Contractor’s Corner: Tips for building a commercial brand - April 2021
By Dave Stafford
Thinking of starting a commercial branch or another segment in your burgeoning flooring company? As a first step in your new brand identity, consider a name change that is more descriptive of your new entity. It’s hard to be taken seriously if your “Joe’s Carpets” moniker has been associated with a retail flooring outlet, no matter how successful or how long you’ve been in business.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
A lot is implied by a name, and finding a unique name is difficult.
Start with brainstorming a name that is in some way descriptive of the product and services you will be selling. Gather associates and segment participants and have everyone throw out ideas. As a twist, offer a cash price if the winning suggestion is adopted.
Stay with something descriptive but not restrictive.
Take your preliminary brand name choices and run them through a Google search and see what pops up. Are there 20 companies with the same or related name? Search within your state first and then nearby areas in which you may be doing business. Enlist the service of a professional if you’re having trouble; describe your business and have them do a search and make recommendations.
It would be a good idea to do some group testing of your final name choices in your market area to uncover any name bias or adverse reactions. More than one major company uncovered unfortunate language similes or negative associations with their newest name.
By this point, you and your accountant should have decided whether you are going to set up a separate entity under which the new segment will operate. Oftentimes, this decision needs to be made before you make any final decisions on a name.
Once you’ve settled on a name, make sure the name is available in the state in which you plan to register the new entity and the type of registration desired: corporate, limited liability company, partnership and so forth. Your company attorney should oversee filing of any registration or related documents since they are familiar with your company and can quickly spot any hurdles.
COORDINATING THE LOOK
Visuals and branding for your new entity are a critical step.
What you are after is a coordinated look that has a pleasing blend of colors and information for your signage, website, business cards, letterhead, advertising, brochures, company uniforms and vehicles. Imagine your name and logo spread across the front of a large building. Colors are important and must be appropriate for your type of business. Be wary of edgy, modern looks unless that is what you are involved in selling. A high-tech company might get away with using bright yellow and black, but not a commercial flooring company with a traditional cliental.
Now’s the time to enlist the services of a graphic designer. Not only can they help with logos, but they may also be able to spot potential problems like awkward names, spelling glitches, an unfortunate visual font or typeset problems. Interview several candidates and pick someone with a successful, verifiable track record and make sure you’re impressed with their portfolio.
You will also need an up-to-date website that reflects what you are all about and an experienced pro to help you with coordination with your other business and email traffic.
While there are plenty of “fill-in-the-blanks” prototype websites available, your budget must allow for a first-class effort on a continuing basis. And you need to be clear on what you want; don’t accept something that just doesn’t feel right. I once approved a website version that was just “too cutesy” and at odds with our overall message. After a year of hoping things would get better, we finally scrapped the effort and went with someone else. An expensive lesson.
Perhaps you are not able or cannot afford every website feature at the outset; however, have a plan with your website designer to incorporate lead response, order processing, feedback, contacts, problem solution, references, follow up, sales promotion and special events.
An effective website can dramatically increase your business or be a deal killer. It must be readable and easy to navigate with simple instructions to take the visitor to another area without getting kicked off. How many times have you visited a website and found you were frustrated by glitches, incomplete or confusing instructions, and then just gave up?
Trademarks and service marks can be important. Having once gone down this road of names and legal protection, it is a daunting process, almost certainly requiring you to enlist specialized legal guidance. I found that “Spectrum Designs” as a business name could not be trademarked but could be service marked if the name and unique symbol, a “stylized S,” were incorporated together by a graphic designer. After legal fees, registration fees and 18 months of patience, I received my registration from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.
There is also the issue of establishing a common-law registration through time in a specific type of business under the same name in a geographic area. The point of this is to set up legal protections before you spend thousands of dollars in promoting a specific name/symbol. A trademark or service mark infringement allegation may require you to stop using a specific name if upheld in court. I received such an ugly surprise but was able to prevail because I was “in an unrelated business.” But this required negotiation between two highly-paid attorneys rather than my going to court.
ROLLING IT OUT
Introduction of the new brand name should be an important rollout by the company and promoted as such. This is a big deal!
Schedule a special function, perhaps a full breakfast or luncheon for all employees, and offer a presentation of the new brand name and logo, including why the change was made and the long-term goal of the new brand. Recognize those that were instrumental in making it happen. Nothing beats a precisely planned, timed event. Schedule smaller meetings among various departments to enlist their help in making the public introduction successful. This is where specific questions or concerns may be addressed. To reinforce the new brand, we provided high-quality T-shirts and ballcaps with the logo to everyone.
We found it essential for all to learn an “elevator speech” to describe the new company, that way the company is presented the same way every time with a minimum of words without ineffective or disastrous ad-libbing. There may be pushback from some, which I always countered with, “We are asking you explain what the company is all about in 30 seconds or less. That makes you and us look great.”
The elevator speech should be two or three sentences or a short paragraph: “Variety Commercial Floors specializes in solving difficult flooring challenges at a fair price. We offer a variety of the very best selections of carpet, ceramic and resilient with complete, certified installation. Our goal is an on-time, turnkey job with a smile.” With normal cadence, this elevator speech can be delivered in about 24 seconds. Coach others on how to say it like you mean it so it doesn’t sound like a canned response.
TAKING IT PUBLIC
Training and ramp-up with an advertising plan and a reasonable budget with promotional items and website tweaks are critical to success.
After the enthusiastic introduction, we incorporated logo hats and T-shirts for company and subcontractor installation personnel and collared shirts for field supervisors. This provided a coordinated, consistent visual look and reinforced personal hygiene standards and a neat appearance.
All company vehicles should bear the new brand name, logo, phone number and website address. That will also encourage you to keep vehicles clean and in tip-top visual shape.
Practice makes perfect, so we devoted time in department meetings so each person could demonstrate their mastery of the elevator speech. Most effective was to have each manager lead off with their “speech delivery” to introduce the training segment. A random offer of $10 or $20 for “the speech” delivered correctly will heighten awareness from those who got the cash and those who did not. Lead by example, so all management should practice for their flawless delivery of the speech.
The public introduction will be via advertising and promotion through sales and supervisory personnel using company brochures and press releases on your existing website or a local paper. Online promotion with special incentives or discounts can be effective. The company brochure should be drop-dead gorgeous and available as a handout in person, as a website view or an attachment to proposals or bid responses.
Set your budget and spend enough for a website buildout in stages. If not, you’ll spend twice the money and time by doing it all again. Assign a well-organized visually oriented person within your company to be the coordinator with your website pro. Set monthly and quarterly timelines for website changes. Always look for ways to improve rather than remain static.
Use association memberships and trade shows to showcase your company name and expertise with brochures, business cards and brief PowerPoint presentations for highlighting successful projects. Offer small giveaway items imprinted with name/phone number/website. Become a speaker and offer expertise on how you solved certain dilemmas or funny problems.
Be a sponsor for a worthwhile project or charity event that gains your company publicity. Auction off a wood floor or an area rug; pick an item, tagged with a retail value that is related in some way to your name. “And next up is an item from Variety Floors, a beautiful 6’x9’ Nourison woven area rug valued at $600.”
Review your brand name change plan and the budget. Wait at least 90 days. There will always be momentary hiccups, frustrating mistakes, things missed. Is there a pattern, or are results and sales within 10% to 15% of expected volume? What feedback are you getting on the website? Develop a ten-question survey and have your sales team complete and return. What’s working, and what should be changed? Does the overall budget for advertising need to be changed? What is the general consensus about acceptance of the new brand?
The life and times of a commercial flooring company is perilous in the best of times; this last year is proof of that. Establishing a new look and brand is like turning a page in your corporate life. Done well, it can enhance sales and profits and determine your future for decades to come. Do your research to see if this step is for you.
Copyright 2021 Floor Focus
Related Topics:The International Surface Event (TISE)