I was the VP of Sales and Marketing for a 50+ radio station group at the time and was visiting the Buffalo, NY station group. The managers had a cattle call meeting with some principles of the then Bon-Ton Dept. Store chain. Present in the meeting beside the ad agency folks, were the company’s General Merchandise Manager, one of their Divisional Merch. Managers and their VP of Sales Promotion. So, some top-tier folks on the decision maker ladder.
I of course did not know squat about Bon-Ton, so I called a mentor of mine, the late Kevin Sweeney, to please script me for the call. Kevin had been a GSM for CBS radio way back in the day, reporting to Bill Paley. He was the GM of the first V stick TV station in LA. He ran the Radio Ad Bureau when it was at its most influential in the very early 1960’s. He invented Bridal Fair. It was one of his two research companies, MRS. Development, the other was Young Adult Marketing – [that were really just him] – that did the field research for the Dayton Hudson company, that showed them the hole they could fill to take on the then retail giant Kmart. You know it today as TARGET. Kevin could sit down with the CEO of any industry and talk enough about their business to get them to open up wide on their needs, wishes and plans for their operation. He was a consultant of mine, and a good friend.
Kevin gave me three names and said, “This is all you will need.”
Well at the meeting after all the introductions, I asked, “I’m sorry but I really am not all that up on Bon-Ton’s operations. But I have it in my mind, that your structure is akin to that of how Mercantile operates, is that about right?
Their eyes lit up a touch and they responded that my stated assumption was correct. To which I responded, “And this competition you are facing with the May Company here with their Kaufman Dept. Stores, that’s kind of like the Profitt’s – Gottschalk’s war going on out West, is that right?
On that note the floodgates opened! The Bon-Ton players poured out to our sales team more data on their inner workings than any other group of media players received.
Bon-Ton had bought an area chain of stores Adam, Meldrum & Anderson Company (AM&A’s). A store only little old ladies with blue hair would shop. Bon-Ton did not do a name change but moved their merchandise mix to target much younger Women 25-44.
This was a major failure. They were up against a solid Dept Store player with the May Company and their Kauffman chain. Not changing the name caused two issues. No woman 25-44 would be caught dead in an AM&A unless they had to bring their great-grandmother shopping there. So, any advertising with the name AM&A was rejected from the get-go. Then the change in merchandising mix ticked off the stores existing senior base, as it was far too trendy for their liking. Now Bon-Ton had to do a total store relaunch.
Our competitors got campaign flight dates and cost efficiency goals to meet. We got their story and in turn how to position our ad solutions to meet their needs.
My good friend Chris Lytle recently posted a conversation the two of us had about selling. We swapped war stories about the importance of approaching advertisers and prospects armed with information about their industries.
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