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How Moosejaw builds a brand that consumers love…and sometimes hate

June 5, 2015 11:54 AM
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When Top 500 retailer Moosejaw was founded 23 years ago, executives established a simple goal: to be the most fun outdoor retailer on the planet. 

That philosophy has guided the merchant through countless business decisions over the years, and fostered the cult-like following that Moosejaw still enjoys today, CEO Eoin Comerford told attendees this week at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago this week.

In his talk entitled, “Creating a brand that people will love… or possibly hate,” Comerford urged attendees to ask themselves what their company stands for. Let that philosophy guide you through every business decision, he said. “You have to be willing to sacrifice today’s sale for the sake of the long-term health of your business.” 

It’s what leads Moosejaw, for example, to plaster its Detroit-area delivery truck with the phrase, “Driver carries less than $50 cash and is completely naked.” Or it’s the thinking behind a 2010 Valentine’s Day stunt the merchant called the Moosejaw Break-Up Service that urged customers in bad relationships who were “too chicken to get out of it” to have the merchant break it off for them. 

A customer could e-mail Moosejaw the name and phone number of his significant other, three reasons why he wanted to break up with his girlfriend, and three “nice things to say to soften the blow,” Comerford told attendees. “We were thinking we’d get 20 or 30 requests, but ultimately when we got up to 250, we had to cut it off.” 

This was a stunt, no doubt, Comerford acknowledges. The merchant did it because executives thought it would be fun, hilarious, and a great way to entertain its customers, and not necessarily to drive more sales. “You talk about engaging on a personal level, that’s about as personal as it gets,” he said. 

If people are to become passionate fans of a brand, however, it’s likely that a select few may be turned off. Case in point was a Moosejaw store located in a “proper” area surrounding Minneapolis that displayed a large sign saying, “Bad Ass Gear Sale.” A neighbor called the cops, who arrived to tell the store manager they couldn’t display the “a” word in their sign. 

“They just ended up putting tape over the word ‘ass,’ and it became the “Bad Gear Sale,” Comerford joked.

Moosejaw, ranked No. 273 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, operates 11 physical stores in the Midwest, and brought in an Internet Retailer-estimated $83.8 million in online sales in 2014.

 

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