Not many companies can rely on the same marketing message for 30 years. But then not every product carries the mystique that's woven around a basket from Longaberger Co.
American-made, handmade and expensive, these baskets generate more than $900 million in annual sales for the Ohio company, with nary a dime spent on conventional advertising and not one basket displayed on a store shelf.
Instead, Longaberger relies on some 70,000 direct sales people to push the product at home parties.
"I have 70,000 clients, that's how I look at it," says Tim Straker, 37, VP-marketing and communications.
"Our total success, our brand, it's nothing that comes out of a marketing plan. Our sales field is our storefront. The story is what makes the basket so appealing. And no one can tell a story like a sales consultant in a living room."
Collectibility helps sell the baskets, too, he says. In addition to the core line of products, specialty baskets are made and marketed for up to two months and then retired from production in an attempt to drive up their value. On any given day, more than 12,000 Longaberger items are up for auction on eBay, from baskets to fabric and plastic basket liners.
The marketing message steeped in Americana will remain the same but the product line continues to be carefully extended. Pottery has been added, and Longaberger has been toying for a year with producing furniture using the same maple as in the baskets, like in quilt racks.