX is the perfect culmination of her passions and professional experience — her love of fashion and style combined with a marketplace that captures the sneaker and streetwear culture. (She says she discovered her own sense of style while working in New York, where her go-to outfit was skinny jeans, a leather motorcycle jacket and high heels.)
These days, Bahri has swapped her heels for Air Jordan Mid Chicago sneakers (bought, of course, on StockX’s marketplace). And she finds herself checking out other people’s footwear: She recalls a story of shopping for jeans at Caruso Caruso, one of her favorite stores in Birmingham, where she complimented a sales associate’s sneakers. “They were bought on StockX,” she says with delight. “It speaks to the impact StockX has had on the community,” she says. “The energy of the current culture around clothes and sneakers is so exciting.”
She’s also settled into her new life in Birmingham, where she enjoys walks to Quarton Lake with her family and basketball games with her sons and teenage daughter in her backyard. Pre-pandemic, Bahri, her husband (a CEO and founder of a biotechnology company) and their kids were frequent visitors to downtown Birmingham, where they’d pop into Beyond Juice and Brooklyn Pizza. “The people and community here are so welcoming, and it was lovely to be immersed in it for a few months,” she says. “It felt like people enveloped us in a big bear hug.”
As winter turns to spring, Bahri, too, is looking forward to new growth. She’s focusing on building partnerships in the skating and gaming worlds, as well as expanding StockX’s presence in Canadian, European and Asian markets — something she approaches with great excitement. “I love this part of a startup’s life cycle,” she says. “It’s all about embracing the changes and shifts.”