Moosejaw goes to extremes to treat customers as friends
BY KEVIN ROMANCHIK
OU News Bureau
During the past decade, some Michigan businesses have closed their doors, but Moosejaw has avoided the descent and continued to climb.
Moosejaw Mountaineering, an outdoor gear and apparel store, opened in Keego Harbor with a different approach to business that has given it Top 50 recognition in such media outlets as Forbes, Bizrate, The New York Times and “CBS Evening News.”
Since its inception, Moosejaw has maintained a consumer-friendly atmosphere that includes activities such as tossing a football in the store and tossing the names of customers on its jackets.
Gary Wohlfeill, creative director for Moosejaw, said the company’s founders had no retail experience when they started the company in 1992. The result was an approach to the outdoor gear industry that “was different to the rest of the pack.”
As stated in a review of Moosejaw in a 2005 New York Times article, mainstream outdoor gear stores “generally go out of their way to appeal to that seriousness by stressing the authenticity of their gear,” while Moosejaw jokes in a caption in a recent catalogue that “when you’re in extreme conditions, matching your pack to your vest really makes a difference.”
“I like shopping there because my boyfriend and I are really outdoorsy people,” said Deena Borza, a student at Oakland University. “We really like the different hiking and camping gear that (Moosejaw) has.”
The employees of the original location often would take breaks to play touch football with customers, activities that still are practiced 20 years later in most stores.
“Without knowing it, we created a customer-engaged, brand-forward shop where we treated customers like friends,” Wohlfeill said. “Out of that, we had success with (the idea of) not taking ourselves seriously.”
This marketing strategy, known as “The Madness,” is a combination of dedication to social media.
“We were doing ‘social media’ before it was a term,” Wohlfeill said. “Before sites like Twitter, Facebook and Myspace, we were talking to customers via email and asking for advice.”
Moosejaw’s online presence has turned into a major part of the company
“A large part of the marketing team spends lots of time, even today, communicating one-on-one with people online,” Wohlfeill said. “It became (important because) it was another outlet for us to talk to customers.”
Their email newsletters sent out monthly have attracted customers to stores.
“(Moosejaw’s) emails are hilarious,” said Lisa Coppola, a mathematics major at Oakland University. “They definitely got me to come check out the Rochester store.”
Moosejaw also sells products named after its customers, which is a way of showing appreciation for the people who influence the direction of the brand.
Started in 2009, this small group of “vocal and passionate customers,” offers opinions on future items and are called the “Humans of Influence.” According to the company’s website, this group utilizes crowdsourcing, which is a means of contributing information, to help steer the direction of products based on such feedback as colors, features and sizing
The company isn’t shy about branding the “land in the shape of the hand” in its clothing.
The owners believe showing their love of Michigan in items from T-shirts to water bottles is important to their overall business philosophy.
“We think it’s really important to know where you’re from,” Wohlfeill said. “We’re from Michigan and Detroit area. There’s a lot of pride that goes into that.”
Along with its hometown branding, Moosejaw maintains retail locations, as well as teams, in the state. Michigan, Wohlfeill said, is “always going to be a part of who Moosejaw is.”
Along with love for Michigan, Moosejaw’s owners also are making an effort for a national focus by printing all their T-shirts in the United States.
Offering products that get customers out in the wilderness isn’t the only thing Moosejaw cares about. The company also partnered with Art Road, a nonprofit organization that strives to get art classes into Metro Detroit schools and had employees volunteer time with them as part of their spring campaign last year.
It also offered a special T-shirt through the World Clothes Line, a local company that gives a shirt, for every one sold, to people of need around the world.
Wohlfeill described the result of the collaboration as beneficial to both companies.
“We all try to align ourselves with (Michigan companies) as best we can,” Wohlfeill said. “It creates a nice support circle.”
According to Wohlfeill, these types of community involvement projects have played a crucial role in the company’s growing success.
“(Moosejaw has) had a lot of support in the community here. We wouldn’t be where we’re at without it,” Wohlfeill said. “It’s incredibly important to remember where we grew up and came from.”
Outside the corporate level, the employees who directly interact with the public see the local appreciation.
“Especially in our Michigan stores, it makes a real big difference that we are a local company,” said Randy Allen, employee of the Rochester location. “Even when you talk to customers about it, they seem to really appreciate that fact.”
Even though Wohlfeill didn’t release overall revenue, he said Moosejaw’s locations remain profitable even though the economy isn’t good.
Since the original store opened in 1992, Moosejaw has added locations in Ann Arbor, Birmingham, East Lansing, Grosse Pointe, Partridge Creek and Rochester. It has expanded outside of Michigan to Chicago and Natick, Mass.
Wohlfeill said that Moosejaw has employed somewhere around 350 employees, but the number fluctuates as it opens new locations and hires seasonal help.
With a growing, customer-first, business model, Moosejaw hopes that it hasn’t reached the top of the mountain yet.
Check out Moosejaw on the web at www.Moosejaw.com, follow them on twitter
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