'The Fridge' Perry Tackles DM, Makes House Calls

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Want to talk to William "The Refrigerator" Perry, the famed former Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the NFL's Chicago Bears? Just buy $100 worth of stuff on his Web site, thefridge.net, and he'll call you. Personally.


There are better-looking Web sites than the no-frills thefridge.net, a fact acknowledged by Adam Plotkin, executive director of the Orlando, FL-based National Organization of Professional Athletes and Perry's marketing agent. However, the site, which sells Perry memorabilia, generates 100,000 hits a month and enough $100 sales that Perry needs to make about 10 of those personal phone calls each day.


The offer is made plainly on thefridge.net's home page: "Every Order over $100 will receive a personal phone call from The Fridge," which is the shortened version of Perry's nickname. For Plotkin, the offer is as simple as a handoff.


Perry spends about 40 minutes a day making phone calls. The calls usually take only a few minutes each. In one case, Perry called a man preparing to be married -- who had bought autographed Fridge photographs as gifts for his wedding party -- to wish him luck.


Perry typically takes two to three weeks to call, long enough for the product to reach the customer, Plotkin said. When they place their order, customers submit a phone number where Perry most easily can reach them, and if they're not there when he calls, Perry will call back later.


"He'll call, say hi, see how you're doing," Plotkin said. "He offers something that no one else offers."


One thing you won't hear from Perry when he calls is an upsell.


"One of the things I've learned over the years, the guys don't like selling their own stuff," Plotkin said.


Rather than add a lot of gizmos to the site, Plotkin plans more incentives and special offers with Perry's personalized touch to keep customers buying. Drawings for golf outings with Perry, tickets to charity dinners with Perry and memorabilia giveaways -- such as the gloves Perry wore in his celebrity boxing match with former professional basketball player Manute Bol -- are planned.


"A lot of people need those flashy Web sites," Plotkin said. "The good thing about athletes is that, if people are going to your Web site, they're going because they like the athlete. They're not going to buy because of how your Web site looks."


Though Perry is not an NFL Hall of Famer, he gained enough notoriety in his career with the Bears that his personality, along with his distinctive nickname and size, provide a recognizable brand. His regular appearances on the Howard Stern radio show generate traffic to his site, and an appearance Oct. 7 on Monday Night Football generated 4 million hits in one day, Plotkin said.


"He's one of the most recognizable names in sports," he said. "Even if you're not a football fan, you know who he is."


Plotkin said he knows that others have tried marketing athletes on the Web and failed. One case he has studied is AthletesDirect.com, which folded in February 2001 when its parent company, Broadband Sports, went into bankruptcy. One lesson he took from previous failures in the market is to avoid items with high price points. Only one item on thefridge.net is priced near $100: a full-sized Riddell helmet autographed by Perry.


Because they must be custom made, the site will not stock football jerseys. Even with the helmets, Plotkin keeps only a few more in stock than he has on order at a given time, and he accepts that, as currently is the situation, there often will be back orders.


The site's biggest moneymaker also is the cheapest item, the $10.95 8-by-10-inch photos, Plotkin said. These he can afford to keep in stock, though Plotkin has Perry sign as many as possible when the two are in town together for appearances so Plotkin can avoid paying for shipment of the photos from the printer to himself, to Perry, back to himself and finally to the customer.


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