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Long-term marketing: kissing babies, boosting business.

After two years of planning, Moosehead Furniture makes an 18-year commitment to its new direct mail program.

The note was brief, just a couple of sentences, on a small piece of white paper with the green Moosehead logo. What Russ Page, Moosehead Mfg. Co.'s national sales manager, had written was, "This may be the most talked about development at the market in High Point."

Page later related that Moosehead, a small, third-generation, family-owned company in Monson, Maine, had just spent 2 1/2 years developing a unique marketing plan designed to win customers for life. The program was introduced to dealers at the Fall '93 Market, to "overwhelming" response, Page said. In the first three days of market, 50 new dealers were enlisted. It is customary in the industry to focus on attracting new customers, he said, "but our emphasis is on keeping the ones we have."

Known for solid hardwood furniture made in the tradition of old New England cabinetmakers, Moosehead planned the program in conjunction with Memory Lane, a group of infant and children's furniture designed to take a child from birth to college to condo. Cribs, dressers with removable changing tops, toy chests, rockers and youth beds are coordinated in style and finish with existing lines of dining, bedroom and occasional furniture. Foxcroft is Moosehead's American Traditional line and Maine Street is a newer, Shaker-influenced look.

Special features of Memory Lane are tilt-proof, dovetailed drawers with 1/2-inch hardwood sides, wood glides and built-in stops; dust panels framed in hardwood; "floating" mortise-and-tenon joinery; and chemical and scratch-resistant finishes. Toy chests have air vents and safety hinges. Cribs, beds and bunks meet or exceed all safety standards. Just as note-worthy as the furniture's fine construction features, however, is the coordinating marketing program.

'Relationship marketing'

Developing a bond. Building trust. Rapport. Commitment. These are everyday words to a marriage counselor, but not exactly what you expect from a furniture manufacturer. Nevertheless, when Page explains Moosehead's "relationship marketing," these words dominate the conversation.

The "relationship" commences when the first piece of Moosehead furniture is purchased, perhaps a crib for a new baby, and the child is enrolled in the Moose League. Parents and both sets of grandparents receive letters of congratulation that mention the retailer, and thank the family for their purchase.

The first letter was sent to the family of newborn Erin Miller in late March. A few weeks later, her grandfather called to say, "I think it is marvelous that a manufacturer and store care that much." What the program is meant to convey, Page said, is the idea that "Moosehead is a small, family-owned company, not a conglomerate, and we appreciate the opportunity to play a small role in the child's life."

The letter is only the beginning of an 18-year commitment that this venerable Maine company takes very seriously, Page said. The intent is to continue to communicate with the child and its family several times a year, until he or she is an adult. At times, a gift certificate to be redeemed at the retail store will be included. It is a simple, direct mail marketing concept, but personalized and smacking of sincerity -- and it has a friendly moose as a figurehead.

No cost to retailers

Special events and programs will be offered through dealers. "We are involving retailers without any cost and trying not to be too commercial about this," Page said. "We want the retailer, as well as the family, to know that we care." He compared the idea to the modus operandi of politicians who kiss babies to get mothers' votes. The program is a way to coax the family back into the stores at certain key stages in a child's life when additional furniture may be required.

Only full-line furniture retailers are included in the Memory Lane program, Page said. Dealers must be willing to allocate 800 square feet to display the baby, youth and teen furniture, so that buyers won't have to rely on a catalog picture. "Retailers are looking for ways to generate new dollars, to expand and to open new markets. This will get those younger buyers into their stores," he said.

A ripple effect

By addressing letters to grandparents, Moosehead also expects to see them in the stores as well. Page said studies show that grandparents spend about as much on a child as its parents do. The company anticipates this program to produce a ripple effect that will influence the purchase of other furniture. "The idea is not just to sell cribs," he said, but "to build a good, solid customer base."

The timing is right for this marketing approach, Page added. The '90s are another boomlet decade, with births topping 4 million annually, a figure expected to hold until the year 2000.

Changing with the times

John Wentworth is executive vice-president of Moosehead Mfg., a company started almost 50 years ago by his grandfather, John Durham and Durham's brother, Tolford. The brothers made chairs for Sears, Roebuck and case goods for Ethan Allen, until they decided to produce furniture under the Moosehead name. (Moose-head is the largest lake in Maine.) In 1992, Wayne Huff became president when Bill Wentworth, John's father, retired.

For 45 years, Moosehead produced nothing but maple-finished, traditionally-styled American Colonial furniture, using established cabinetmaker techniques. The company was always very conscious of its reputation, image and niche, but a shrinking market became a compelling reason to rethink its style. An innovative designer, Steve Hodges of Lexington, N.C., and trips to the last Shaker colony in Maine led to last year's decision to offer Shaker styling and new finishes in black lacquer, cherry and gold. "A manufacturer who doesn't respond to the market won't survive," Page declares.

With new designs and a long-term promotion program in place, the company is on the move technologically as well. Moosehead recently purchased its first CNC machining center -- a twin-table unit from CMS North America -- and anticipates that another will be required to maintain a delivery schedule of four to six weeks.

Moosehead's 180,000-square-foot facility is vertically integrated, with saw mills and kiln. A total of 225 employees are divided between plants in Monson and Dover-Foxcroft, Maine.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Moosehead Manufacturing Co.
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:May 1, 1994
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