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Retail Case Studies

How Duke Cannon Makes Consumer Connections

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Many consumers perceive men’s grooming as a dull product category, so Duke Cannon has chosen to liven things up with unique products infused with a sense of humor.

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Every brand wants to have a wide retail presence, but very few have the reach that Duke Cannon Supply Co. does. Today, Target, Walgreens and many grocery chains carry its men’s grooming products in their stores.

But Duke Cannon’s reach does not end there. Vice President of Sales Lee Frazee adds that customers can find its products at truck stops, hardware stores, and even at Cracker Barrel. He credits this to the level of diversity in its product lines.

“Our range goes from highly giftable soaps and gift sets to everyday items for a man’s grooming needs,” he describes. “We are thoughtful in our assortment approach with each retailer to ensure we meet their consumers’ needs.”

Minneapolis-based Duke Cannon specializes in products for hard-working men of all types, including builders, teachers, soldiers and first responders. The company says it ensures it meets their needs by having every item “tested by soldiers, not boy bands.”

Over the years, the company has earned a loyal fan base of repeat customers, which its retailers appreciate. “Simply put, when a Duke Cannon fan finds our product in a store, they will come back to buy more and also tell their friends where they found it,” Frazee states.

Heritage of Heroes

Duke Cannon has a strong connection with the U.S. military, including having its products tested by active-duty soldiers. “Every item has to meet their standards for functionality, which is why our items get such great consumer ratings once they’ve launched into the market,” Frazee says.

If a product does not meet those standards, the company does not release it. “It’s definitely a source of pride for our team, as they know every product we launch has met our customers’ high standards,” he says.

The military influence also is evident in Duke Cannon’s product design and manufacturing. Its 10-ounce “Big Ass Brick of Soap” is three times the size of common soaps and much like the product issued to American G.I.s during the Korean War.

The soap is even manufactured in the same U.S.-based, family-owned plant that supplied the military with the soap during that era.

The company takes time to thank veterans for their service by giving 5% of its net profits to causes such as Honor Flight Network, Folds of Honor, K9s for Warriors and Fisher House. “The reaction to this commitment is always positive,” Frazee says. “It gives our customers and retailers another way to connect with us beyond the product.”

Duke Cannon recently started giving to charities honoring those who are fighting another battle: the war on COVID-19. “After the crazy year that was 2020, we realized that there are heroes all around us, so we’re looking this year to expand our reach and donations to also give back to first-responders, nurses and front-line workers,” he says.

Livening Things Up

Many consumers perceive men’s grooming as a dull product category, so Duke Cannon has chosen to liven things up with unique products infused with a sense of humor. “The simple act of bringing some levity and fun has created a connection that goes beyond the product,” Frazee says.

This approach has nurtured its high rate of repeat business, as well as given it exposure to new customers who had not been using its products. During recent holiday seasons, the company has enjoyed success with its “Big Ass Lump of CoalTM,” which is a brick of activated charcoal soap featuring the scents of bergamot and black pepper.

According to Frazee, the soap has been Duke Cannon’s best-selling holiday product, with sell-thru rates far exceeding its retail partners’ expectations. The company has even had to double production each year to meet demand. In addition, “We’ve found this has been a great introduction into the brand as it is often purchased as a gift,” he says.

Limited-time-only products have been big sellers for the company as well, including its “Pumpkin Spice Latte” soap and “Shamrock THICK” body wash, the latter being a humorous take on a famous minty green milkshake. Both products sold out within a week of their launches, Frazee reports.

Duke Cannon has partnered with other brands such as Busch and Buffalo Trace to market beer and bourbon soaps, beard oils, balms, washes and colognes. “It has definitely given us a unique position in the marketplace,” he says. “These partnerships represent our top-selling items.”

Frazee sees more retail success ahead for Duke Cannon. With its unique products, “We can meet one of two needs: approachable premium trade-up or add-on basket-building purchase,” he says.

When that is coupled with its loyal fans, charity work and fun brand image, “We become very appealing to retailers,” Frazee says. “We’re going to continue to launch great products that exceed our consumers’ high standards.”

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