The Moose Is Loose

With its college-age demographic, outdoor apparel and gear retailer Moosejaw Mountaineering has no trouble getting its customers on board for mobile marketing. Its second mass text message—a fun take on the age-old game of rock, paper, scissors—yielded a staggering 66% response rate.

“Text messaging allows us to interact with our customer base on a very personal level,” said Robert Wolfe, founder, president and CEO, Moosejaw Mountaineering, Madison Heights, Mich. “The response has been amazing.”

The retailer’s text messages reinforce its hip, slightly off-center brand image. Whether it’s a game (“Text me back with Rock, Paper, Scissors. I already know what I’m throwing and if you beat me I’ll add 100 Moosejaw Points to your account now.”) or a question (“Someone told me I look like Ben Stiller. Is that a good thing?”), the tone is always playful.

“Everything we do at Moosejaw is fun,” Wolfe said.

But do the messages drive sales?

“Probably not in the short term,” Wolfe said. “But hopefully, the recipient will think it’s cool and tell a friend about us, who will tell a friend, and so on. And eventually, when those people need to buy something, they will come to us.”

Despite the opt-in nature of the program (customers sign up on the Moosejaw Web site), the retailer is careful not to overplay its hand by sending out too many messages.

“With the kind of messages we send out, we’re trying to entertain and have fun with our customers,” Wolfe said. “If you do it too often, it gets boring.”

Typically, Moosejaw offers reward points or nothing at all with its text messages. But the company plans to test a coupon code with its next one.

Moosejaw’s mobile marketing needs are provided by MESSAGEbuzz, St. Louis. According to CEO Steve Kelley, Moosejaw’s high response rate illustrates the power of mobile marketing when things are done right.

Moosejaw is working to integrate text-messaging technology into every facet of its business. Customers can text product questions to Moosejaw’s customer-service staff, who will quickly respond via text. They can also opt to receive Moosejaw’s Deal of the Day text message and a witty Daily Remark message on their mobile phones.

The company even has the distinction of being the first retailer in the nation to offer online customers the option of receiving order-tracking text messages on their mobile phones.

“Our customers think it is very cool to have this type of information texted to them,” Wolfe said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on it.”

Moosejaw was also first at offering in-store customers the option of either a paper or an e-mail receipt. The program has been an overwhelming success, with approximately 90% of customers choosing the e-mail receipt over the paper.

“We will probably offer the option of texting the receipt as well,” Wolfe added.

Most recently, Moosejaw launched a mobile-shopping site that lets customers browse, price compare and shop its Web site using any mobile phone or device.

“Does someone need to buy a backpack over their mobile phone? Probably not. But they might do it because they think it’s a cool thing to do. This is the type of thing we need to be doing for our particular demographic,” Wolfe said.

About Moosejaw

Offbeat and irreverent, Moosejaw Mountaineering has built a reputation as a hip haven for young outdoor enthusiasts. The Madison Heights, Mich.-based company was founded in 1992 by the then 22-year-old Robert Wolfe and a college buddy. Wolfe subsequently bought out his friend’s share and was joined by his sister and brother in the business.

From quirky comments in its mail-order catalogs to dating tips on its Web site, Moosejaw aims to make buying outdoor gear and apparel (it carries all the major lines as well as its own brand) a fun experience. Its motto—Love the Madness—permeates nearly every aspect of its culture and operations. The company’s six stores (five in metro Detroit, one in Chicago) are loud and raucous, and its Web site (online reportedly accounts for about 60% of overall revenue) is chock full of zany, entertaining asides.

The privately held Moosejaw won’t reveal its financials, but it says that online revenue grew 60% and store sales increased 40% in 2006 vs. the previous year (the overall outdoor sporting-goods industry has been growing by 9% for the last few years). Clever, out-of-the-box marketing has raised Moosejaw’s profile and cemented its freewheeling brand image with its core college-age demographic.

Moosejaw’s growing repute has not gone unnoticed. In February, Dallas-based Parallel Investment Partners, which invests in lower-middle-market growth companies, bought a majority stake in the business. Key to the agreement was that Wolfe and his siblings, who maintained a significant ownership stake, remain in senior management positions. National expansion is a long-term goal.

“Moosejaw is well-positioned for continued strong growth because it is selling into a multibillion dollar market, has established an exciting and differentiated brand in the category and because its founders will continue to lead the company going forward,” said Jed Johnson, managing director, Parallel Investment Partners. “We are very excited about the opportunity to grow Moosejaw by combining the Wolfes’ passion for the company with Parallel’s substantial specialty retail expertise.”