Buffets, Inc., the Greer, SC-based chain that includes Ryan's, Old Country Buffet and other restaurants, will make its first foray into music by offering Montgomery Gentry's latest album, Rebels on the Run. Proceeds from sales will benefit the Armed Services YMCA.
"We really wanted to try to find some ways to connect with our customer base and there's a significant crossover between who our customers are and people who listen to country music," Jason Abelkop, chief marketing officer, Buffets, Inc. tells Billboard.biz. "As we looked at artists, Montgomery Gentry is obviously very popular, but in addition to that they have a long-standing commitment and support for the military. We were trying to find a way to engage our consumers and show support for the military."
The longtime duo -- Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry -- are happy to see their music exposed to the restaurant chain's consumer base, but most excited about the opportunity to support the Armed Services YMCA. "We have a history of appreciation for and support of the military, and are proud to be a part of an initiative that allows our music to help such a great cause," Gentry says.
Rebels on the Run was originally released last October via Nashville-based Average Joe's Entertainment. The album will be available beginning July 5 at Buffet, Inc.'s more than 350 locations across the U.S. and will sell for $8.99.
"All proceeds from the sales will benefit the Armed Services YMCA," says Abelkop. "They help engage kids and really the whole family when service people come home. And they provide, on an ongoing basis, camp opportunities for kids of military families."
Abelkop says the project will be promoted as a direct mail piece targeting 15 million consumers. "Externally there will be a lot of promotion and at the restaurants there will be a lot of merchandising," says Abelkop, noting there will be 6' X 5' Montgomery Gentry standees at all locations.
At a time when shelf space at brick and mortar retail is shrinking, this provides a new avenue for artists and labels. "It's an exciting opportunity for them to not only create shelf space but to have exclusivity," says Abelkop. "There's no other artist there."
Average Joe's Entertainment president Tom Baldrica sees the deal with Buffets, Inc. as a good fit for all involved. "Military charities are so important to Montgomery Gentry," he says. "And Buffets, Inc. is a real food, real value, real blue collar sort of thing and that's exactly what Montgomery Gentry is. From a marketing standpoint having them associated with these restaurants and the 15 million direct mail piece that is going out as well as signage in the stores across the country, it just made sense on every level and I couldn't be more excited."
Baldrica sees this as an opportunity to "fish where the fish are. Those are our consumers that are coming through the door. Whether they are coming through the door at Wal-Mart or Buffets, Inc., it doesn't really matter. Money spends no matter what and it counts no matter what. It's about that opportunity to expose the music and the artist. All these opportunities are good for all of us in the music industry."
When asked if Cracker Barrel's successful foray into music factored in their decision to sell CDs, Abelkop responded with a laugh, "I never heard of that chain." Turning serious, he added "We are obviously aware of the program they've been doing and the success they've been having is a great thing. For us, we didn't go at it from that direction. We learned about the Cracker Barrel initiative after we started digging into this."
Abelkop says the idea for the Buffet, Inc. program actually started with a visit one of his associates made to the Grand Ole Opry.
"This is our first effort, but we think this is a program we're going to do over the long haul," says Abelkop. "What we hope to establish is a way to support organizations that are meaningful to our customers. In this case, a big part of our customer base is the military. As we do more, our expectation would be that we leverage it to raise proceeds over the long haul for other organizations. Our commitment, on a near term basis, is to the Armed Services YMCA. We've established a partnership with them not only for this effort, but throughout the balance of this year. So I see us working with them on the Montgomery Gentry project and then potentially other projects we do as well."