Well, appropriate to the T.G.I.F. spirit, how about a glass of Mens Room Original Red?
Station or personality-branded products have been around nearly as long as there have been radio stations searching for products that can extend their brands to set themselves apart. Coffee, hot sauce, mustard, barbecue sauce, and many others – all emblazoned with a familiar station logo or DJ photo – have graced the shelves of stores across the county.
Some of these merch programs start with a bang: a big out-of-the-box promotion, lots of chatter and excitement, and maybe even news coverage. But often, after the initial shine wears off and the chore of growing sales begins, these programs sputter out, leaving the stations with cases of a product in the prize closet that they may as well give away.
That’s just part of what makes the success of Mens Room Original Red – a craft brew co-created by KISW’s afternoon show along with local Elysian Brewery in Seattle – so impressive…and innovative.
Yes, the show launched its own branded beer. That’s been done. The amazing, innovative part is the program’s growth and endurance. From humble beginnings, Mens Room Original Red has generated an amazing amount of money, and has made large contributions to charity. We asked Entercom/Seattle EVP Programming/Operations Dave Richards to share the history of the project and what it has accomplished for the station and the local community.
DR: Five years ago, a few staff members had a loose relationship with Elysian Brewery which has a location across from both Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field. In other words, it was one of the places they liked to hang out. The Mens Room already had a well-deserved image for being deep into the beer and spirits lifestyle, so we thought, sure let’s do a beer, what a novel idea.
Matching the show with a branded beer was a no-brainer. We launched with a small batch for Elysian to sell in their three breweries. We threw a party and The Mens Room talked about it a few times on the air. In just days, the original batch was gone and we knew we had something. That was the beginning of Mens Room Original Red.
JM: What are the round numbers you can provide about the financial success of Mens Room Original Red? How big has it become? How many outlets do you have and how much money does it generate?
DR: We started with barrels in three locations, then more barrels to bars in Seattle, then 22 oz. bottles, then 12 oz. bottles in 6 packs, then Mens Room Black for the holidays, then Mens Room Summer Gold.
We went from bars into grocery and convenience stores and tap handles at Hawks and Mariners games. While mostly concentrated in Western Washington, we are now in 4,000 locations in 13 states across America, Canada, Australia and Taiwan. And no, we can’t explain Taiwan. Mens Room Original Red is Seattle’s #2 craft beer or, to look at it another way, we’ve sold over 7 million pints.
But the best part of this venture is our charity partner. The Fisher House is a network of homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving medical treatment. Mens Room Original Red has raised almost $400,000 that has gone to help pay their Ft. Lewis location’s operating costs over the last five years.
(The choice of the Fisher House) was a Mens Room decision, and it’s been critical. They’re passionate about the Fisher House. They’re good people doing good work, and a natural for the audience.
And that helped us usher in the release of our vodka a year ago. Worker’s No. 9 Vodka benefits the Washington State Council of Firefighters. The program has been a financial success for KISW, Elysian Brewery, the distributor and, most importantly, for Fisher House.
JM: What was the toughest hurdle you faced getting the program launched?
DR: Honestly, learning the beer business. Spend 30 years in rock radio and you think you’re pretty clever. Well pal, you have a lot to learn. There’s distributors, how much a brewery can produce before your partner has to build a bigger brewery rather than rent one in Colorado, what CE means (turns out it’s Case Equivalent), what makes a good label and the miles of legal tape you encounter with the federal government. I worked in the beer business in college as a driver for Schmidt’s and Molson in New York City. I picked up a few things, but the business was a massive learning experience. If it weren’t for the diligence of our Marketing Director, Brian Thorpe, we wouldn’t have seen this success.
JM: How do you keep Men’s Room Original Red fresh and interesting?
DR: All those years of creating promotions for clients like Bud, Miller and others keeps you thinking. We create a marketing plan each year which includes the annual Black and
Summer Gold launches, a “Design the 6 Pack” contest, Mens Room Original Red beer paired dinners at the brewery, and a two-day REDFEST event tied in with the show. We just approved art for 5,000 new tap handles. And of course the show might mention it here and there.
JM: Tell us more about REDFEST.
DR: Miles Montgomery from The Mens Room calls it “outdoor drinking” and I can’t argue with that. It’s beer, food trucks and bands, in Georgetown, Seattle all Friday evening and Saturday. It’s a great event.
JM: Are there any other innovative charity programs you’ve seen recently that impressed you?
Our relationship with the Washington State Fire Fighters through Worker’s No. 9 Vodka has opened up the door for a campaign with The BJ Shea Morning Experience, partnering with the WSFFC for a massive Coats for Kids holiday drive.
JM: What area of the radio industry would you like to see more innovation around?
DR: Building great brands, big shows, events, programs, digital platforms. Trying new ventures. Not being afraid to fail. I’m glad you’re doing this blog, because we need more innovation.
JM: What is one suggestion you have for someone with an idea for a big program like this that would help them get it off the ground?
DR: Cost and legal risk aside, don’t be afraid to try something new. If you don’t try, you don’t grow.
Thanks to Mike Stern for putting together today’s “Radio’s Most Innovative” profile. And to Dave Richards and The Mens Room: Miles, Thrill, Ted, & Ben.
INNOVATION QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who
cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
George Bernard Shaw
More of Radio’s Most Innovative
- Radio’s Most Innovative: Kurt Hanson
- Radio’s Most Innovative: All Christmas Music
- Radio’s Most SKINnovative: Jim McBride
- Radio’s Most Innovative: Radioplayer
- Radio’s Most Innovative: Mediabase/Rich Meyer
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