No industry is better suited than ours to take advantage of sports marketing.
Furniture Trends by Janet Holt-Johnstone
Some spend winter months dreaming of the “boys of summer”. Others long for football’s drama, basketball's thrills, and all the blood, sweat and tears of professional and collegiate sports. Hockey, golf, gymnastics and NASCAR; each have their devotees, fans and the clinically obsessed.
How to translate the significant power of the bond that exists between your customers and their teams into solid business, vastly increased traffic and surging sales? The key is to create links between the loyalty home town fans have for their sports heroes and the reality of your store’s brand. Sports celebrity endorsements, carefully crafted promotions and meet-and-greet events are some of the available tools.
No industry is better suited to take advantage of benefits of sports marketing than the furniture industry. There is just no reason why sports fans should watch their favorite pastimes seated on worn upholstery in shabby surroundings. A compelling pitch can be made that new furniture enhances the entire sports viewing experience. A little creative copyrighting can cosy up a furniture store brand with much better known sports franchises, creating instant and long-lasting associations. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of sports marketing is that a promotion can be crafted to attract men, women and families representing virtually any socio-economic demographic group.
National Furniture Outlet
“I’m a ridiculous football fan,” Randy Wingard told us. “I am a football information machine. I can tell you about any team or player’s detailed history. For example, the NFL College draft is two days long and is broadcast for 18 hours. Most people watch the first round or maybe the first day. I record and watch all 18 hours straight!”
Randy is a Manager at National Furniture Outlet in Westwego, Louisiana. He believes that wherever there’s sport, there is also passion and opportunity for profit. “After Hurricane Katrina, the whole region was Saints crazy. The region got behind the team as a symbol of the city. For a city that lost everything, it was something that could not be taken away.”
Owned by Eddie Gomez and his son, Matthew Gomez, National Furniture has been in business in Westwego for 21 years. “At one time we had only three sales people and one manager. We now have 10 sales people, 16 truck drivers and warehouse personnel, and six managers. In 1992, the store was about 9,000 square feet with a back room for a warehouse. Sixteen years later, the store is 20,000 sq. ft. with three warehouses.”
When the Saints march in, there’s instant excitement at National! “We first started in 2006 giving away two tickets to every Saints game. Just as a little something for the customers. One entry per purchase helped to make sure we were rewarding paying customers. In 2007, I went with Matthew to the Tupelo MS Furniture Market. We saw the Baseline licensing group. Being sports fans ourselves, it caught our eye immediately! We placed one order to try it out. The New Orleans Saints products sold right away.
“Baseline’s head of marketing, Jay Shurling, sent one of his investment partners over to meet with us. It turned out that he was connected with several prominent athletes, including members of the New Orleans Saints. He suggested that we have Saints’ players come by and tie the appearance with product promotion.
“We had a huge promotion on May 10, 2008. The players’ agent actually sent three players by (for a fee). They filmed a few commercials for us, signed autographs and took pictures with the customers and employees. We took it a bit further by having free food and drinks by hiring barbecue catering. We had give-aways every 15 minutes, with the final give-away being a free recliner with a Saint’s logo.
“Approximately 500 people came through the store that day, about five times normal traffic. At least 150 of them had never been to our store before. It was about 50/50 women and men but almost every one of them had a child with them! Sales were a little better, but we knew that day would be difficult to sell the furniture. The goal was for the people who came to have such a happy experience they would come back again and again. Especially those who had never been here before!
“As far as what didn’t work, the food was a bad idea. The cost of the food, the tables, the cleaning and the general hassle of the food, was not worth the time or effort. I guess the best way to put it, the food did not bring in any customers that were not coming anyway.
“We told the players that we would do something again on a smaller scale during the season. We had a weekday promotion with two of the Saints’ players. (Due to the Football Season, it could not be on a Saturday.) We still had free autographs and free pictures, but no food. We gave free gifts, (Fatheads, pictures and rugs), and a free recliner. It was much easier the second time around. We knew what to expect and had about 200 less people due to having one less player and having it on a Tuesday.
“We still give away tickets to every home game, still one entry per purchase, with the entries that don’t win tickets going in the drawing for the Saints’ recliner at the end of the season.
“It’s interesting that the economic downturn has not really affected our Sports promotions. We definitely plan on having more Saints’ players here in the future. It’s a sure way to generate excitement for the customers as well as the sales crew.”
National doesn’t really work with little league events. We may donate to a local playground, and they’ll put our sign up, but no promotions.”
Randy admits he’s “a big Saints fan. But I’m an even bigger fan of football in general.” He is also “a moderate basketball fan. I follow the NBA, but there’s not much more room in my brain for any other stats or information other than football!”
Ideas For Promotions
Jon Siegel, Furniture World Magazine’s Account Executive Eastern Region, who has a background in sports management, says that, “it isn’t difficult for furniture retailers to attract and keep the interest of sports fans. The highly publicized Jordan’s Furniture promotion that resulted in 24,000 of Jordan’s customers winning furniture is just one big example. This promotion generated a surge in business and publicity leading up to the Boston Red Sox’s World Series win. It was reported that the insurer of the promotion paid out between 20 and 30 million dollars to consumers.
“There are less extravagant ways to attract attention,” he continued. “Retailers need to be creative. For example, a New York area furniture retailer could use traditional media, in-store signage and the powerful social networking tools discussed by Leslie Carothers in the November/December 2008 issue of FURNITURE WORLD to generate a sports fan following. It would be easy to start a hometown Linkedin usergroup, call it a support group, for spouses looking to spruce up their significant others’ ugly sports dens. Another user group could feature furniture design tips for Ranger fans with children.
“Such a retailer might ask customers to enter a drawing to pick the correct number of strike-outs that starting a pitcher is going to throw. The winner could receive a ‘sports fanatic’ room make-over with Yankees themed furniture and accessories. If the Yankees get into the playoffs that year, the retailer might follow-up with a give-away by random drawing for themed merchandise, including a mix of upholstery, lamps, kids furniture, signed photos, pens, mugs, etc. The believable premise for the promotion could be that the storeowner is such a die hard fan that he or she has to do something to celebrate!
“Even straight-forward sales can be made to appeal to fans. Let’s say that next year ‘your team’ makes the playoffs. Why not celebrate with a sale on select home theater groups that will make watching the big game more enjoyable? Round out the promotion by sending a mailer to your preferred customer list. Invite them to come to a kick-off party featuring new home theater merchandise. Entice them with a playoff ticket raffle and throw in a percent-off sale on promotable ‘your team’ merchandise, tee shirts and backpacks for the kids so that your team’s fans, young and old, can enjoy this post season with all the cool gear.
“Or here’s a lure. Run a series of radio ads saying, ‘its 2009 all Texas Long Horn Fans. Receive an NCAA official pig skin football with any purchase of $500 or more for your college dorm or off campus home furnishings only at XYZ Furniture of Houston.’
“Stores in most areas of the country will be more successful promoting with collegiate or pro teams playing at the start of a new season or in post season play. College promos should be geared not just by playoff scenarios, but also by rivalry. When the Duke Blue Devils play the UNC Tar Heels, how about, ‘Attention all Blue Devil’s fans! Receive a $100 gas card, or Visa gift card, if our team wins this Saturday, only at our store.’”
In Canada, hockey is big. And the ancient art and craft of curling has its devotees. Our friend, Paul Dekker, Conway Furniture in Listowel, Ontario, has “never used the celebrity angle” in his sports marketing, “but we sponsor an annual curling bonspiel, in fact, it’s called the ‘Conway Bonspiel’. We don’t tie into it at store level, but we do get acknowledgements for it. We also regularly sponsor ice time both for minor hockey tournaments and figure skating competitions. It is $50 to $100 for an hour of ice time. Again, we’re acknowledged for this. We have in the past sponsored sweaters for soccer, a great sport for kids, low cost and maximum participation.
“We also support our local OHL hockey team, Midwestern Ontario Junior B league, with a sweater sponsorship and major ad in their programme. And minor hockey, Midwestern Ontario Junior C, in two neighbouring communities in our trading area. Minor hockey support is generally through sponsoring ice time for tournaments, and we have sponsored individual players through programme advertising and the high school hockey team in fundraising for a European tour.
“My manager is the president of the Listowel Cyclones, Midwestern Junior B league, and my controller/I.T. man does the bulletin for them here at the store. It takes time from work, but they are both great employees who get their work done, so it isn’t a problem. The participation in that organization connects them with many potential customers.
“I did sponsor a car race for four years as well! And we have a golf sign up in the office and book two or three tee-offs on Wednesday evenings after work. A little social time, followed by food and beverage. When we are on the ball, we invite some of our manufacturers’ reps to join the fun, and hopefully buy a round!
“For the most part these sponsorships are a part of small town life. We know the people who are involved and the parents of the children who are playing. If my business were in a larger population, I would handle it differently. I would sponsor one thing visibly instead of many things in a small way.”
Down south again, Tommy David, Sales Manager at Olinde’s Furniture in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, loves to “Turn business into pleasure and pleasure into business!”, and how better to do that than with sports interaction? Back 120 years ago, Olinde’s was a small hardware store, now there are four Olinde’s and four Ashley Home Stores. “We decided on sports promotions a few years ago when one of our buyers was at High Point. And we’ve had big traffic building promotions for the last two years with team players at the store. We do our ads in college colours.
We’re using sports themed furniture built around college teams, baseball and NASCAR. Our give-aways have been Big Man recliners in purple and gold with the LSU logo.” On game days, Olinde’s opens an hour or two early, and their ads tell customers to “come by before you go out to support your team.” It works for Olinde’s!
It has been said that when things are not so bright in the economy, we tend to turn to sports and sports-related activities for escape and to work off our frustration. Stir the imagination and enthusiasm of your customers. Hit them where they live! Consider your options and climb on the proverbial band wagon. You’ll have fun while you’re at it and might even make money!