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In his book, "Walden," Henry David Thoreau asked, "Why should we be in such a desperate haste to succeed in such desperate enterprises?" As Dan Hutchings, President of Desperate Enterprises, Inc., tells it, CEO Bob Secrist was an antiques dealer and librarian prior to founding the company. "He considers Thoreau his mentor, so when he began the company in 1987, that is what he named it."
The roots of Desperate Enterprises are in Secrist's passion for buying and selling old, original advertising pieces, which he began doing in the '60s. "Over the years he built a great collection of originals. During the '80s he saw so many of the better pieces increasing in value that he decided to reproduce a few and sell them at modest prices, which made them accessible to non-collectors," said Hutchings. "He started in 1987, and the rest is history."
When Hutchings joined Secrist in 1990, Secrist was just getting into licensing. Hutchings said the company's first two licensed brands were Babe Ruth and James Dean. "When we worked with Shell Motor Oil in 1991, all we had was a letter of permission to sell products bearing their name. It wasn't the profit center it is now." Today, almost everything that has a viable trade name has a license, and Hutchings handles it all. "If the company exists, we have to pay them," he said.
Interestingly enough, not all of their products are exact reproductions. Many are new designs with an old flavor, or is that, old designs with a modern twist? Hutchings, who also does the design work, said "Sometimes it is old stuff being revitalized, but usually we create with an 'old look'. For instance, some of the automotive ads from the '40s and '50s looked hokey. They aren't sellable today, so we contemporize the retro look by coming up with something for today's market."
Desperate Enterprises made its online debut in 1998 with about 40 products on a site designed and built by Hutchings' brother. Although it now has closer to 900 products, there has always been a shopping cart. "We wanted to provide our customers with an efficient way to order," said Hutchings, "and the site continues to evolve with technology." Since online orders now go directly into their system, there's an immediate five percent discount. "Like the shopping cart, we have upgraded many features and incorporated new ones as they have come along."
There are two ways to use their current shopping cart: the traditional method, where you view a product image, click on quantity and continue from there, or choose by catalog number. "Many of our customers have been with us for years, and the catalog method is much quicker," said Hutchings. "What customers like most about our website is the ease of use. We have taken great strides to make it efficient. For instance, it has very detailed graphics, but low memory involved, so the graphics load quickly."
The "Coming Soon" category is a convenient way for customers to see what is around the corner. "These are images that have been approved by our licensors, but are still in production and not available yet," said Hutchings. "We have a "New Products" area for items whose production has taken place. The updates are always done in real time."
The site also has an efficient search function. "You can search by licensee or by genre," said Hutchings. "We have tried to come up with every different way that our customers would like to move through our site." Additionally, they do a full-color paper catalog twice a year, which can also be viewed online.
"We always come out with new products and cycle out some of the less successful ones, so we are constantly refreshing our line," Hutchings said. "We have about 600 designs that we have consistently sold, but we have also added maybe 300 designs over the last four years."
They have also branched out from tin signs, although consist of more than 85 percent of their business. "Thermometers are probably the second-largest category, then switch plates and magnets. The canvas wall hangers and sand pails are minimal. We are really a tin sign company, and the rest is fun," said Hutchings.
Desperate Enterprises has working relationships with over 100 different license property owners. "We have everything from hunting to baseball to cars to beverages. We are very lucky to work with companies like Jack Daniels, Coca Cola, and John Deere. They do not grant a license to every company that wants one. A lot of these companies have aligned with us because our sales volume per license is high enough to command attention."
Although they have a strong number of customers who retail flea markets and ebay, Hutchings says, "our core customer is the small specialty retailer. We also deal with some mid-tier retailers like the Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain, but that business comes and goes. We make our business decisions based on the specialty retailer."
Pricing is based on quantity: the more you buy, the less you pay. The minimum order is one sign, "but they are going to basically pay retail for that," said Hutchings. And there is always free shipping. "A lot of wholesale mail-order companies use shipping as a profit center. We don't do that. We want our customers to know exactly what they will be paying."
Manufacturing is done domestically. "When we first began, we used some of the metal sign companies that were producing signs 100 years ago. We are still using manufacturers that have been doing it for decades, but they may not be the same ones we started with."
In the last eight years, they have been honored with awards for the printing quality of their product. "We do our absolute best to produce a quality product at a modest price," asserts Hutchings. "That's important to us. Things are changing in the world today, but a lot of the companies we deal with have been around a long time, so hopefully the nostalgia puts a smile on people's faces."
Minimum order is one item, but pricing varies with quantity. Desperate Enterprises provides free shipping and UPS package tracking.
For more information, contact:
Desperate Enterprises, Inc.
P.O. Box 604
Sharon Center, OH 44274
Toll Free: 800-732-4859
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