A rebranding effort and a continued focus on its core catalog business have helped Baudville build a brand centering on employee recognition products during a time when many folks are just grateful to be getting a paycheck, even if they don't love their jobs.
Baudville started nearly 30 years ago in the computer/video game industry, says Kristy Sherlund, vice president, product development and merchandising. One of its sideline products was a software program called “Award Maker,” which allowed users to print award certificates in their office. From there, it branched out to offer certificate paper to print those awards on and then gradually the business became built around employee recognition.
Three years ago, the company rebranded its product lines, to shift the focus on products to recognize the day-to-day achievements of employees. The Grand Rapids, MI, firm's customer base ranges from Fortune 500 firms to small businesses. “We try to focus on the middle manager who wants to engage their team,” says Sherlund. “Especially places like banks or call centers, where there's a sea of employees, managers want to make them feel good about what they're doing.”
For many managers, the concern is retaining key employees in a time when they might not be able to reward them with raises. That's where Baudville's products — things like mugs, tote bags, key chains and boxes of candy emblazoned with slogans like “Making a Difference,” “You're an Essential Piece (of the puzzle),” and “Together We Can!” — come in.
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“When you give the gift of cash people immediately forget about it because people are so short for cash,” says Sherlund. “But they will remember a handwritten note from their manager and a keepsake.”
The company felt the pinch of the bad economy in 2009 and reduced catalog circulation. But now, after being conservative, Baudville plans to increase circulation by about 10,000 this year.
The print catalog is where the company's primary investment is from a dollar perspective. While a great deal of orders are coming in online, many people tend to have the catalog in front of them when they order, says Sherlund.
Online, the largest portion of the company's investment is in search engine optimization. A lot of time was also spent on developing the areas of the site that offer personalization for items like trophies or plaques. “We want to take the customer through that process quickly and make sure they understand exactly what they're ordering,” she notes.
Baudville is using social media, engaging people to talk about things like why their customer service group is the best. But Sherlund concedes it doesn't have the ROI equation nailed down yet. “It's hard to drive performance metrics in social, but intuitively we know it's the right thing to do.”