Harry and David employees are busy these days assembling holiday gift baskets in the companyís main Medford plant. The mail order gift company has come out of bankruptcy with a new focus on the buying habits of its customers. - Jamie Lusch

Outside the box

Shoppers have many options when it comes to ordering gifts online or over the phone.

Scott Huddleston, Harry & David senior vice president for sales and multichannel marketing, can fire off the company's potential competitors in rapid fashion.

Every entity from ProFlowers and 1-800-Flowers to Hickory Farms and Godiva Chocolatier are after the same thing: long-term, loyal customers willing to spend money now.

On the road to recovery from bankruptcy, Harry & David hasn't necessarily redefined itself, but has gone to lengths to differentiate itself.

"Consumers can go to Google, and that's where we are competing with all the online companies," Huddleston said. "We've done extensive research about what consumers think of our brand, and it's encouraging news to know there is high awareness versus our competitors."

More than that, however, is the advantage the Medford-based gourmet food and gift company has when it can talk about orchards where it grows pears and the kitchen where it prepares Moose Munch.

"A lot of consumers don't understand we make, bake and grow what we sell, and that differentiates us from other companies in the gifting market place," Huddleston said. "We create the products we sell; we're not just buying products from another company, throwing it into a basket and selling it."

As the digital world becomes more exacting and algorithms can predict purchasing patterns with greater accuracy, companies such as Harry & David are able to target potential customers with special offers and suggested gift lists.

"Five years ago, we thought we were sophisticated, but we weren't," Huddleston said. "We have much better insights in customer movement and strategies if a particular group is not responding the way we want. We can leverage our email and digital assets to send assets and change the frequency of our contact in order to goose the response rates we're trying to get. At any moment we can see how we're performing and adjust on the fly."

While Harry & David navigates technological inroads toward the future, it will reinstate a tie to the past: The gold foil has returned to its five-pound Royal Riviera boxes.

"There was always one pear wrapped in gold foil," said Tracy Kaiser, senior director of catalog and Web merchandising.

The foil disappeared amid cost-cutting a few years ago, but it may have suggested something different to customers.

"It was something signature and symbolic of our brand," Kaiser said. "Customers would have amazing stories, kids would fight over the golden pear because they thought it something more special. We're bringing back our heritage and reminding people the roots of our business go back to the orchard."

Retailers, however, can never depend on what sold last year or yesterday, so no terabyte of data is overlooked in determining what customers desire.

"We are always looking for new opportunities for innovative products, new flavor profiles, and making sure product and quality is brand right," Kaiser said.

Moose Munch, which was introduced in the mid-1990s, provides both a long-term connection and an opportunity to expand buying options. Peppermint remains a hot consumer flavor, so a limited-edition peppermint is among 20 Moose Munch flavors.

"We're very aggressive with our limited-edition opportunities," Kaiser said. "Moose Munch is a great base product, and that's how we can keep a customer energized."

After closing 13 unprofitable stores during fiscal 2012 in malls around the country during and after reorganization, Harry & David now runs 56 stores. The company said this week it will operate five seasonal pop-up stores and nine stand-alone kiosks in major California markets, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area.

"We wanted to be in those markets when consumers were looking for gifts," Huddleston said. "A seasonal store is not a long-term investment, but it puts you front and forward in awareness and consideration in the moments people are buying holiday gifts they want to give locally."

Awareness and consideration are followed by a transaction, he said, citing a retailing mantra. "Then you want to turn them into an advocate for the brand."

Harry & David may have lost its way for a short time, but its customers remained within reach.

"I think we have a pretty solid following in terms of our customer base," said Darren Prescott, vice president for customer care. "I think we're pretty well liked. Customers are a little more savvy than they have been and spend a lot of time looking for deals, but a little bit of that is a product of the economy."

Harry & David has stepped up its field representation, whether it be in Washington, D.C., Houston or elsewhere.

"We've strategically placed people around the country to go eyeball-to-eyeball in the corporate world, and we've implemented a more aggressive trade show approach."

Harry & David folks were at a recent gaming trade show in Las Vegas with a simple message.

"High-rollers should have a really nice gift basket from Harry & David sitting in the room when they show up at the hotel," Prescott said.

Coming out of Chapter 11 restructuring, making a good first-Christmas-back impression on customers was a necessity.

Call center folks like to talk about conversion ratios, finding something a little better for a customer and turning calls into sales, something that happens 98 percent of the time during the Christmas season.

"We've moved into more consultative approach," Prescott said. "It's not like going to buy a car and doing battle with a sales person. It's more the experience where you're shopping for mom."

Harry & David operated call centers in Medford, Hebron, Ohio, and Dennison, Texas, last year. After a two-year hiatus, the company is reopening its Eugene call center, where it has hired 750 workers — in the middle range of the 450 to 900 previously working there.

"The amazing part," Prescott said, "is that every person in leadership came back. It's only open for two months, but everyone we've hired has eight to 10 years with us and in some cases longer."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or

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