Hickory Farms’ new direct focus

A 20-year decline in store sales used to kill a company. But for Maumee, OH-based Hickory Farms, the retail downturn has had a revitalizing effect.

The food gifts marketer has been gradually closing its year-round stores, which at one point numbered 550, for years. This spring, it shut its remaining 18 stores to focus on catalog and Internet sales. (Hickory Farms will continue its temporary holiday stores and kiosks in malls across the country.)

“The strategy was developed a long time ago,” says Marco Pescara, Hickory Farms’ vice president/director of marketing, “but the way e-commerce has taken off, that’s really sped it up.” Hickory Farms launched its Website in 1996. Although the company says that Internet sales doubled last year, it won’t provide specific figures.

The focus on direct marketing isn’t Hickory Farms’ only strategic shift. Both catalog and Website reveal an ongoing transition to more upscale offerings than the nut-encrusted port wine cheese balls of yore. Now available are items such as bourbon pecan tarts and filet mignon.

Hickory Farms is also keeping pace with other specialty food operations by running a corporate “gifting” program. And the company has begun selling its products in grocery stores and through retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.

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