Wolf Camera Holds Early Talks

Wolf Camera is quietly contacting a handful of agencies for its estimated $10-20 million account, the first time in a decade that the retailer has looked outside its walls for a marketing partner.

The review comes as the Alpharetta, Ga.-based company examines its growth in the past 10 years from a 100-unit regional chain to 550 stores today.

“Essentially we’re a much larger company now,” said client executive vice president and chief marketing officer Wayne Freeman. “I think the industry has changed to the point we are considering [hiring an agency]. We may very well choose not to … but we have developed a list and are contacting them.”

Freeman said Wolf Camera is looking for an agency with a strong retail track record. A short request for proposals sent to agency candidates designates February 2001 as a potential decision date.

Wolf Camera vice president of advertising and marketing Jerry Carbone joined the company six months ago from Sports Authority, where he recently headed a $20 million account review.

Said Carbone of the current Wolf Camera review: “It’s a muchquieter approach [than Sports Authority]. It’s a shorter list and a less cumbersome process. And we’re debating at the same time we’re interviewing whether we need a marketing partner.”

Carbone declined to reveal which agencies are under consideration, saying “the list is changing even as we’re speaking.”

Company founder and chief executive officer Chuck Wolf is the current linchpin of the retailer’s in-house television and radio advertising efforts.

“It’s a tremendous understatement to say Chuck Wolf is featured in our advertising. Chuck Wolf is Wolf Camera,” Freeman said.

Current advertising plays onthe company’s name with a long-running “Wolf pack” campaign, which carries the tagline, “Our expertise is free.”

“Our industry is dominated by mass merchants,” noted Freeman, so the advertising strategy is to emphasize Wolf employees’ specialized knowledge of cameras.

Privately held Wolf Camera spent $12 million on advertising in 1999 and $11 million in the first six months of this year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

The company had estimated 1999 sales of $499 million, according to Hoovers Online.