Catalogs and beyond: Hampton Direct's evolving channel strategies

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Comedienne Kathy Griffin in Pajama Jeans
Comedienne Kathy Griffin in Pajama Jeans

Steve Heroux, CEO and founder of consumer product developer Hampton Direct, has had a few crazy ideas in his years as a businessman and as an inventor. Wonder Hangers is one such example—vertical hangers designed to create as much closet space as possible. Draft Guard is another: Shove it under the door to block out the wind. Hampton Direct also licenses products from inventor groups.

“Being in the product business for so long, we know the good categories,” Heroux says. “We look for products that are unique and that aren't too crowded a space. We look for products that can be made affordable so it makes sense for people to buy and something that has real mass appeal.”

Hampton Direct originated in 1995, selling products to catalog trade companies. In 1999 it expanded to home shopping networks like QVS and Home Shopping Network. And around 2006, Hampton Direct began shooting its own DRTV spots and sold to retail outlets like Walmart.

“The media is getting more difficult, as there are more and more options for people,” Heroux says about Hampton Direct's channel expansion. “The old days where you could run a product on TV and be successful financially is much more difficult. You're successful now when you've had a successful retail launch.”

Hampton Direct's most recent high-profile product are Pajama Jeans—which are exactly what the name suggests. Sartorially, Pajama Jeans occupy the same dubious space as Crocs. Like Crocs, what the product lacks in haute couture, it makes up for with consumer popularity and mainstream media attention.

Ultimately, the marketing strategy behind Pajama Jeans—which includes DRTV spots, celebrity endorsements, social media, and content marketing—is emblematic of the way Hampton Direct surges forward in a multichannel world. Here, Heroux shares details around that strategy.

You're active in a lot of channels. Where does most of your revenue come from?

Retail continues to be a big part, a majority, in terms of percentage. It's 75% of our business, I would say. Retail has been great and it continues to grow. Numbers dictate a lot of how much space you get in retail chains, but [Hampton Direct products have] been hot for a lot of retailers and they're allowing more space and better real estate in the stores.

What's driving retail for Hampton Direct?

If someone sees something on TV, most of what they're doing is they're going to retailers to buy it. There are less and less consumers buying on television because there are more retail outlets. Some would rather walk into a national retailer and have it this afternoon than order it by phone and waiting a couple of weeks [to get it]. I think we're over 80,000 doors—if you count Walmart as 35,000 doors.

What's the status of catalogs in your marketing mix?

Catalogs were there at the beginning and are still an important part. When we advertise on TV, they do well with products that are sold on TV. Lots of customers prefer buying from them or an 800 number instead of a website that they're not familiar with. Catalogs complement very well. Most items we sell on TV are also sold in catalogs.

Speaking of television, let's talk about your DRTV strategy—you do both short- and long-form commercials.

We've primarily done short-form DRTV—one- or two-minute commercials where we get a lot of orders. But those products are sold into retail and that's where most of the volume comes from. Now we're doing more long-form infomercials.

Why?

Those are for products with higher price points. It's hard to convince someone to spend $100-plus in two minutes. That's why we're looking at doing long-form. One of the new ones we're doing right now, our big hit from last year, are Pajama Jeans. We just shot a long-form spot and it's airing right now. We hired Kym Johnson from Dancing with the Stars—we put a face and a voice to the product. And it's really helped our sales.

Your background is in more traditional marketing channels like catalogs and television. What role does digital play?

It doesn't work with all the products but there are some where social media is a huge benefit to us. It's a lot of eyeballs and [customers] hear about a product through social media, then walk through Walmart or Target and see the box. It's almost product by product. Some products resonate really well with people and they take off. Pajama Jeans is a great example. Leno talked about it on his show. Celebrities started talking about it and it grew. And it's all over the place. [Playboy model] Holly Madison mentioned it in three or four different shows. [Comedienne] Kathy Griffin did the same. It became part of her standup act. Initially, [Pajama Jeans] was picked up organically. And then you leverage a notable person to spur the conversation and it snowballs into something larger.

So it seems that if the product catches on in mainstream media, you can use digital channels to promote it even more.

We'll strategize with our PR firm for television exposure and online exposure. For social media, we just put it out there as much as we can. There's only so much we can do at one point and the consumer has to take it over from there.

Have there been any recent “aha!” moments where you realize one of your products will have more mileage than others?

We had that moment with Pajama Jeans. It was something that was different. It started with shooting the right commercial. When we started doing blogging and online social media, the impact was immediate. And when celebrities and talk shows mentioned it, we knew at that point it was a big, big item for us.

So those DRTV spots are crucial in generating that chatter.

There are some memorable moments that people just remember where we showed that it's a combination of comfort and style. You need that money shot. For Furniture Fix [which supports sagging couches], we put two sumo wrestlers in the commercial.

How do you maintain consumer interest after those 15 minutes of fame are up?

If you don't monitor this kind of stuff, if you don't embrace the conversation so it becomes perpetual, it becomes the flavor of the week. The key in keeping this going for well over the majority of last year is keeping it going from one domino to the next.

What sort of tactics do you use?

We have some blog websites with Pajama Jeans where there's constant dialog between us and potential customers. And obviously we have contact center set up so if there are questions they can go on Pajamajeans.com and give us a call. We do get a lot of emails from happy customers about what they'd like to see in the future and we take those into consideration.

Given the number of channels through which consumer queries are coming, how do you handle attribution?

There's a lot of AB testing, a lot of trial and error. For television, we have an 800 number. But for web, it gets more tricky. We've been doing this for so long we do know what the expected ratio of a phone to web order should be. We never test two different campaigns at the same time. We'll never be 100% accurate, but we are 80% accurate, and then we feel we're close enough, the models worked for us.

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