BirdieBox taking off in swag space
If you work in sports, you’ve been “gifted.”
Call it glom, chum or swag, it’s as integral a part of the business as corporate suites, golf tournaments, and private pregame parties. At any of those, you’ve received gifts emblazoned with logos of the event you’re attending. And those in the C-suite receive more swag than anyone.
Rocket Mortgage Classic Tournament Director Rob Croll has been handling corporate gifting programs for decades. “It’s just an expected part of our industry, and it’s still so important,” he said.
Veering sharply from business-to-consumer to business-to-business over the past few years, BirdieBox transformed from a subscription box company into a concierge gifting service allowing its sports, golf and corporate clients to outsource that vital function.
“We’ve all seen conference rooms filled with people who should be doing their jobs — instead they’re building goodie bags,’’ said Michael Myers, BirdieBox’s chief strategy officer. “Gifting touches their most important customers, so we were sure there was a business there.’’
And there was: BirdieBox has doubled its revenue each of the past three years. During this season of giving, the company will do about a third of its annual business, servicing events like a dozen college bowl games (up from two last year). At those events and others, it provides “gifting suites’’ for VIPs, players and high-end ticket package buyers.
CEO Pat DePirro founded BirdieBox in 2014 as the first golf-themed subscription box. His “aha” moment came when subscribers inquired about gifts for their golf clubs’ member/guest tournaments. DePirro soon realized that servicing a business-to-business function with the same products could generate more revenue and better margins without the pain of servicing thousands of individual subscribers.
The seven-figure BirdieBox subscription business was folded in 2016. DePirro went hard after golf tournaments, every one of which has a pro-am in which participants customarily receive swag.
Early wins with the AT&T Byron Nelson and the RBC Heritage tournaments, a “shopping experience” that included several hundred guests and 5,000 different SKUs of products, helped establish the new model. DePirro, a former MLB Advanced Media marketer, got business gifting sponsors at MLB’s jewel events. Myers came on as an equity partner in 2017.
Rob Sullivan, senior vice president of sales and service at Madison Square Garden Co., first discovered BirdieBox in early 2018 at the National Sports Forum. Now, he’s using the company for an array of gifting, including sponsors, suite holders, client prospecting and holiday gifts.
“Not only is gifting expected, there’s so much competition here in sports and entertainment, even gifting gets competitive,” Sullivan said. “We need to differentiate and this is clearly one way we’ve been able to accomplish that.”
Myers said the business is split in thirds among golf, corporate clients such as Delta and Pepsi, and more than 75 sports properties, including MLB, the PGA Tour and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
BirdieBox has been servicing the 500 or so high-end ticket package buyers at the College Football Playoff since last season. Ben Habern, CFP assistant director of marketing and strategic partnerships called the decision a no-brainer. “Before, we sourced and packed our own gifts,” he said. “They handle and drop-ship everything, which is one less headache.”
BirdieBox, which also provides “virtual gift portals,” will ship more than 100,000 boxes this year and each of them, like many of the high-end items inside, are personalized. Corporate gifting in the U.S. is a $125 billion business and “the unboxing experience” is critical, Myers said.
Early on, BirdieBox bought equipment for its 70,000-square-foot production and distribution center just outside of Miami, allowing it to embroider, emboss, etch or engrave a logo on nearly any material. Meanwhile, it formed relationships with brands including JBL, Lululemon, Ray-Ban and Tumi.
“Lots of gift companies offer generic stuff, which keeps prices down, but we want to be known as a premium brand,” said MSG’s Sullivan. “They’re great listeners and always on trend and on brand.” An example: MSG-branded Apple AirPods sent to clients after an initial pitch meeting “to show them we are listening,” Sullivan said.
The company also makes custom commemoratives, like a Chicago Cubs cutting board made partly from a dugout bench. While there is some “instant gratification” gifting on site, most is shipped within a month, with personalization on the products and the box. Some come with a small LED screen that plays a video message from the giver.
BirdieBox clients pay what Myers calls an “end-to-end charge” for the service. However, much of the company’s margin comes from a combination of the volume pricing it gets from “brand partners” and that many manufacturers will discount further, knowing their products are going to C-suiters.
Myers said access to luxury products with high perceived value is fundamental to his business strategy. So too are the margins provided by in-house customization, personalization and luxury/personalized packaging, along with running and owning his own warehouse and logistics.
When BirdieBox transformed its business, it also changed its tagline to “Make Gifting An Experience.” That holds from end to end: a surprise for clients, and a warehouse where workers wear white gloves.
“What we’re really selling is the ability to make clients feel more important and either create or enhance connections to them,” Myers said. “That’s something everybody in business needs.”