January 2008 - A Method to Their Madness

A quirky corporate culture and innovative, yet off-the-wall marketing strategies have helped Moosejaw Mountaineering build a cult-like following. The next mountain to climb? Mobile.

By Tom Dellner

One day, back in 1992, a curious customer walked into the recently opened Moosejaw Mountaineering store in Keego Harbor, Mich. Twenty-one-year-old company founder Robert Wolfe was minding the store. Having, well, no experience whatsoever in retail, Wolfe went with his gut. He picked up a football and rifled a pass at the unsuspecting customer.

Neither Wolfe nor the customer could’ve known that they had just witnessed the birth of a corporate philosophy that would eventually make Moosejaw one of the nation’s leading outdoors retailers-and one of its most innovative marketers.

Wolfe and his employees have been throwing footballs-in one form or another-at their customers ever since that day in 1992. Walk into one of Moosejaw’s seven retail locations and you might be drafted into a whiffleball game or find yourself in the midst of dueling xylophones. Or you might encounter breakdancers. Or a cellist. Or a mime.

The craziness extends to Moosejaw’s bustling online business. Visit Moosejaw.com and you might be invited to enter a contest to win an invisible coffee mug. The site offers dating tips and a “Daily Remark” with musings such as, “I think Drew Barrymore could take Corey Haim in a fight, but it would be close.”

It’s Moosejaw Madness and it is central to the company’s success. “We know our customers can buy the stuff that we sell anywhere,” says Wolfe, whose brother Jeffrey and sister Julie are also in the business. “We try to be efficient and offer excellent customer service and all those things that anyone can do if they work really hard at it, but we also try to be the most fun. Not everyone can do that. We want your experience with Moosejaw to be the most fun part of your day. Our goal is to make shopping at Moosejaw so fun that customers feel compelled to tell 10-no, 11-friends about us. Word-of-mouth referrals account for the bulk of our new customer acquisition.”

Ivy League MBA types might dismiss all this as sophomoric or unsophisticated, but you can rest assured that the folks at Moosejaw couldn’t possibly care less. But if they did, they could point to the fact that the company has grown 60 percent each year for the last 10 years. Moosejaw has been recognized as a marketing leader by Forbes, the New York Times, BizRate and a host of trade publications. They’ve been featured on “CBS Evening News” and are a fixture on “Top Retailer” and “Top Website” lists.

It’s easy to be distracted by all the goofiness, but Moosejaw has been steps ahead of the game since the first football was thrown. Go to any retail conference and you’ll be sure to hear some expert speak about building community and opening your brand to create consumer trust and loyalty, and to generate buzz. That’s been the Moosejaw way since day one.

The company developed an e-commerce presence very early-in 1995. “I would have the phone company make the 800 number ring in whatever store I happened to be in that day,” remembers Wolfe. “At night, it would ring at my house. I’d sleep with a laptop and Visa machine on my nightstand, answering the phone with a ‘Hello, Moosejaw’ at 2:00 a.m.”

Moosejaw was the first retailer in the nation to offer receipts via e-mail and Moosejaw.com featured a blog even before the term existed. Its popular MySpace page gives the company a strong social media presence.
And today, partnering with Seattle-based mPoria, Moosejaw is bringing its madness to the world of mobile commerce.

Moosejaw didn’t need to do any sophisticated market research to realize that it needed to have a mobile presence. “Our staff perfectly reflects our customers’ demographic. In fact, most of them were customers before they came to work for us,” explains Wolfe. “We started noticing that our staff wasn’t even talking to people three feet away from them. They would text instead. Everyone was texting. We realized we needed to get on this.”

So the company’s first foray into mobile was via a text messaging campaign. Early efforts in 2004 proved to be cost prohibitive, but with texting costs diminishing, the program has been re-launched, with great success. Customers who sign up for the program receive messages from Moosejaw approximately bi-weekly (“we try not to be too predictable in when we send them out-it just makes it a little more fun,” says Wolfe). Unlike other retailers who alert customers to sales or send out coupons, Moosejaw’s texts-as you might expect-are a little off the wall. They usually take the form of games or trivia questions and all those who respond receive points in the company’s rewards program. Response rates are through the roof. For example, this text generated an incredible 66-percent response: Text me back with rock, paper or scissors. I already know what I’m throwing and if you beat me, I’ll add 100 Moosejaw Points to your account now.

Another text initiative gives customers the option to receive order numbers and UPS tracking information via text. “Twenty percent of our customers have signed up,” says Wolfe. “I would’ve expected less than one percent. Is it important to have your tracking information sent to your phone rather than waiting a couple of hours to check your e-mail? Certainly not. But is it cool and will you tell three friends about the service? Absolutely.”

After exploring its options, Moosejaw turned to mPoria to build its m-commerce site. mPoria is unique in the space in that it offers its customers a self-service platform (called GoMobile!) that allows the retailer to build its own commerce site for the mobile web. mPoria then hosts the site, which is instantly compatible with a variety of carriers and on more than 200 devices. In addition, the site is made available on mPoria’s own shopping portal. The company also offers customization for those retailers who want added specialized features on their mobile site (such as integration with a customer database, allowing customers to log on to check their accounts or shipping information in real-time).

Once the site is up on the mobile web, it can be accessed in a number of ways. Just as with the Internet, customers can launch their phone’s browser and enter the site’s URL, or they can search for the company or product name. Or, links to the site can be sent to customers via text message, much as links to websites are sent via e-mail. Finally, sites can be accessed through mPoria’s shopping mall portal, which can be reached on the mobile web or launched as an application on some devices.

mPoria is a leader in the field. Only a few hundred retailers are currently doing m-commerce, and mPoria powers 130 of these sites. This breadth of experience allows them to create fully customized sites and share best practices with those companies ready to dive into mobile commerce. But perhaps more impressive is the service offered to those companies that just want to dip their toes in the water.

“The barrier to entry is extremely low,” says Daniel Wright, mPoria’s CEO. “A company curious about mobile commerce can go to our website and sign up to receive a username and password to access our extranet. All you do is plug in your data feed and enter your tax and shipping options via an online wizard. Then you pick colors, submit your logo and other branding elements, and that’s it. If you so choose, you can create and launch your site-with no intervention from us-in about 30 minutes.”

The financial commitment is just as minimal, if you go with the self-service option. “There’s a $100 set-up fee and a monthly charge of approximately $70-150, and we require a minimum of a three-month commitment. So if you set up your site and find that you’re unsatisfied with it for some reason, you’re basically out the cost of a monthly phone bill. It’s not exactly a make-or-break proposition for most retailers.”

Moosejaw, using the mPoria platform, had its site up in about an hour. However, the company has worked with mPoria to add some custom features, most notably the Moosejaw Madness content including the “Daily Remark” and dating advice.

Wright believes Moosejaw is primed for success in m-commerce. “They’ve got a target demographic that’s very active on their mobile phones and they are perfectly positioned to promote the site through an integrated campaign with their website, their social media presence and their highly successful texting program.”

So, are people really ready to make transactions over the phone? mPoria says so, pointing to a small electronics retailer, called Second Act, that recently launched an e-mail campaign to 20,000 customers, which generated nearly $50,000 in mobile sales with an average order size of $1,550.

Moosejaw, for its part, is moving slowly. The site (moosejaw.mobi) is up and generating modest sales with virtually no promotion. The company is soliciting feedback from its customers and working with mPoria to refine the navigation, allowing the customer to get to the freshest and most relevant content as quickly as possible.

“We love the fact that we’re into mobile and are extremely happy with our relationship with mPoria. They are a true partner; it’s not a typical vendor/customer relationship,” says Wolfe. “We don’t quite have the site exactly where we want it, but we’ll be there soon. And when we are, we’ll unleash hell.”


1 Comment

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