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BRANDING–DOES SIZE REALLY MATTER?

July 6th, 2016
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BRANDING—DOES SIZE REALLY MATTER?

 

Driving around Sonoma County again this month, I never cease to be amazed by the number of vineyards that  cover the landscape in valleys, hills, and canyons almost everywhere you look.  Going up the narrow, winding road to our rental home, I was surprised to find small vineyards with no signs or identifications around every bend and I started to wonder how some of these wine growers and makers survive in this ever-growing competitive industry.  One only has to walk through a Total Wine & More super store or even the wine aisle at Publix to see that wine brands far outnumber the brands of cereals or frozen foods that make up so much of the revenue of today’s grocers.  In an industry that has been dominated by large wine conglomerates like Diageo, Constellation, The Wine Group, or Gallo who now make up more than half the wine business nationally,

 

I wondered how do small vintners succeed in gaining shelf space and share of market.  I asked Wayne Fieldsa, a small, family-owned Sonoma vineyard owner, who stopped bottling hIMG_4688is own wine a few years ago and now supplies grapes to other winemakers, what it takes to succeed in today’s wine market.  He conceded that the large companies will continue to grow and acquire small wineries that have developed successful brands just as the major breweries have taken over many craft brewers around the country.  However, he said that there still is plenty of room for wines that create a niche for themselves and a brand that is distinguishable.  For example, he specialized in Syrah grapes and produced some award-winning varietals that helped gain
distribution and loyal customers.  One only has to glance at the labels on the endless shelves at the aforementioned retailers to see there are some interesting names and designs on most of the bottles.  Yet, there are some that continue to grow by building their brands with more than just a nice tasting room or marketing campaign.  Much of it is due to the obsession of the winemaker to produce something unique that their customers want and will go out of their way to keep in their wine coolers at home.  Wineries are some of the most successful CRM marketers with their wine clubs and special mailings that keep customers ordering often and in large quantities.

 

So size isn’t the only factor for success here and it’s not in many other competitive industries.  I think about the hamburger shop in a non-descript strip center in my neighborhood.  Despite having all of the national hamburger chains within a tenth of a mile of their hidden location, the shop has a loyal family business–built  on a brand of fresh beef, grilled to order, with hand-cut fries and  fresh fish and chips.  The owner runs the place and grills the burgers, too, but understands that his brand is based on the fresh, family-run business catering to quick eat-in or take-out.  Another example is a small, family-run investment/wealth management firm tha
t I’ve worked with, who have built a successful business despite offices of all the major investment firms and banks on the same road (including Raymond James corporate HQ down the street).  The couple that started the business developed a brand strategy based on personalized, family service based on Christian principles.  Sure, the firm isn’t going to compete with Schwab or Merill Lynch, but they have a loyal group of clients and have diversified into a couple other business services companies based on the same principles.  Finally, there are plenty of places to get lobster rolls in Maine and all of them are pretty good, but Red’s Eats in Wiscasset REd's eats lobster roll in MEon the Back River not far from Bath, ME, has created a brand that brings customers by the hundreds to stand in line for their lobster rolls (a pound of meat in every roll is the brand promise) and fried clams, served out of a small, food trailer right on US1 and the bridge over the river.  Across the street is a lovely restaurant with A/C and windows facing the river.  On a Sunday, there’s no wait for a table, but across the street the crowd at Red’s is testimony to a brand that brings them in from all over and bring them back again for more.  The list can go on and I’m sure you have some small brands that have big-time loyalty near you.  It’s all proof that the important factor in a successful brand is to determine a customer need that other similar products or services don’t provide or provide as well, and then communicate that value in an honest, consistent manner in everything you do.

So, let’s raise a glass and toast the brands that may be small in size but big in loyalty…and success.

 


A GREAT BRAND STRATEGY-POORLY EXECUTED

May 19th, 2016

 

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A GREAT BRAND STRATEGY-POORLY EXECUTED

 

One of the last Sports Authority stores

I was saddened—though not surprised—to read about the closing of The Sports Authority and its pending liquidation.  While a letter from the CEO says that only 140 of the 463 stores would be shuttered now, public statements from the company’s attorneys and financial releases indicate that the company will soon disappear. The agreement (announced today) that the stores have been sold to a trio of liquidation firms confirms the fact that this once respected brand will  soon be a memory.

 

As I said, I was saddened because about 20 years ago, I was offered the top marketing job at Sports Authority and except for what seemed to be a better offer (can’t tell a book by its cover) from Circuit City, I would have accepted the opportunity.  I was impressed to say the least.  Having just broken way from the grasp of Kmart (another brand in jeopardy now), Sports Authority had a lot of good things going for it at the time.  A great brand name that personified its brand strategy.  Well-merchandised stores that brought great selection at lower prices to categories that were booming at the time.  Well-positioned locations that provided excellent traffic and visibility in well-targeted areas.  A strong management team, led by the company’s founder, with a focused vision on where it wanted to go, also developed an effective marketing strategy that mixed great positioning with strong promotions.  Plus, it was based near Ft. Lauderdale, just across the state from where I was living so commuting was possible until I got settled.  I have to admit that when the Circuit City deal didn’t work out, I had a lot of second thoughts about that career decision!

 

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver

The company built itself on an effective positioning campaign using well produced, effective broadcast and timely promotions.  More importantly, it had aggressively sought to have the Sport Authority logo placed in highly visible locations in sports venues in all major sports.  Shots of the end zone for NFL, there was the logo.  Sideline scorer’s table shots at NBA games, Sports Authority was right there.  Baseball outfield walls, NHL boards, college stadiums—the company’s presence verified that it was the authority on sports gear.  Even as the company grew and stumbled, its sale to Gart Sports in Denver seemed like another smart move.  The company was consolidated in Denver and changed names to The Sports Authority since there was so much equity in the brand.  Unfortunately, that’s where it ended.

 

The company’s marketing became dominated by nothing more than boring sale ads and promotions.  It’s website was developed, yet not much more exciting than its print with little or no promotion driving customers online.  More importantly, the stores were boring as well.  Selections of athletic shoes were no better than most athletic footwear stores. Golf was sub-par to Golfsmith.  Cycling failed to capitalize on the growth of this activity.  Fishing was meager compared to Bass Pro and Cabela’s.  Camping ditto.  Traditional sports like baseball, football, tennis, soccer were not much better than Wal-Mart or Target.  Then, there was the in-store experience.  The only authority was on the sign outside the store.  Sales help was disinterested and about as knowledgeable as your neighbor.    Inventories were obviously being cut back and selection and sizes were insufficient to meet demand.

The stores in fact were boring.  They did strike gold with buying the naming rights to the Denver Bronco’s stadium at Mile High just in time for the Super Bowl championship season, but by then it was too late.  The brand had awareness but not much value.

 

Bass Pro brandon

Bass Pro Shops–Brandon, FL

Before writing this article, I visited the newest Bass Pro Shop location in the Tampa Bay area and it was obvious why Sports Authority was fading fast.  The Bass Pro shop was an exciting experience.  Huge displays, interesting experiences, valuable in-store events.  Then there is the selection from more fishing rods than I have ever seen to more cammo gear than in a military post.  From boats to ACV’s and with a restaurant that’s worth making the trip just for the menu, Bass Pro gets it.  And it’s always supported by an effective, on-target marketing campaign.  Across the road was a new Dick’s Sporting goods and while not as over-powering as Bass Pro, it was everything that Sports Authority should have been but wasn’t even close.    And Dick’s marketing is as good as Gatorade or Under Armor in creating a relevant, adifferentiated brand of stores.

 

So, it’s strike three on Sports Authority and a good lesson learned that you have to consistently cover all the bases, outsmart the competition, and build a great team to keep a strong brand alive and well.


BRANDING BY UNDERSTANDING YOUR CUSTOMER

March 30th, 2016

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A few years ago, while spending some of my career on the advertising agency side of the business, I had the pleasure of working with the marketing people at Beall’s Department Stores in beallstorefront
Bradenton, FL. The company had been in business for several years and had become of favorite shopping place for “mature” customers in Florida and Arizona by understanding who they were NOT trying to be. Beall’s (pronounced Bells) was not trying to be Macy’s, nor Kohl’s, nor JCPenney, nor Ross, nor TJMaxx. For that matter they weren’t trying to be just like any other stores competing with them in their select markets. The company understood the casual lifestyle of its customers. They understood that they were looking for a lower prices. They wanted quality brand names. They were no slaves to fashion. And they wanted a pleasant shopping experience at the store.

 

Well, it really seems to be working. Now with over 530 stores doing over a billion dollars in sales
in relatively few markets, Beall’s recently opened a brand new store near me in Seminole, FL, so I decided to take a trip over to see it during its soft opening the week prior to its big Grand Opening. Not so soft. The lot was full. The stores were as crowded as any Black Friday experience bealls interiorI’ve had, and the registers were line up down the aisles with shoppers taking advantage of pretty
much the same promotional offers that Beall’s offers regularly to its customers. The store was well organized and contemporary, but frankly not much different than the store that was demolished just 6 months earlier when the mall was torn down in favor of a new town center concept. Beall’s was the first to open this week. The store wasn’t exciting, and that’s the point. Beall’s brand isn’t necessarily exciting. It just works for the customers that they have targeted in over 100 years of doing business. Consistent, clean, well-merchandised, effective graphics all living up to the brand promise. A solid mixture of national brands like Columbia, Gloria Vanderbilt, Skechers and Dockers mixes well with Beall’s own Reel Legends, Guy Harvey, and Carribbean Joe.

 

The company has recognized the value of the mature customer. Notice I did not say senior or retirees. While these demos are loyal shoppers, the styles and fashions fit a lifestyle more than a demographic. So young mothers are just as likely to be there next to a grandmother. I find there collection of sports and golf shirts as good as any around and better priced. Home décor and appliances are fit for the casual home but work well in the other 14 non-tropical states that the company operates in. That’s the point of brand—be consistent and understand what customers like about you more than the other stores offering similar merchandise. While the company has expanded to include an Outlet division and a robust online marketplace, the offerings and the commitment to the customer and the communities that they serve is consistent and one of the unique selling propositions that Beall’s has maintained steadfastly over the years. Simply put, they succeed by being themselves and doing it well. And the brand continues to succeed and grow.

 

For more information about the company, check it out online at https://www.beallsinc.com


BRANDING ISN’T ALWAYS FEEL GOOD MARKETING

February 1st, 2016
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This year marks the 12th year that I have been sharing views on branding, marketing, retailing, internet…and whatever else pops into my head as I scan the American marketplace for successful ideas on winning more loyal customers. During these years, I’ve talked about a lot of different types of businesses. Some are real success stories. Some have failed and have disappeared from view—never to be shopped or purchased again. Most of the time, I feature brand concepts that are communicated via outstanding creative executions that win over the hearts and minds of the customer as much as their wallets. To be sure it is the stories behind the brand strategy that make for memorable marketing and loyal customers.

 

This month, however, I’m featuring a retailer who has been a real success story, selling stuff that’s not very special, to people who just want what they need for a specific task at a really low price. There are no Addy Award winning campaigns here. Nor are the stores going to win any praises for design or emulation of graphics and displays. Just tools. Let’s take a look at one of my favorite stores—Harbor Freight (see http://harborfreight.com).harbor-freight-tools-store

No, Harbor Freight isn’t special because yours truly is a great handyman or do-it-yourselfer. I found the store quite by accident when they opened near a Sushi restaurant that I used to visit frequently. I was surprised at how many things they sold that I had no idea what they were used for. Nor was I aware how many sizes and shapes of drill bits existed in this world. The stores are clean, neatly organized, well signed. The merchandise—most of which is private label product from China—is well displayed and designed. The prices–even for one who rarely shops for tools—are obviously deep discounted compared to Sears or Home Depot.

 

Then, there’s the advertising. Oy! Nothing special here. Except consistency. Always price promotions. Always a 20% discount. Always a free with purchase item or two that just happens to be something that you could really use (like a flashlight, or battery checker, or screwdriver set.   The discounts are real. The sale periods are limited and enforced. The offers are everywhere. In the newspaper every week. In ValPak mailers. In direct mail catalogues. Online. In Parade magazine or tucked into the freestanding inserts. The graphics are not exciting but are consistent with the store. Well organized. Strong pricing statements. Easily understood discounts.HarborFrieght logo 2

The products are well made and tested in their own quality test labs called The Workshop (https://youtu.be/_xDFCBPQJXs?t=2)The warranties are real and the 100% Satisfaction promise is enforced. Returns are easy. The people are knowledgeable enough that you can find just what you need.

 

And it all works. Harbor Freight now has over 600 (with a new one opening every 3 days) stores doing over $2 Billion in annual sales. In the process, they have built a brand that may have surpassed in loyalty the Craftsmen brand that led to Sears’ success over the years. I believe the brand has thrived because of the consistency of the message, the stores, and the product every day. Check out their About Us video on their website (after the typical sale ad on the home page) to hear a great example of a brand strategy and how they live up to it every day.


CHRISTMAS…THE BRAND

December 18th, 2015

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MERRY CHRISTMAS. As we run off the days until Christmas, it seems like the holiday comes earlier and faster every year, and 2015 is no exception. Maybe it’s because there isn’t the significant change in weather down here in Florida so the days tend to be the same as they were in September and July and April. In any event, it’s time to get into the full-court press for us to make sure that we are ready for our favorite holiday. We did get a jump on a few things like the outdoor lights and Santas, setting up the tree and decorations and work on this month’s blog in advance. All done before we took off for a visit to the Christmas markets on the Rhine with stops in four countries and several cities to see how the holiday are celebrated in towns dating back to when Santa was just a young elf. Boy, were we surprised. Christmas is alive and well in Basel, Strasbourg, Mainz, Koblenz and Cologne.

 

IMG_2271As we explored the various Christmas market festivals in each city, we were taken back into memories of how the holidays felt many years ago. We tried to figure out what made it so special and we came to the conclusion that Christmas in Europe is not just a holiday selling season, but it’s a time of celebration for the entire community and all of the businesses (not just the retailers) go all out to show their celebration of the holiday. No political correctness here. This is Christmas with Nativity scenes, Santa Clauses, angels, and all of the other symbols. But most obvious is the happy faces of the people—whether they were visiting the markets or whether they were working the various businesses. It was a festival atmosphere and yet it was calming (“All is calm…”) and heartwarming. Yes, many of the booths in the Christmas markets sell the same items as those in other cities. Yet, there is enough local flavor to give each one its own personality and style. Sure there were special prices, but it didn’t seem like prices and sales were the key focus. The displays—whether in a small, cold hut or in a centuries-old building were as exciting as any that I’ve seen on Fifth Avenue. The crowds were there on Wednesday morning just like they were most evenings and on the weekends where families, seniors, and youth mingled and enjoyed the atmosphere and the offerings. There were women in burkas, men wearing yarmulkes, priests, and even some tourists! Everyone enjoying the special time of year.

 

Christmas season surely is the biggest sales period in retail all over the world and as such the brand 2015-12-01 18.25.35of this season certainly needs to constantly be refined while sticking to the reasons for the season that make it special. It’s not all about black Friday prices and one-day sales. It’s a celebration and a time for special memories. Standing in line in one of the many Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas stores (you’ve got to experience one of these!) I had the same feeling that I had each Christmas when my mother would load me and my brothers on the Detroit streetcars to go to Hudson’s Downtown department store. This was not just a shopping trip. It was an excursion into the North Pole and Bethlehem and New York all wrapped up in one. An exciting, memorable time and shopping was just a sidelight to a tradition that I’ll always remember. That’s what the brand of Christmas is all about when it comes to retail. The marketing should reflect this attitude of a special time of year. The stores should dress themselves up more with experience and less on sale signs. The people serving you should be as excited as you are about the season and the experience. The community should continue to make living there extra special at this time and give people a reason to come out and share the experience.

 

IMG_2335So, if you’re dreading the last few days of the Christmas rush, take a few minutes to think back what made this holiday so special when you were young. Think about the brand of Christmas and why this time of year is not only a time for revenues and promotions, but also a time for experiences and memories. If you’re one of the marketers trying to take advantage of the season, make it special for your customers by going the extra mile to make it a memorable experience. If you’re a customer, enjoy the experience and enjoy your families.

 

Have a great Christmas and Happy New Year.


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