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Direct Response Marketing

Marketing House & Home

1 Mar, 2017 By: Bridget McCrea Response

As the housing market booms, so too do the housewares and hardware industries that support it.


Doug Foreman knows that the housewares sector is a competitive space where products don’t always catch on as expected, margins are perpetually under attack, and abrupt pivots in consumer preferences can dramatically impact a product’s chances of success. But that didn’t stop Foreman from bringing his new invention to the Kickstarter crowdsourcing platform, the TV show “Shark Tank,” and the mainstream consumer market.

Foreman’s persistence can be traced back across a lifetime of loving breakfast but not loving the way cold butter tore up his morning toast, distributed unevenly, and required not-always-predictable microwave intervention to melt quickly. Like most inventors, Foreman thought he could build a better mousetrap. So he did.

After tinkering with possible solutions, Foreman came up with an early iteration of what is now the Biem Butter Sprayer — a 2.4-inch by 10-inch battery-operated gadget that weighs 1.5 pounds and turns a stick of butter into a spray. So far, the invention has raised more than $235,000 from 1,714 Kickstarter backers (as of Feb. 1) and warranted a spot on a live broadcast of “Shark Tank.” It was the latter that brought the gadget into the broader spotlight thanks to Foreman’s convincing presentation.

“After the Kickstarter campaign, we went to the 2016 International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago,” says Foreman, president of Austin, Texas-based Brevda Inc. “There happened to be a ‘Shark Tank’ producer there. They approached us after seeing our online launch and — long story short — we decided to go through the process.”

On the show, Foreman said, “If you love cooking, eating, and entertaining like I do, then you probably love using real butter. The problem is that it is hard, tears up toast, and melting and pouring it on popcorn creates a soggy mess. Sharks, I’d like to introduce to you the first and only spray that uses real butter and goes from butter stick to butter spray in a few seconds.”

Lori Greiner — the first investor to raise her hand during Foreman’s elevator speech — made a $500,000 investment in the device based on a business valuation of about $3.6 million.

The show aired in October 2016 and, upon airing, pushed the product’s website hits up to more than 100,000 within a 60-minute period. And while the spike in attention resulted in a lot of pre-orders for the product, Foreman says he’s mainly focused on web marketing and public relations for the time being.

“We kept all of our marketing through our site, period,” says Foreman, who has been approached by major online and offline retailers interested in carrying his company’s innovation, a $129 product.

Thus far, he’s deflected those requests. For now, he says he’s focused on rolling out the product in a way that protects Brevda’s margins. “Before we start giving up that money [to retailers] and relinquishing control over customer service,” he says, “we need to be a bit more mature as a company.”

When interviewed by Response in February, Foreman was hoping to begin delivering the first Biem Butter Sprayers to their new owners within the “next few weeks.” From there, the company will spend time evaluating feedback from those initial users (via Facebook, Twitter, email, or Kickstarter’s platform), gauging that input, and making any necessary product tweaks or adjustments.

“The great thing about social and direct-to-consumer marketing is that you can be really close to the consumers and not necessarily always be in their faces,” says Foreman, who sees potential product additions — such as a calorie counter — in Brevda’s future.

‘TV is Our Big Opportunity’

Housewares continues to be a hot category for consumers who need and want a seemingly never-ending supply of appliances, cooking utensils, kitchen gadgets, window treatments, and myriad other items that fall into this product category. According to the International Housewares Association, the global housewares market enjoyed an overall retail sales increase of 4.8 percent in 2015 (the IHA’s latest numbers). This is nearly twice the percentage increase posted in the previous two years. Total U.S. housewares expenditures, which are at the center of these projections, increased 9.4 percent in 2015, the IHA reports.

Today’s housewares distributors have myriad advertising and marketing mechanisms at their fingertips, and many of those channels involve direct “touches” and engagement with customers. Foreman, for example, prefers to lean on social and digital for now, and isn’t even entertaining the thought of retail yet. At Boll & Branch (Response, November 2016) in Summit, N.J., Director of Marketing Cally Everett says the firm has been using a multi-prong approach to marketing and now plans to take its “authentic” advertising style to television this year.

Up until now, the luxury linen company has focused on spreading the word about its bedding through influencers (i.e., product reviews), the web, and radio. Everett says the company focuses on advertising that feels like a “recommendation from a friend,” versus a sales pitch. As such, social media is an important component of Boll & Branch’s marketing portfolio. Unfortunately, telling someone that your sheets are soft and actually letting someone touch and feel the texture for themselves are two very different things.

“A big challenge for our brand has been understanding how to share our immediate value proposition with consumers while also remaining true to our values and our mission,” says Everett. “It’s about figuring out the right way to communicate a compelling message effectively, especially with limited real estate.”

In 2016, Everett says the company had good success with DR radio, where a number of its spots aligned with the year’s political cycle. “We used a lot of talk radio and news spots,” says Everett. “As listenership increased, our sales increased. And especially during the craziness of the 2016 election, we found that was really great for our business.”

This year, Boll & Branch plans to continue to scale its radio placements while also adding podcasts to its marketing lineup. In January, the company started testing a TV campaign on a limited scale. “Right now, TV is really our big opportunity,” says Everett, “and we’re hoping to see some good results from that in the coming months.”

A View From the Top

One direct marketing guru who has worked in housewares for more than three decades is Kevin Harrington, CEO of Kevin Harrington Enterprises in St. Petersburg, Fla. A DR veteran, he’s “following the eyeballs” as TV viewership declines and more people utilize digital and social platforms.

“People are spending multiple hours per day on Facebook, which means they’re spending less time watching TV,” says Harrington. “The good thing is that we’re an industry that knows how to sell products no matter where consumers are or what they’re tuned into — be it Facebook, YouTube, or some other platform.”

This year, Harrington is blending old-school housewares with new-school platforms by bringing back the original Ginsu knife. Through his production company Shark Finds, Harrington helped dust off the original product — which debuted on DRTV in the late-1970s — and make it relevant for today’s housewares buyers.

“We’re bringing Ginsu back,” says Harrington, “and using social media, TV, and other means of keeping the knives out there, alive, and current.” As part of that effort, the company is also marketing higher-end Damascus knives, which sell for $500 and up for a 10-to-12-piece set.

Harrington says that while his firm still produces both infomercials and DRTV spots within the housewares category, it’s putting more energy into the digital space. The latter is particularly useful for testing — a process that used to take more time and money using direct response. “With digital, we can go out onto Facebook or another social media platform and get a pulse pretty quickly,” says Harrington. “So where we’re still fully supportive of using spots and infomercials, we’re definitely using digital first. From there, once we have a good pulse, we’ll drive the brand using TV, retail, and so forth.”

Harrington says the key to success in today’s business world is to have a marketing plan in place before releasing a product out into the world. “Put together a social media strategy, shoot some video, do some publicity, and focus on building a brand,” he adds. “Not every product needs to have $10 million in media behind it to be successful.” ■


Screaming About Hardware

Homeowners and investors are putting money into their properties, and the fact that they need the tools, supplies, and other products to do that is music to the hardware industry’s ears. According to the Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA), spending nationwide for home improvements and repairs is on track to increase by 6.7 percent to reach $317 billion in 2017. That nearly matches the 6.9-percent growth estimated for 2016 at press time.

And, according to NAHB Remodeler, those projects aren’t limited to do-it-yourselfers (DIYs). In fact, large remodelers’ profit margins have not only recovered from the Great Recession, they even beat where they were in 2003.

The NAHB says that the gross profit margin of the 141 remodeling companies taking part in the poll stood at 28.9 percent in the 2015 fiscal year (the most recent data available). That’s up from 26.8 percent reported in 2011, the last time NAHB did this survey, and even up from the 28.4-percent margin reported in a similar survey in 2003.

Doug Garnett, president at Portland, Ore.-based Atomic Direct and a member of the Response Advisory Board, has produced numerous campaigns for companies in the hardware industry, most recently the Kobalt Rapid Adjust Wrench. And while Garnett says there’s “nothing dramatically new” in the hardware space right now, the sector as a whole is on equal footing with the national housing market.

“The return of the housing economy has made retailers in the hardware business stronger,” says Garnett, “so fundamentally, it’s a good, healthy market right now.”

Focused on creating campaigns that sell direct while also driving retail, Garnett says a review of his firm’s recent projects show that TV is just as cost effective today as it was five-to-10 years ago.

Like many other product categories, Garnett says hardware is a sector where good quality products stand out and those advertised with smoke and mirrors tend to fade quickly. Right now, for example, he says retailers are distracted by the “shiny baubles” of store technology, data analytics, robotics, and artificial intelligence — none of which serve (yet, anyway) as retail differentiators.

“These things aren’t going to draw more people to the store or make a retail business stronger,” says Garnett. “What does work are innovative products. With this in mind, retailers need to return their focus to how critical it is to stock a stream of innovative products, and the advertising that supports those products.”

At Chico, Calif.-based Build.com (Response, February), Jeff Burwell, hardware category manager, says hardware has been the company’s fastest-growing category during the past 18 months. Plumbing and lighting are the top two sub-categories, mainly because people will now replace a kitchen faucet for aesthetic purposes (rather than waiting until a current fixture breaks).

“Something like a simple faucet has become a statement piece in a home,” says Burwell, “and the plumbing industry has done a very good job of positioning its fixtures in that light.”

For Build.com, Burwell says knowing which advertising and marketing avenues to explore is about “keeping up with the trends,” including certain styles and product functions. Electronic locks, for example, are becoming very popular among homeowners that want alternatives to traditional lock-and-key options. “People understand the value of typing in a code to get into their homes,” says Burwell, “and in not having to drag their keys around with them.”

The idea that hardware kitchen faucets and door locks add true value while providing basic functionality has made it easier for companies like Build.com to create successful campaigns around those products.

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About the Author: Bridget McCrea

Bridget McCrea

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