Machine Shed Serves Up Steak Catalog

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After 27 years in business, Midwestern restaurant chain The Machine Shed no longer merely serves strip steaks, tenderloin filets and prime rib roast at the table. Now it also mails these and other food items to homes nationwide.


The first mail-order catalog from The Machine Shed began arriving in mailboxes earlier this month. It features a selection of beef, pork and a Turkey Mignon as well as Midwest-themed souvenirs that are sold at gift stores inside the seven Machine Shed restaurants in Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Illinois and Minnesota.


The Machine Shed's parent company, Heart of America Restaurants and Inns, Davenport, IA, saw a chance to expand into direct marketing after customers repeatedly told employees that they couldn't find anything like the restaurant -- or its food -- anywhere else.


"We want to expand our brand, and in the restaurant business you can only sell as much as people can consume at your table," Carmen Darland, vice president of marketing at Heart of America, said of the decision to start a catalog and companion e-commerce site. Machineshed.com also debuted at the beginning of June.


The company owns 17 restaurants and nine hotels and has annual sales of $100 million. Its other restaurant brands are Thunder Bay Grille and Johnny's Italian Steakhouse. However, The Machine Shed is "the flagship," Darland said.


The Machine Shed creates a down-on-the-farm experience for customers. Hayrides are available, and servers are dressed in bib overalls, seed corn hats and red-and-white-check gingham shirts.


"We sell the experience," Darland said.


The company would have introduced a catalog sooner but had difficulty finding a meat plant that could ship the same quality of meat that The Machine Shed serves. That piece of the puzzle finally fell into place earlier this year, she said.


The 12-page catalog contains 50 items with prices ranging from $3.98 for a napkin to $449.98 for the Full Butcher Shop Gift Pack C. The catalog also features cooking tips. Other items include T-shirts, The Machine Shed Great Farm Fixin's Cookbook, table linens and tableware.


The meat is quick frozen and placed inside a corrugated gift box that is packed in a reusable insulated cooler along with dry ice.


The catalog mailed to a house file of 24,000 names as well as to 100,000 names from assorted lists bought by Heart of America. About a week before dropping the catalog, the company sent a postcard to its house file telling recipients to watch for the new steak catalog and offering $5 off first purchases made by Aug. 31.


The company plans two more mailings after Labor Day and another for the holiday season. It also expects to buy additional names for its fourth-quarter mailings and add items such as a spiral ham, gourmet mustards and dry meat rubs.


The fall catalogs will have a consumer advertising push including full-color print ads in alumni magazines for several Midwestern universities, a gardening magazine and several business publications. The company will spend money on talk radio as well, Darland said.


The Machine Shed offers several signature items such as potato au gratin, a cinnamon roll with butter cream frosting and a dumpling that Darland wants to put in the catalog once she finds someone who can produce and ship them.


Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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