By Jack Neff
Hugh Jackman, Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Elton John and Tom Cruise were all special guests at Walmart’s annual meeting last week. But at the pre-meeting shareholder festivities, two celebrities who paraded around may have outshone them all by Bentonville standards: "Duck Dynasty" stars Korie and Willie Robertson.
"You would have thought Elvis was in the building," said Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon. With the "Duck Dynasty" finale in April garnering 9.6 million viewers, this might not be too much of a surprise.
The hirsute hunters of "Duck Dynasty" adorn the top-selling graphic T-shirt at Walmart. "You might have wondered if women would wear a T-shirt with bearded men on the front," said Duncan Mac Naughton, the retailer’s chief merchandising and marketing officer. The answer is yes, he added.
In fact, A&E Network’s reality series has become a gold mine for Walmart, and both companies are looking to take advantage of the show’s success with a major expansion of its licensing empire. The "Duck Dynasty" franchise is represented in six Walmart departments, including apparel, home goods and sporting goods, but there are plans to expand to 13 departments by the holiday season, said Kate Winn, senior VP-consumer products at A&E Networks.
While there’s the obvious — sporting goods, apparel and DVDs — "Duck Dynasty" is rolling out some more-unusual merchandise: Halloween costumes for dogs complete with beards and camo gear, along with antibacterial bandages.
This month, Walmart will introduce the bandages, which come with camouflage decorations and feature sayings from members of the Robertson family, the colorful bayou entrepreneurs, such as "If you’re too busy to duck hunt, you’re too busy."
Pointing to a display of the bandages during a store tour for media in Rogers, Ark., Walmart President-Health and Wellness John Agwunobi said it’s part of a "longstanding relationship" with "Duck Dynasty" that’s been successful in other categories.
"Walmart has responded to the program because it is a show the entire family can watch and is wholesome entertainment, which isn’t prevalent on TV right now," Ms. Winn said.
Before they achieved cable-TV fame, the Robertsons, owners of West Monroe, La.-based Duck Commander, were suppliers to Walmart for several years, producing duck-hunting VHS tapes sold in the stores with their phone number included.
For years, the Robertsons would shave their beards before annual trips to see buyers in Bentonville, until a few years ago they decided to keep them when making the trip, a Walmart spokeswoman said.
"Duck Dynasty" merchandise is also available at national retailers like Kohl’s, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Ms. Winn said there’s an apparel deal in the works at Kohl’s, with merchandise set to hit shelves in the fall.