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Dog Gone

Teaching an old product new tricks.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the March 1999 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Sometimes it pays to bark up the wrong tree--at least, in a manner of speaking. That's the lesson learned by Phoenix-based sporting goods manufacturer Penn Racquet Sports in its attempt to put a new spin on its tennis balls.

"Over the years, we've had a lot of people suggest this is something we ought to do," says Penn's director of marketing and international sales, Mike Curtis, explaining the company's rationale for introducing tennis balls made especially for dogs last summer. "It's a neat idea."

From a marketing perspective, what's so neat about the new line (called R.P. Fetchem's) is that it's a perfect example of how one product (give or take a few revisions, perhaps) can be served up to two completely different audiences. Says Curtis, "A lot of people are intrigued with the concept of taking a core competency and applying it to a different market."

Naturally, Penn's doggy tennis balls (manufactured in conjunction with pet care giant Ralston Purina Co.) are packaged differently as well--just take a gander at the cartoon canine depicted on the label. And, yes, the notorious saliva factor prompted a switch to vegetable dye and an ultra-durable felt surface. What remains to be seen, however, is how many dog owners will, um, bite.

Curtis, for one, is optimistic. "It certainly could be as large as 10 percent of our sales," he says, pointing out that pet owners easily outnumber tennis players. So we guess it's true: Product lives--like dog years--are exponential.

Bag It

Advertising goes to the cleaners.

What's plastic and portable and read all over? As any well-dressed working professional could probably tell you, the answer to this riddle rests on a metal hanger, snugly protecting expensive suits, shirts and the like. To put it clearly, we're referring to dry-cleaning bags--the latest wrinkle in marketing.

The way that William Sancho sees it, this is a wrinkle with plenty of potential. "We're getting tremendous responses," says the 30-year-old founder of Look Worldwide Inc., a Miami media company that recently unveiled what it dubs "Ad Bags." "It's unavoidable; it's in your face."

According to Sancho, the garment bags produced by Look Worldwide are capable of magazine-quality images--to say nothing of sample or coupon attachments. The real selling point, though, is the affluent individuals reached through Ad Bags. "These are high-income, disposable-income people," says Sancho.

Equipped to target locally or through a national network of more than 10,000 dry cleaners, Look Worldwide can be contacted at (888) 808-5665 or For entrepreneurs seeking to clean up, Ad Bags may just fit the bill. They certainly fit the suit.

Say The Word

How to play the waiting game.

Waiting does not a happy customer make, right? Right. Yet for those times when you're forced to keep customers on hold, here's a way to turn their frowns upside down: Make the wait worth their while.

How so? Per the suggestion of Godfrey Harris, author of the word-of-mouth advertising book Don't Take Our Word For It! (The Americas Group), you simply need to provide callers on hold with a special word they can later use to get a product discount. "It takes something that may be negative--like being on hold--and turns it into an instant positive that has the ability to increase sales at the same time," Harris explains.

Which word should you use? Harris suggests `sunob'--`bonus' spelled backwards. "When the customer says `sunob' out of the blue, everybody smiles," assures Harris, "and they get 15 percent [off] besides." Plus, it's probably more popular than Muzak.

Contact Sources

Harris/Ragan Management Group, fax: (310) 271-3649,

Penn Racquet Sports, (800) BUY-PENN,

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