Buffets Restaurants Cook with Country

Charlie Daniels displays his new project, Hallelujah It's Christmas Time Again, exclusively for purchase at all Buffet's Inc. locations. All proceeds will go to the ASYMCA(r) Operation Outdoors, a camp which assists the children of deployed military personnel.
[portfolio_slideshow]Charlie Daniels is among many who are already nostalgic for the days when you could explore new releases in a CD store. “Of course, I hated to see vinyl go away first,” he noted, smiling.Plenty of fans feel the same, which is one reason why Daniels’ partnership with Buffets Inc. feels right. With more than 350 restaurants operating in 35 states under a variety of names (HomeTown Buffet, Old Country Buffet, Ryan’s and others), Buffets serves around 100 million customers each year, many of whom are already fans of Country Music.

Beginning in November, they will be able to purchase Hallelujah It’s Christmas Time Again, a compilation of holiday songs recorded by Daniels and offered now exclusively through Buffets. “The great thing is that you’ve got a point-of-purchase product. You can walk up, pick it out and take it home. You don’t have to get online — especially if you’re as technologically challenged as I am,” said Daniels, with a laugh.

Buffets road-tested the idea of selling Country CDs in July, when it started stocking Montgomery Gentry’s Rebels on the Run. “We were looking for ways to strengthen relationships with our guests,” explained Jason Abelkop, Chief Marketing Officer, Buffets Inc. “One thing that we noticed with all the types of folks who come into our restaurants is that so many of them love Country Music. From there, it was about building that connection through great artist tie-ins and by bringing our military charity component in as well.”

Beginning by “finding the lowest price there was out there in the retail space and then going lower, we wanted to offer our guests the same value on their CD purchase that they receive when dining in our restaurants,” Abelkop said. He noted that his company saw this as an opportunity to give back by donating its profit margins from sales of both albums to the Armed Services YMCA. Dedicated to assisting children of military personnel during deployment, the ASYMCA applies contributions from Buffets to fund its Operation Outdoors camp program.

Buffets spread word of the project through in-store displays (including near-life-size standees of the artists), a satellite news tour for TV and radio, direct mail to more than 10 million households and outreach nearly 2 million guests registered in the company’s ECRM (electronic consumer relations marketing) digital database and 350,000 Facebook fans. “We ended up selling north of three times our original projection for Rebels on the Run,” Abelkop said. “And the last couple of months have been some of the strongest we’ve seen from sales and traffic perspectives in the past six years. The Montgomery Gentry campaign was absolutely a big part of it.”

The arrangement apparently works for the artists too. “The feedback from the managers in our restaurants is that lots of folks purchased the CD who didn’t even know who Montgomery Gentry is,” Abelkop said. “They just wanted to support the ASYMCA, but while it’s anecdotal it seems like we’ve been helping to create new fans of Montgomery Gentry and soon Charlie Daniels as well.”

On the Web: Buffet.comCharlieDaniels.comMontgomeryGentry.com

By Bob Doerschuk

Photo Credit: Andy Evinger

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