Candy maker sees sweet returns from holiday e-mails

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Veteran confectioner See's Candies has sweetened the e-mail inbox by promoting its confection version of the St. Patrick's Day potato.

The South San Francisco-based retailer and direct marketer began using Responsys' e-mail platform in March 2006 to promote its e-commerce store at http://www.sees.com/ during the holidays.  This year, the e-mail holiday correspondence has increased to include those holidays less associated with a sweet tooth.

"We are sending very holiday-focused e-mails which corresponds to our buying season, which increases around holidays like Easter, Halloween and Christmas," said Kristi Hadix, direct marketing manager at See's. 

"This year, we are adding minor holidays like St. Patrick's Day to promote our popular St. Patrick's Day potato candy."

The St. Patrick's Day potato candy is made of white chocolate and California walnuts. It is then hand shaped, covered in milk chocolate and finally rolled in cinnamon and cocoa powder. Pine nuts are added to represent the eyes of the potato.  A 15-ounce box runs for $17.10.

E-mail is a way for See's to communicate with its audience outside of the traditional retail area.  See's sends e-mails in a three-tiered customer lifecycle: welcome, upsell and acquisition. Once a customer is in the database, e-mails are sent only around different holidays to promote its seasonal products.

To obtain e-mails, the candy maker and Responsys, San Francisco, have employed a number of acquisition tactics, including a promotion on the See's site. Sees.com visitors can enter to win a free year of candy by giving their e-mail address.

See's was founded in 1921 in Los Angeles by Canadian immigrants Charles See and his mother, Mary See.  The two began making the iconic candy with Guittard Chocolate Company's chocolate.  See's continues to use the fourth-generation French American-family-owned Guittard's flagship product as the base of many of its sweet treats.

A Western state classic, See's white kitchen-like retail stores are located in most west of Mississippi. Its long history and reputation has earned it national renown despite not having retail stores in most Eastern states. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has owned See's since 1972.

"You don't know how many times customers have told me that they buy our candy and send it home to their families back East," Ms. Hadix said.

In response to this popular demand, See's sends its catalogs nationwide. In addition, the company has set up temporary Holiday Gift Centers nationwide for shoppers to buy confectionery around the winter holidays. It has also licensed its products to retail stores throughout the country.

The See's demographic is all over the map - anyone with a sweet tooth may apply. The traditional customer base in retail stores leans toward older women. E-mail outreaches expand the audience to include the younger generation as well.

See's e-mails avoid plugging sales or discounts, Ms. Hadix said.

"Usually when someone becomes a customer, they stay a customer for life," she said.  "We don't offer sales and promotions, because we are about staying true to the quality of the product.  We adhere to this strategy across all channels and so we're not using e-mail to promote deals."

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