January 20, 2022

A Calculated Push Into Entertainment Lifts ‘Duck Dynasty’ Family’s Fortunes

And that was true even before they were television stars.

They certainly are stars now — the subjects of the biggest reality show hit in the history of cable television, “Duck Dynasty,” which has shattered ratings records this summer, reaching a high of 11.8 million viewers for the season premiere this month.

But in the more contained world of ducks, guns and camouflage gear, the Robertsons were already celebrities thanks to the family’s core business: sales of duck gear, especially duck calls.

Now the range of merchandise attached to the Robertson name is so vast — shirts, caps, coolers, books, edibles, hunting gear of every kind — that keeping track of it has become almost impossible, said Willie Robertson, scion of the Robertson clan and president of the Duck Commander company.

Last week, he was at the corporate headquarters of Walmart and was surprised to see his face on a garden gnome. “I knew I had a Chia Pet and a bobblehead and an action figure,” Mr. Robertson said by phone. “I didn’t know I had a garden gnome. That’s awesome. I guess Pez dispenser is the last weird thing I have to see myself on.”

Chances are that pitch will come shortly. “Every day I get pitched on this, pitched on that,” Mr. Robertson said. “It’s like you’re living in a movie.”

That movie is mostly a creation of Mr. Robertson and his family, a conscious dive into the entertainment world that has lifted a regional business into an international phenomenon. The show is seen in more than 100 countries, drawing strong ratings on networks from England to Latin America.

The show does well across this country, though as might be expected, it fares best in the South, with Atlanta, Knoxville, Tenn., Charlotte, N.C., and Birmingham, Ala., among the top locations in ratings.

“I thought we were booming before,” Mr. Robertson said. “Booming is a relative term.”

The family-owned business has private sales figures, but Mr. Robertson offered some indications of the level of growth. “I’ve seen figures of 2,200 percent growth,” he said.

“You couldn’t chart it as far as where we have had business growth. It’s bursting at every level, every store.”

Sales of duck calls to actual hunters are now a minority, he said, with the dominant buyers being people who “put it on their desk and toot on it.”

Sarah McKinney, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said the company’s stores across the country stocked “Duck Dynasty” merchandise in six separate departments.

T-shirts featuring “Duck Dynasty” characters are now the top sellers, Ms. McKinney said, among women and girls as well as men. And sales of “Duck” back-to-school material have soared this year, she said.

“Duck Dynasty” began on the AE network after some members of the family appeared for three seasons on an Outdoor Channel show tailored more specifically to actual duck hunting. David McKillop, the general manager of AE, said the network viewed a tape and realized the potential for his channel was in the family interaction.

After what he called “a vision meeting” with Mr. Robertson, AE commissioned two pilots. The second ended with a scene of the family gathered around the dinner table.

That clicked. AE saw an overarching theme: “A cross between ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and ‘The Waltons.’ ” A family dinner would cap each episode, Mr. McKillop said. “It would be like, ‘Goodnight, John-Boy.’ ”

Willie Robertson is not reticent about his own role in building what is now an imposing duck-centric empire. The family business was started by his father, Phil, a Louisiana football standout who translated an obsession with hunting ducks into the now enormous duck-call business.

Willie Robertson credits some of his business acumen to experience he gained in his 20s after he left the family company to run a children’s camp business.

“I was able to watch the family business from afar,” he said. “I was able to come in with a lot of energy and a vision for growing it even bigger.”

When Mr. Robertson returned to Duck Commander, he realized his father had created a strong brand, but “he had pretty much run out of ideas,” Mr. Robertson said.

“He didn’t know how to take it to the next level, and it might have started a downward slide, like a lot of family businesses do.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/26/business/media/duck-dynasty-familys-fortunes-lifted-by-calculated-push-into-reality-tv.html?partner=rss&emc=rss