Hard Rock Gets a Cyberspace Facelift

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As it gears up for its 30th anniversary at year's end, Hard Rock Cafe International has begun to renovate a number of its 103 cafes while also preparing to open additional properties like its new hotel in Orlando. The most important grand opening, however, may be the relaunch of HardRock.com in the fourth quarter.


The chain has been rolling out new features while also revamping its back end since July. The first high-profile front-end addition, a major agreement with eBay, was announced late last week.


The deal calls for eBay to create a Hard Rock-specific auction section at www.ebay.com where collectors can meet to buy and sell items in the fourth quarter. The demand for such a section appears to be there. As of Friday, there were 2,639 Hard Rock Cafe items being traded on the site, ranging from a "Hurricane Glass" from Tel Aviv for $56 to a menu from London for $5.


To draw attention to the auction as well as the HardRock.com site, the chain plans to auction off high-profile items, such as James Dean's motorcycle, from its $31 million-plus music memorabilia collection.


"We're not doing it because we need the money, but because there's a bigger purpose," said Scott Little, chief financial officer at Hard Rock Cafe International, Orlando, FL. Such "bigger purposes" could include promoting Hard Rock's 30th anniversary, the January opening of the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando or a charity event.


To learn more about these special items, collectors will be encouraged to come to HardRock.com to get the complete rundown. "There will be one-click-over access to and from HardRock.com to help the traffic be shared [with eBay]," said Little.


The ultimate focus of the new site and many of its future partnerships will be music. For example, the company plans to launch as many as 500 upcoming concert events each year, including its annual Hard Rock Cafe Rockfest outdoor event. There are plans to show the footage from these shows on cable as well as on the site. The site's Web address will be heavily promoted throughout the various venues.


The site's URL should get a boost within the various Hard Rock properties that span 38 countries. The Web address as well as special behind-the-scenes and concert footage will be shown on the monitors throughout the cafes and hotels. The company already has placed the Web address on matchbooks, bags and other collateral that the chain's 27 million annual guests receive.


HardRock.com currently receives about 500,000 unique monthly visitors. It hopes to double that number in the near future.


One of the tools it's relying on to accomplish this is its newly developed customer relationship management and data warehouse system. To retain current customers and acquire new ones, the site will create targeted offers.


The technology, created by Vision Chain, Reston, VA, an eCRM software company, can profile consumers based on criteria such as whether they're a collector. If they are and they have not purchased a collector's pin, they can be contacted with an offer via e-mail or direct mail.


Since the spring, the site has made an effort to collect consumers' names both online and offline. Fans can register at HardRock.com or through links at other sites, such as eBay.com, ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, to become HardRockers. The company also has begun to gather information via its group sales department. When a group arrives at a cafe, there is a card on their seats asking for their e-mail addresses and other information. It will soon begin collecting information from casual consumers as well.


Sweepstakes also play heavily in the collection process. Current efforts such as the Big Freekin T-shirt Deal and a Pepsi sweepstakes, where consumers can win a trip for four to the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando, have also been useful in gathering information. The company currently has more than 25,000 names in its HardRockers database.


The Hard Rock Cafe, which enjoys 92 percent brand awareness, believes it has a competitive advantage over many other destinations on the Web because "we have cash flow," said Little. "We don't have the same restraints to earn direct Internet revenues as other sites do. Ultimately the site will be a branding and community push with a music focus."


CAPTION:


Visitors will be able to go from HardRock.com to eBay to view the 2,639 items being auctioned.
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