Xenial Helps Retailer Increase Sales Through Customer Engagement and Loyalty
"We are selling more hockey gear, and I know this from my Xenial dashboard.” - John Merola, Director of Digital Marketing and Ecommerce, B & R Sports


Brick and mortar hockey retailer wanted to expand its digital footprint.


Multichannel marketing and customer engagement program powered by Xenial.


  • Xenial Gift+Rewards
  • Xenial Analytics
    • Xenial Email Marketing
    • Xenial Customer Intelligence
    • Xenial Social Reputation Management
  • Heartland pcAmerica POS

Name the sport that has skyrocketed in popularity in and around Chicago, Illinois over the last decade or so. Did you guess hockey?

One retailer rode the rise in hockey’s popularity in the Great Lakes region and continues to expand and grow by using new and innovative marketing and merchandising methods.

B & R Sports opened with a single location in the mid-1980’s, selling equipment, gear, and attire for a range of sports. Over the years, the privately owned retailer has expanded to ten stores while narrowing its focus to specialize on hockey. It is now the region’s leading hockey equipment retailer, with locations in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Chicago. 

As its brick-and-mortar footprint grew consistently, B & R Sports’ online influence did not keep pace.

The company had some interaction with customers via social media. However, managing multiple social media and online review sites - today 23 of them - for ten stores, took a lot of time. Store managers responded to customer comments on their store’s individual online review/social media pages. But the competing priorities that come with managing one or more stores meant that reviews, questions, and comments from customers on social sometimes took a back seat. In addition, with multiple people managing social, the company lacked a singular brand ‘voice.’

Email marketing was not integrated with point of sale, so it was difficult to gain insight into its effectiveness - for example, to gauge whether an email coupon or offer was effective.

Implementing Multi-Channel Loyalty

For a long time, the company has used Heartland pcAmerica point-of-sale (POS). With the goal of encouraging repeat business, several years ago, B & R Sports implemented a POS-centric rewards program.

Customers earn 1 point per dollar they spend. 250 points=$10 to spend on any item.

With consumers increasingly shopping and interacting socially online, the company saw an opportunity to increase its digital footprint, with the goal of staying top of mind with existing customers while growing brand awareness, sales, and store traffic. To lead its ecommerce and digital marketing initiatives, the company tapped the regional manager of the highly successful Chicago area stores, John Merola.

Merola had started his career with B & R Sports while attending high school. His knowledge of hockey equipment retailing and his passion for social media and marketing in general have been much of the fuel behind the growth of the company digital initiatives.

“Hockey has exploded onto the scene in the Chicago area, largely due to the success of the Chicago Blackhawks,” says John Merola, Director of Digital Marketing and Ecommerce at B & R Sports. “In the same way that our business focus transformed over the years from general sporting goods to hockey, our growth in digital sort of happened organically. I got the okay from our senior leaders to try some things with social media, and took on a bit more responsibility at a time. Pretty soon, we were pursuing a full-blown website redesign with ecommerce functionality, and implementing Xenial Analytics with Email Marketing.”

To expand its brand presence and sales, the company plans to launch a fully merchandised ecommerce store in August 2018. Fortunately, its investment in email marketing and social media marketing are helping pave the way for increased brand awareness online in preparation for the launch of the online store.

Great Returns on Easy-to-use Email Marketing Tool

In the past, marketers at B & R Sports would manage email subscribers using a spreadsheet. They would send email newsletters by putting recipient email addresses in the bcc line. This worked, but there wasn’t a way to track or measure engagement or effectiveness.

By using Xenial Analytics with Email Marketing integrated with Heartland pcAmerica (POS), marketers like Merola have a powerful tool at their disposal. 

Xenial Analytics with Email Marketing makes it easy for Merola, or any marketer at B & R Sports, to create an email blast or campaign. Merola started with Xenial’s ready-made templates, and customized them with the B & R Sports brand. Some of the emails have had outstanding open rates of 70 to 80 percent.

Xenial Analytics with Email Marketing includes native functionality that enables Merola to customize each email with coupons or offers coded uniquely to the recipient.

“Xenial Email Marketing tracks usage down to the zip code so I can measure effectiveness.” Uniquely coded coupons also help avoid fraud.

Tap to Save a Coupon to Google Pay Keeps the Brand Top of Mind

For Merola and B & R Sports, one of the most powerful and unique features of Xenial Analytics with Email Marketing is Save to Google Pay. With one tap, customers can save emailed coupons to Google Pay on their Android device.

“I haven’t seen this capability in any of the competing email marketing tools, and it’s really cool. By using Xenial Analytics with Email Marketing to send our coupons, when a customer with one of our coupons in Google Pay passes by one of our stores, they get a notification that there’s a coupon waiting for them to use. Save to Google Pay is a powerful way to stay top of mind. Then, when customers come into the store, rather than having to dig through their email inbox to find the coupon, they can pull up Google Pay on their phone to use it. I find that customers love this convenience.”

Tools - Including Analytics - That are Simple for Busy Marketers

It’s not often that you hear the words ‘analytics’ and ‘simple’ in the same context. However, Xenial Analytics with Email Marketing is powerful without being complicated.

This is important for today’s marketers who must juggle multiple marketing channels, tools/ apps, and vendors as well as enough data sources to confuse even the most seasoned marketer.

Merola lives this challenge every day. Managing the company’s two Chicago stores as well as the ecommerce and digital marketing initiatives for the entire brand, Merola stays very busy. “I only have time for simple when it comes to marketing and the tools I use. Xenial Analytics with Email Marketing helps us capture a snapshot of our marketing without having to dig very far,” he says. “I like opening a simple dashboard with graphs and numbers that let us compare today’s trends with yesterday or one week ago, or see whether our marketing efforts brought in sales from new or returning customers. And I don’t need a business analyst or database expert to get this information. It’s at my fingertips.”

Metrics Help Target Marketing for the Greatest Return

Metrics in the Xenial dashboard help Merola and company executives target their marketing efforts and dollars where they will be most effective, and bring the best return. “A quick glance at a line graph lets me see whether or not an email promotion worked,” says Merola. “And I can measure a campaign’s success based on actual sales because email marketing is integrated with our POS. This lets me see metrics such as numbers (and spend) of new versus returning customers. That’s powerful for a marketer.”

Merola and the leadership team at B & R Sports can see proof of results any time, simply by signing into the Xenial Analytics dashboard. “Email—our entire multi-channel approach, really—is

working for us,” says Merola. “We are selling more hockey gear, and I know this from my Xenial dashboard.”

Growth Curve Shaped Like a Hockey Stick

Up and to the right, like the bend of a hockey stick: that’s the direction B & R Sports wants to see their store traffic and sales move. By implementing the multi-channel engagement program that incorporates loyalty & rewards, email marketing, and social media, the company is already seeing progress toward these goals including keeping the B & R Sports brand top of mind and improving customer retention and repeat business.

Advice from One Marketer to Another: Engagement is Key

Summarizing B & R Sports’ strategy for growing its digital marketing impact, Merola says, “When it comes to reaching new customers, the more we do digitally / online, the more opportunities we’ll have for prospective customers to find us. We’re always learning and adapting, looking for ways to give existing customers a reason to return.” His advice:

  • “Keep up on all of your reviews for social media because your responsiveness (or lack thereof) shows what kind of company you are. We listen to social media reviews to guide changes and improvements. We also find it important simply to post responses to demonstrate engagement with customers.

  • Silence on social media is a killer. Try to stay active. Find a reason to engage with customers. People that follow you will unfollow you if they find that they are following you for no reason, so you have to constantly give them a reason to stay.

  • With email marketing, don’t limit your emails to only pushing stale merchandise. Find things that customers are interested in, and combine this with merchandise you’re trying to move. Make every email worth opening and reading.

  • Same with rewards. Tell them and show them you appreciate their business. Give customers something of value. We found that our sweet spot is $10 for 250 points. It may be different for different customers or different types of merchandise, so you have to experiment, and it helps to work with experts in the field of loyalty and rewards. I love working with the people at Xenial for their expertise.”

Growth, and More Growth

Fortunately, as B & R Sports continues to develop, implement, and refine its digital marketing, Xenial will be there to help in new and potentially impactful ways. In the near future, Merola plans to implement tools from Xenial that will help him understand customer demographics (such as age, number of children, and median income) and customer residence by zip codes.

This information, available with the Xenial Analytics with Customer Intelligence module, will be presented in the same dashboard as Email marketing and sales metrics. With this information, marketers at B & R Sports can refine marketing efforts such as geo-fencing online ads and streamlining direct mail costs when opening a new location. This information can even guide company leaders regarding the best place to open a new store.

Merola also plans to use the Xenial tool for social media engagement in the Xenial Analytics with Customer Intelligence module. This tool will dramatically simplify social media reputation management and responses. But it will do more than that in terms of brand image consistency. “The social media reputation management tool in Xenial Analytics with Customer Intelligence will give B & R Sports our much-needed unified brand ‘voice’ across our 23 online sites,” says Merola. Armed with this social media management tool, Merola will gain insight into online customer reviews alongside those of B & R Sports’ closest competitors. “It comes back to simplicity,” says Merola. “I’ll consolidate reviews from 23 different online sites into a single dashboard, and I can’t wait.”