After doing significant research, he found that no one was really taking him seriously. “Just another wannabe, looking to make a quick score. He probably doesn’t know what he’s doing, so why should we take a chance?”
As an astute judge of human nature and, after being battered about, he decided to “dress for success” by adopting the right persona for this new business segment. Thus began the building of his own commercial brand. And this is the step that needs to be taken by the Joe’s Retail Carpets of the world: if you want to succeed, you must be perceived as seriousand credibleby your potential clients. This is a longer process than most initially realize, involves a number of steps both cosmetic and legal,and takes money, time, planning and much risk.
In numerous cases, I have been asked to provide guidance and commercial expertise to those embarking on the journey into the commercial flooring segment. The following are some observations based on the successes – and failures – I’ve seen.
The Company Name
“Joe’s Retail Carpet” implies a small retailer; contrast that with “Commercial Carpets of America” (a real name and my former employer). Which one would fill youwith confidence and enthusiasm when you’re contemplating a commercial purchase?
One of the first steps to take is to decide whether you are going to set up a separate legal entity or operate as a division of your current company. This is a matter to discuss with your attorney and your banker or other financial advisor. Whatever path you choose, do some research on the nameand make sure there is no confusion, unfortunate connotation, or similarity to an existing company in the same field, especiallyin your general market area.
Do a search within your state first and see if the name exists or is reserved by another company; it is helpful to check existing corporations, limited liability companies and partnerships,as well as any registered sole proprietorships, for conflicts. I’d come up with your top five names and then talk with people you trust and gauge their reaction to each.
A name carries a lot of weight. “World Commercial Flooring” might be a little over the top even if you’re convinced you’ll eventually go global. Likewise, “Hokie Floors” may imply a regional bias toward Virginia Tech and the Blacksburg, Va. area. Stick with something descriptive but not restrictive;for example, “Poured Flooring Company” is too narrow unlessthat is all you’re going to do. A better choice might be “Multiple Floors” or “ Variety Commercial Flooring.” So, start with a great name.
Then there’s the issue of visual brand building with signage and the like. The best money you’ll ever spend is for an experienced graphic designer that specializes in signage. What you are after is a look that can carry across your letterhead, business cards, company brochures, uniforms, vehicle signage,as well as something to put on your building.
An important part is the design of your company’s logo. Be creative and think ahead to the registration of your trademark or service mark with the Patent & Trademark Office. It is helpful if the design firm you hire is also conversant with websites, web design, and what will work visuallyon the web. It is extremely frustrating to find out those gorgeous colors and snappy designs look great on letterhead but do not translate well online.
Colors must be friendly and appropriatefor the industry in which you’ll be operating. Bright yellow and black might work for a high-tech firm, but not for a commercial flooring company after a conservative look. A mix of garish colors would not be suggestive of your expertise in coordination of flooring choices and colors.
You will also need a company to design your websiteand suggest the best method of attaining the proper Internet addresses and handling of email traffic. Without coordination, you’ll cause confusion among your potential clients who will judge you accordingly.
Do thorough research on the companies under consideration. Look at examples of their work and check references. An inept company can turn out something that looks pretty but is unworkable or inefficient. Have they described what youwant done in their scope of work? Have they made good suggestions for tweaking your requirements? Will you be able to make minor changes, such as change in pictures of projects completed, or must this be done by them? What is their monthly maintenance fee? What features can they offer that will help drive traffic to your site? Will they provide a staged rollout and have you critique beforefinal delivery?
If this sounds complex, it is, and I have the scars to prove it. Don’t cheap out on the visuals. After a year, you’ll find out how bad it looks and have to do it again.
Introducing Your Company
How will you introduce your company and the commercial brand to your employees and potential clients? Brand building starts internally as you roll out this new direction. Treat this as a big deal! An ideal way to show importance is a special company function to build excitement and enthusiasm. Start off with the goal of this new brand, why necessary, the changes involved, and ask for everyone to contribute to its success. A follow-up series of smaller meetings among different groups such as administration, operations, and sales can be used to underscore the importance of each facet of the rollout. This way, individual questions and specific challenges can be fully addressed.
For sales or related supervisory personnel, an important part of establishinga commercial brand is how the company will be described. I suggest it be mandatory to know the “company elevator speech,” one that can be delivered the same way every timeto anyone who asks, “Now what does your company do?”
You do notwant people ad-libbing, droning on and on, or searching for a way to explain the company. This denotes improper training and lack cohesion. “I wouldn’t buy from them because Joe couldn’t even explain what they do.”And here you are, risking tens of thousands of dollars with a company brochure and website and your employee can’t even explain, in 30 seconds or less, what you’re all about. And this happens every day, I guarantee you.
Know Your Own Script
You had better know your own brand, or else all is lost.Limit the length to two or three sentences, or a short paragraph. Stress practice; the correct delivery of your company’s introduction is second only to asking for the order:“Tom, Multiple Flooring Solutions specializes in solving those difficult flooring challenges at a fair price. We offer a wide variety of carpet, ceramic, and resilient flooring, along with certified, expert installation. We deliver solutions on time with a smile.”
Visual image also extends to your company personnel; considering a company uniform, or at least t-shirts. More than one company has found a huge benefit in requiring company-branded t-shirts and hats for service and installation personnel, including subcontractors.
Personal hygiene and a neat appearance are beyond critical. Depending on the geographic location, a requirement for coat and tie or collared shirts with the company logo should be standard for sales and supervisory personnel. What you are striving for is a coordinated, consistent look for all employees. This implies that everyone is on the same page and is dedicated to over-the-top customer service. Bids have been won or lost because company personnel “looked the part.”
There are two things you and your sales team need to have as you begin looking for potential clients: a “knock ‘em dead” company brochure and a website. Each should complement the other.
Part of the initial investment – both in time and money – will be making introductory sales calls and doing as much other networking as possible. Here’s where you need a great brochure to leave behind. Do some target marketing for specific types of commercial clients, say a blitz within a geographic area with a fistful of brochures or other handouts.
Get suggestions from your advertising guru and run some print advertising, or do some sponsorship deals promoting your new brand. Change the signage on your building; service trucks should carry the new image. Make a point to join some local associations, attend trade show events and never leave home without plenty of business cards. Try donating a small amount of product and services for a charity event’s silent auction. What about some Internet advertising?
The way you, your personnel and your company’s physical and digital identityare perceived will be critical in establishing a brand. How your people dress, conduct themselves and deliver your company’s message will trump most other things. “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.” Perhaps a bad visual, but you get the point. Spend the time and money to do it right!