Steve Heyer, the new chief executive officer of Harry & David Holdings Inc., talks recently about the new art and design for the company's catalogs. As the Rogue Valley's largest nonmedical employer takes steps to stop declining sales, key among them will be restoring customer affinity and strengthening brand presence. - Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

Harry & David examines marketing, mission

Slipping down the slope of declining revenue, Harry & David has struggled to find a foothold since the halcyon days when sales topped a half-billion dollars four-straight years ending in fiscal 2008.

Among the key elements in reversing the disappointing sales figures of the past two years are restoring customer affinity, discovering a new generation of customers and developing emotional links to the Medford-based gourmet food and gift retailer's products, said Ross Klein, Harry & David's chief brand officer.

He said a three-prong strategy is required:

  • Re-engaging current customers. "We want to reinforce and reward them for being our customer," Klein said. "We want to listen and make sure we don't alienate them. In today's world it is much easier and much more prudent to make sure you are rewarding the current base rather than get an entirely new customer."
  • Extend current customers beyond holiday buying. "Our brand has the permission to do things beyond gifting," he said. "There are the comfort, organic and healthy food cycles throughout the year. We are an agrarian brand; because we are a harvesting orchard, we can bring those ingredients into new product development."
  • Attracting the next generation. "There are different time and technology demands," Klein said. "For them we have mobile (phone applications), auto delivery and a different (type) 'of-the-month clubs.' The innovation is the 'Snack of the Month' or 'Moose Munch of the Month' club."

There are inherent dangers in chasing after the new customer and more than one company has stubbed its toe in the attempt, he said.

But marketing, Klein said, has morphed from the days when marketers' primary role was purchasing media and putting out a company's message.

"But they weren't about making sure a company's integrity, texture and tone were curated with the texture and tone of the product as seen by the consumer. They weren't looking into the consumer's mind," he said.

"There's much more integration between brand stewardship, leading marketing efforts and the overall organization, including merchandising," Klein said. He sees his role as the chief advocate for melding disparate elements, from packaging to catalog design to outside partners, to develop a brand presence. "So it's more experiential and not just advertising," Klein said. "Advertising is the smallest part of the functional job, because it's mechanic."

Klein previously worked 21 years for apparel firms prior to moving on to the hospitality industry.

When Harry & David's revamped website debuts Oct. 22, it will be a place for both company and customer to share stories. A new favorite tale around the Harry & David campus is a new relationship with aspiring Massachusetts chicken pot pie makers Laurie Bowen and Kristin Broadley. Oprah Winfrey paired the founders of Centerville Pie Co. with Harry & David during her Sept. 17 Ultimate Wildest Dreams Episode.

Centerville Pie Co. got overnight national distribution to raise funds for a Cape Cod charity, while Harry & David scored a public relations coup.

In October, Harry & David is offering a Pink Pear Collection in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The company's signature Royal Riviera pears are packaged in a vintage pink canvas tote with 25 percent of the proceeds benefiting the Noreen Fraser Foundation.

"We are not radically changing the tone of voice and look," Klein said. "We are revising, re-imagining it and refining it every day."

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