Art Van Furniture, Michigan's largest home furniture retailer, is moving its big advertising and marketing account to Southfield-based Doner, as Art Van prepares to launch a major growth push into Ohio and the Chicago market.
"We're looking for Doner to take us to a place that most furniture retailers haven't been ... We believe they would be a breath of fresh air for us," Art Van Elslander, founder and chairman of the 53-year-old furniture chain, told me Friday.
He cited Doner's recent work on Fiat 500 ads featuring Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Lopez as the kind of attention-grabbing spots that can help draw customers to a new brand, which Art Van will soon be to shoppers in Chicago.
Art Van and Doner will formally announce their tie-up later this week. Doner, a 75-year-old agency with 560 people, replaces a smaller Southfield agency, Sussman Sikes & Associates, which has had the account since 2009.
Art Van, based in Warren, operates 34 furniture stores and six PureSleep bedding stores in Michigan, but hasn't ventured out-of-state -- until now.
Van Elslander said the firm is building a 100,000-square-foot superstore on a 10-acre site off I-475 near Toledo, and is looking seriously at six to eight locations for a push into the Chicago area, where he said there is no dominant competitor. Smaller furniture chains in the Chicago area, such as Wickes, Levitz and Plunkett, have gone out of business in recent years.
For Doner, the Art Van account is a big step in strengthening connections with the agency's hometown. Doner made a name for itself as an independent Detroit-based agency not completely reliant on the auto industry, and won national acclaim for work on non-local brands such as Mazda cars and Serta mattresses.
David DeMuth and Rob Strasberg, co-CEOs of Doner, said that three years ago, Doner's longtime pro bono work for the Detroit Zoo was its only major local client relationship.
That changed after Doner lost the Mazda account in 2010, which was 20% of its business after a long run with the "Zoom Zoom" campaigns. Doner quickly picked up a new automotive client by snagging Chrysler's "tier-two" work on dealer ads and sale events -- then parlayed that into the nod as the agency for the Fiat 500 launch, a product of the Chrysler-Fiat marriage.
Art Van, a private company, doesn't reveal specific numbers for the tens of millions of dollars it spends on TV and print advertising. But it does brag in employment ads for salespeople about having "great customer traffic driven by Michigan's No. 1 advertising spend."
"We believe the best client relationships are when advertising is mission-critical to business," DeMuth said, "because that creates urgency and focus from the very highest levels of the company. And Art Van is clearly that kind of business."
The delicate part of Doner's task in tweaking Art Van's image will be trying to elevate the perception of the product range as stylish and sophisticated, without abandoning the emphasis on value and blowout sales that made Art Van the 800-pound gorilla of Michigan furniture retailing.
"We've got a reputation for value, quality and customer satisfaction," Van Elslander said. "We could use a little help in our message about style and fashion." He said his target buyer is female, age 30-54.
"There are still going to be lots of sales and some heavy-duty retail massaging," said Strasberg, "but it will be wrapped in a nice package."
Doner's work for Art Van will start appearing in a couple months, but the first major campaign will break around November, the Doner executives said.
Van Elslander mentioned that one of the unusual ads he liked recently was Chrysler's 2-minute "Halftime in America" Super Bowl ad starring Clint Eastwood, which was done by the Wieden + Kennedy agency.
Doner's aim will obviously be to deliver memorable advertising spots for Art Van. But maybe we shouldn't hold our breaths waiting to see Clint lounging on a plush sofa, brandishing a TV remote and growling at the TV, "Come on, make my day!"
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