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Summer 2008 Wind Power: Making Sales a Breeze

When artist Ron Spinks started dabbling in metalwork at his home studio in Denton, TX several years ago, the idea that by 2008 he would have one of the hottest cart products of the year wasn’t even on his radar. A former Marine with a background in art and engineering, Spinks started out creating and selling his metalwork creations part-time, more for his own self-satisfaction as an artist than to rake in gobs of money. But when buyers started lining up, he felt the wind at his back and his creativity soared.

“As the metalwork business grew, I thought of the Wind Spinners idea, which evolved into what it is today,” he says. What it is today is a specialty retail powerhouse. Spinks’s Denton-based company, Iron Stop, manufactures more than 300 styles of spinners and has more than 250 cart locations coast to coast-all but a few run by independent operators. More than 500 carts are expected to open by November. Anyone who has seen a cart stocked with colorful, durable Wind Spinners knows that they demonstrate themselves. Attached to small motors that make them spin continuously, and spotlighted with strategically placed lights that reflect widely on the spinners as they move, these eye-catching products draw customers to carts automatically with a passive demonstration technique that eliminates hawking, which has made Iron Stop’s spinners the darling of retailers and leasing managers.

Mall-friendly concept

Demonstration products are top sellers for a reason. When a salesperson can fully explain product features and benefits to a customer one-on-one, the chances of closing the sale increase significantly. But over the years, demonstration concepts have gotten a bad rap as salespeople have sometimes gone over the line trying to attract shoppers’ attention. imageBecause Wind Spinners attract attention by themselves, salespeople don’t need to reach out to draw customers to the cart. “We don’t have to demonstrate or harass people while they’re walking the mall,” says Idor Gafni, owner of The Spinners Group, which operates a Wind Spinners cart in Florida Mall in Orlando. Gafni adds that even though he has sold several product lines from carts over the years, he enjoys selling Wind Spinners above all.

Spinks says Gafni’s attitude is the norm rather than the exception among the company’s hundreds of independent operators. “Our retailers and their frontline salespeople tend to be happier because they don’t have to demonstrate aggressively,” he says. Plus, the benefits extend to their employees. “Iron Stop retailers can typically pay their salespeople lower commissions than purveyors of other product categories that require more rigorous demonstration.” The strategy also helps with employee-retention, which is borne out by the company’s operators.

Salespeople at carts that require more active demonstration might “get burned out in two or three months,” says Ron Alsup, who opened his first Wind Spinners cart in the Eastland Mall in Evansville, IN in early 2008. That forces the retailer to “go through the hiring process all over again,” which can eat into sales and profitability. Having a product that doesn’t require extreme selling stamina “gives me a little peace” when it comes to retaining the best employees possible, Alsup says.

imageThe bottom line is that “When you believe in a product, it’s easy to sell it,” Gafni adds. “Wind Spinners look beautiful on our cart” in the tourist-heavy Florida Mall in Orlando. “People from all over the world stop all the time and ask what they are. This product puts a smile on their faces.”

“The product does especially well in tourist markets,” confirms Spinks. “Guests from out of town or overseas are fascinated by an item in the $25 to $40 price range that’s so unique. Since they’ve never seen the product in the place they came from, they think it’s only here at the vacation spot, so they feel they have to get it here.” That explains why Iron Stop operates four corporate carts year-round (plus more for the holidays) in the tourism capital of the world: Las Vegas.

Designs that sell

As an artist, Spinks is focused on design, which, when coupled with high-quality materials, makes Iron Stop’s Wind Spinners stand out from the competition. “We have two artists in addition to myself, and all they do is create new, exciting designs,” he says. “This summer we introduced more than 40 new designs and for winter we’re adding another 20 to 30.”

imageMade of high-quality steel with a durable powder coating, Iron Stop’s Wind Spinners are made in America, a selling point that’s important to some customers, according to Jo Ann Bussey, owner of Wind Spinners Galore & More in Pine Bluff, AR, which operates more than a dozen Wind Spinners carts in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. She assures her customers that Iron Stop’s spinners are entirely made in the US. As Spinks puts it, “Every phase of production, from raw material to the final design, takes place in our Texas factory.”

Wind Spinners are available in two sizes, six inches and 12 inches, which typically retail for $25 and $40 respectively, although independent retailers vary their prices according to what the local market will bear. Some newer, more intricate designs have recently been introduced above $40 and customers are responding enthusiastically.

“While local tastes might vary, the most popular designs across the board are suns, hummingbirds, crosses and butterflies,” says Spinks. Gafni explains that his Florida customers’ top two picks are hummingbirds and suns, while in Indiana, Alsup’s top two are hummingbirds and butterflies. At Bussey’s southern locations, crosses are particularly strong sellers and 3-D designs are also very popular, especially the Eagle/American Flag style. “The key to maximizing sales is to know as much as possible about the local demographics,” Spinks says. “Our sales team really knows the cities and towns where we operate and what will sell well in the local market. Our loon and moose designs sell really well in Minnesota, but no one in Texas is all that interested in those designs. In South Carolina, our palmetto moon design sells very well, and naturally palm trees and dolphins do well in Florida. We offer our retailers a number of different pre-packs, which are easily tailored to the local buyer.”

Naturally, Iron Stop has a number of holiday designs, including hearts for Valentine’s Day, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, witches and pumpkins for Halloween, and a huge variety of Christmas designs. The company recently launched a new Animated Collection featuring images that “come to life” when the spinner is set in motion. “The hummingbird flies and puts its beak into a flower,” Spinks explains. “The butterfly flaps its wings and flies.” Another new addition to the Iron Stop catalog is the Gazing Ball Collection, which features a stainless-steel gazing ball in the center that reflects light in all directions. Iron Stop’s Collegiate License Collection, featuring 50 college licenses, became popular right out of the gate in 2007 and sales continue to grow at a brisk pace. Spinks says Iron Stop is the only company marketing to specialty retailers that has college licenses for spinners. “Students think they’re a great addition to a dorm room,” and adult relatives and alumni “might put them in their offices with a motor,” Bussey says. “Iron Stop has licenses for most of the major colleges in my coverage areas, and I sell a large quantity of collegiate spinners.”

With more than a half-dozen collections-including 3-D, 4-D, Animated, Scenic and Military spinners-that total more than 300 SKUs, Spinks says “There’s a Wind Spinner for every type of consumer.” Based on his sales, Gafni agrees. “Everyone buys. Men, women, kids, older adults-they all find a style they like.” He adds that buyers are evenly split between those who plan to display their Wind Spinners inside, spun by a motor, and those who want to hang their new decorative accent outside in their garden or on a shepherd’s hook virtually anywhere.

Smooth start-up

imageSpinks emphasizes that Iron Stop is an easy cart operation for independent operators to launch. “We help our retailers find locations, and we help them set up their displays. We provide a training video and unlimited phone training and support. We have a tested, proven script that teaches retailers and their salespeople how to make a sale and how to close the deal without coming across as pushy. We give them a straight-forward walk-through that’s designed to help them succeed.”

Spinks says markup on Wind Spinners is about 500 percent, with accessories such as motors and hooks coming in at about 700 percent. In a non-holiday month, the average independently owned cart generates about $30,000 in sales, while $120,000 is typical for November and December combined. The one-day sales record at a cart is $12,000.

Although everyone at Iron Stop is focused on sales, that’s not the only thing that matters to the company, says Gafni. “Iron Stop is like a family. It’s not a huge company, but they give each [cart operator] a lot of attention.” Spinks enjoys hearing that type of feedback from his operators, since their success translates into Iron Stop’s success over the long haul. With a hot new product and dozens of new styles being introduced every season, Spinks says the Wind Spinners concept makes selling a breeze for specialty retailers coast to coast.

“It’s very simple,” he says. “If we can help our operators determine which styles will sell the best in their area, set them up with a great display that adds plenty of light and motion, and teach them the sales pitch that we’ve tested and know works, they can make a lot of money.”

Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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