TMR Q&A: Michael Myers, BirdieBox, on changing the gifting game

Thinking Outside the (Holiday) Box with BirdieBox’s Michael Myers

BirdieBox was founded in 2014 as the original “golfer’s subscription box.” Within a short time–and against the advice of many–CEO Pat DePirro shifted the company’s focus to delivering custom B2B solutions across a much wider spectrum, incorporating high end lifestyle products, customization, packaging and 360-degree fulfillment capabilities.

Today, BirdieBox serves a large number of professional sports teams and leagues, Fortune 500 corporations, hundreds of top private golf clubs, PGA Tournaments, the wealth management sector, more than a dozen college bowl games, entertainment companies and many others.

TMR sat down with TMR member Michael Myers, Owner & Chief Strategy Officer of the fast-rising B2B luxury gifting company, for some insights on where gifting is going. Click here to view the complete BirdieBox profile in the SportsSponsor FactBook™.

Portions have been edited for clarity and length.

Team Marketing Report: From our perspective, BirdieBox is clearly doing something right, adding a number of pro sports teams, bowl games and Fortune 500 companies to the client list over the last 12-18 months. Your revenues have doubled each of the past three years with sales going from seven figures to eight figures as we sit here now, in Jan 2020. What the heck has fueled this rise?

Myers BirdieBox

Michael Myers: First, thank you for noticing those things. Our amazing team has worked tirelessly to achieve these early successes, and I cannot thank them enough for the sacrifices they’ve made to do so.

I think that much of the rise is simply that corporate America has identified ‘gifting’ an integral part of their sales and/or retention process. And for early adopters, they are now seeing the significant monetary gain in creating an executable and repeatable process and plan.

As for “Why BirdieBox?” I believe organizations are simply seeing that we can create a better and easier way to accomplish their goals. They’re realizing that with their current plan, which at the time of implementation was likely very solid, is now either incomplete, or utilizes tools that are limiting or under-impactful.

As the only one-stop solution, we make a huge difference in our client’s time, efficiency, simplicity and cost.

TMR: This is a very crowded marketplace. In a market of “tchotchke sameness” you are vehement that not only does BirdieBox do things differently, but does it better than anyone else. Color us skeptical. How exactly?

MM: Honestly, many ways. Our focus has been to improve each core gifting competency/issue.

Better products — never tchotchkes or premiums — There are companies that do that very well, and I can give you a few terrific ones.

Better packaging. Bringing all customization in-house. Warehousing. Distribution.

We also happen to make it easier by executing from conception, past fulfillment, all the way through customer service, which is an enormous lift of frustration from our clients. Can you imagine handling returns from your gifting program?

In the end, one of our big advantages is that we own the entire process – we do not outsource one thing – and this allows for the true creation of an overall solution, custom to your business needs, resulting in a better experience for both our client and, most importantly, the ultimate gift recipient.

TMR: To that extent, you’ve been known to proclaim BirdieBox a “trailblazer.” How so?

MM: Trailblazing is defined as being willing to go first, facing unknown challenges, and leaving evidence or markings behind for others to follow. Take the risks, to make it easier for others.

That has been BirdieBox’s mantra: Be the first company to take the risks, specifically to bring all aspects of gifting under one roof, physically, to make whatever your needs are, more easily solved.

I proudly refer to our company as an F&O — as in a “First and Only.”  We will always be the first, but currently, we are still an “Only” as well.

Others can claim to do what we do, but ultimately, each of them has “got a guy” that they outsource one — or two — or even three — of the four main gifting competencies.  There are some great companies… they’re just not quite doing what we are.

TMR: You talk about four gifting competencies — product, packaging, customization and fulfillment. Why is BirdieBox adamant about having all four in-house? Lots of costs and risks there.

MM: The simplest answer is that it allows us to be what we actually are: a solutions company.

Our goal isn’t simply to make sure you have 100 amazing gifts for 100 amazing clients at your next event. Instead, our goal is to understand your needs as a business, what role gifting can, does or should play in it, and then help craft the over-arching solution.

The end result is often a year round, continuous program, within which, that previously mentioned 100 person event, would live and thrive.

You simply can’t optimally execute an all-encompassing program if you don’t control the process. Having everything in-house allows us to do so.

TMR: Looking specifically at product, your catalog is crammed with high-end brands. Keeping that kind of stock on-hand is particularly expensive. Is this unique, maybe your biggest differentiator?

In 2019, BirdieBox opened a showroom in Miami’s Design District to allow prospective customers to touch and feel their high-touch brands. Each visitor is greeted with a display customized to their anticipated needs. BirdieBox

MM: I wouldn’t call it our “biggest,” but yes, gift buyers have typically been pigeonholed. Do you want options…or do you want quality?  Sadly, you were forced to choose one or the other.

We said, ‘Let’s offer options, but let’s make the options luxury items, instead.’ To make that happen we partnered with, I think we are now greater than, 60 brands. And that’s growing all the time: Lululemon, Apple, JBL, BBTEK, Hershel, Waterford, etc.

It’s a long and impressive roster.

I often say that if we were graded solely on product access, we’d be the industry leader.

But, this is where I reiterate…we are not a product company. We are a solutions company.

TMR: Why do those brands work with BirdieBox?

MM: That’s a terrific question. At first, it was difficult. We had to convince brands to work with us. But I’ll never forget the day all of that changed.

I remember a brand saying “So…ultimately, you are a direct pipeline to the highest level of consumer. You work with the elite country clubs, the pro sports teams, the fortune 500, and within those clients, you are gifting their most important clients.”

I could only respond, “yes.”

That day is when we stopped convincing brands, and we were able to begin curating a product line to match our ultimate consumer.

TMR: Can you give us an example of a program that a brand might like?

MM: Sure. I won’t be specific, but I’ll use example organizations and brands, to showcase.  Say the Dallas Cowboys wanted to gift 250 of their most important clients something amazing. After meeting with us, we decide that the ultimate solution for this program would include, among other things, BBTEK Headphones.  BBTEK–with their headphones now personalized for each recipient with their initials–is about to be paid to have their product dropped into the hands of some of most influential people in Dallas. Does that excite BBTEK? You bet it does.

TMR: Some of these brands would willingly give their product to these VIPs. Instead you’re buying their product and essentially seeding it for them. Them understanding that breakthrough must have felt nice.

MM: It did. And it does. But we aren’t just seeding a product. We are doing so with the implied endorsement of the gift giver, which is a trusted company that the consumer already has real affinity for.

So, the value for the brand is off the charts.

TMR: Your packaging is great. Clearly branded with a luxury look and feel. And no one can dispute how unique it is.

Examples of BirdieBoxes customized for a variety of teams, leagues, brands and events BirdieBox

MM: Everyone loves the packaging. Everyone.

It increases the perceived value of the product, making a $95 gift feel like a $295 gift.

We are often contacted by product companies looking to use our packaging for their product.

TMR: Can you describe it for our readers?

MM: Certainly. What you are holding there, is a very sturdy, black, soft-touch, magnet-closed, collapsible BirdieBox. Tremendous look and feel. Customizable branding, which in your case, we went with a black on black look, with the logo… and expertly organized inside to optimize the impact on the recipient.

Often, the gift includes a personal note from the giver to the recipient, laid inside and on top.

That is just one packaging option, but we tend to live in the black or white boxes, with multiple sizes available, full color UV printing, etc…with other options for larger items as well.

Huge thing I just mentioned: collapsible. These magic boxes are easily collapsed to lay completely flat, by simply pulling a few tabs. Terrific for carry-on luggage as well as tremendous cost savings when shipping.

TMR: Looking at the initials on the headphones or engraving on glasses, one can assume that personalization is a big part of the business?

MM: Enormous. You read any gifting blog, and they all say the same thing, and they are correct.  Personalization is imperative. We make sure our recipients know that they are 1 of 1, not 1 of 250 recipients.

Too many gifting moments have a neutral or even negative impact.  Imagine, you send a generic card creating a “I’m one of many” feeling that actually decreases your chance of a meeting or renewal!

I hate to repeat it, but the rarity, with us, is that all customization is done in house.

TMR: Do companies come to you for customization only?

MM: Much like the packaging, yes. That’s not our business model, but if it were…(laughs) You know I’m confident saying we are best-in-class.

TMR: That last element is fulfillment. Do you mean you don’t need your customer to turn their conference room into a sorting and packing room for a week? Or pull a bunch of staff off their real jobs to handle the gifting assembly line?

MM: (Laughs) No, they don’t need to do that any longer… but honestly, that is just the beginning of what it means. We are especially proud of what we’ve been able to do here.

We have a 70,000 square foot distribution center. Everything is sourced, stored, inventoried, picked, customized, packed and kitted there…and ultimately shipped from there, to wherever it needs to go.

Our customers are very grateful for the time and hassle we eliminate.

Fun fact—when we say white glove service, we are being literal. Our staff actually wears gloves to avoid fingerprints on the boxes and each item inside.

TMR: What does 360-degree fulfillment allow you to do?

MM: In a few words: create custom solutions. I’ll give an example of something we’re doing a lot of: Custom Gift Portals.

Say a wealth management company, with thousands of agents nationwide, needs an in-house gift portal to handle all gifting.

We manage the entire process. We build the site, source, customize, inventory and store all of their product in our distribution center, and then act as the order fulfillment center, and even the customer service representative, managing payments, securing data, etc…

The result? An “on-demand, luxury Amazon.” This is a big part of the BirdieBox future.

TMR: Best in class product, packaging, personalization and fulfillment. And as you’ve mentioned a few times, the only company to have all of them in-house. That’s a nice place to be sitting. OK, so you were “First.” Are you still an “Only,” Mr. F&O?

MM: Currently, we are, yes. For how long, who knows.

But we know first-hand that it’s a very steep hill. It took us years to build the infrastructure, and it isn’t sexy, it’s intelligence and logistics. There is a large investment and a large learning curve.  We haven’t seen anyone get close, yet, but to be fair, we are just taking off.

That said, we know that someday, we won’t be an Only. But our goal is to continually and actively improve our product and service so that we will always be the F&B…the “First and Best.”

TMR: And still growing rapidly?

MM: It’s been amazing.  We just finished our third consecutive year of doubling our revenues, and have sights on doing it again in 2020.

By Jan 1, we’d already pre-booked more 2020 business than all of 2018’s revenue. That’s exciting.

TMR: We just survived the Holiday season.  Does business drop way off in Jan?

MM: Historically Holidays account for 35% of revenue. But that is shifting as clients are now understanding that our biggest value is that we can create year-round solutions for them.

Some folks see that gifting “off-season” has more impact as it doesn’t get lost or compared to other gifts.

And some folks simply procrastinate. We help them turn the tables and make them look great this time of year.

TMR: Going back to your comment just now about clients “shifting” away from JUST gifting between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Can you give any examples?

MM: The most successful B2B companies send gifts as a prospecting tool, prior to outreach. They tier these gifts based on recipient level—director, senior management, C-suite, etc.

We make different gift levels—and different times of the year—easy to facilitate, manage and track.

Those same companies have events divisions, internal and external, who need perpetual access to product.

I mentioned the “On-demand, luxury Amazon” experience.  We have a significant number of these custom gift portals in action, today. I don’t have the exact figure in front of me, but I would put it in the dozens.

Bottom line is that whatever the organizational structure, we create the solution that gives them the best opportunity to succeed.

Organizations pay such close attention to every aspect of the sales and retention cycle. The gifting program is still, too often, overlooked.

Companies that were progressive in this space even just five years ago, don’t realize that they are behind.

And it is costing them clients and money. We are designed to correct that.

 

TMR: Rapid fire parting questions…What is the best gift heading into 2020? 

MM: Tech. Ageless. Genderless. Everyone needs it.

TMR: Your biggest gifting wisdom?

MM: Personalize—and plan ahead.

TMR: How much should a company spend per recipient?

MM: Impossible to answer. Client budget…the spend of the client’s client…company regulations…legal restrictions…

I can tell you that 85% of all gifting “programs” falls between $75-$200 per person, while most events tend to be $200-$1,000 per recipient.

There are definitely lesser and some that are much higher.  But too many factors to give a specific answer.

TMR: How big do you see BirdieBox becoming?

MM: Revenue in the nine figures. And soon.

To view more TMR Q&As, click here.

Chris brings deep sports business experience to his role as publisher of TMR. He first put his sales, experiential marketing, PR, sales and valuation skills to work in sporting goods retail in 1986. He has since worked for brands and agencies across all major league sports, plus golf, college athletics, marathons and motorsports. Chris is also the proud founder of Painless Networking.