Regardless of the size of your business, branding will separate you from the pack and grow your sales and profits.

Okay, so you think branding is only for the big guys. In fact, you're not even sure exactly what it is. Well, having your own business brand is here - it's big and the better job you do branding your company and your products, the more successful you will be.

Do you simply sell tubs, toilets and faucets or do you help make great bathroom dreams come true? When customers hear your name, do they just think of the products you sell or do they immediately visualize a great selection of bathroom and kitchen products, displayed in a very attractive setting, represented by professional, knowledgeable salespeople?

If in fact you think branding is only for the big guys, you're wrong. Sure, Nike with its check mark and “CNN - the all news channel,” and “The Colonel” for chicken have been eminently successful. Branding will separate you from the pack, regardless of the size of your business.

Branding is the foundation that supports all marketing efforts. I can't emphasize enough how important it is. Mastering a few important branding principles will help you grow sales, customer loyalty, employee morale and, most importantly, profitability. Branding helps articulate value - and when you do this, price becomes less of an issue. When price becomes less important in your clients' minds, margins go up!

Branding helps put you first in the minds of your clients, so when they have a need for your products or services they think of you and not your competition. Plus, companies with a strong brand image in the marketplace will earn greater customer loyalty in good times and bad.

This means that the all-important referrals from plumbers, builders, remodelers, designers, architects and past clients will come your way and not to the competition. This also means that the end users must see a polished, consistent image and a positive, targeted message throughout their contact with you. You may not know it, but you already have a “brand” image in the marketplace - whether you want it or not. How you market your products, how your people dress and how well trained they are, and the quality of service you render all contribute to your present “brand.” If these things are weak, inconsistent or negative, your current brand image is hurting your business.

Whether you liked the rock band Kiss or not, they were hugely successful marketing their brand. Think about Kiss for a moment (I didn't like them at all, but my four kids sure did): what images and feelings come to mind? Maybe that distinctive Kiss logo, the white makeup, the outrageous shows, the wild stories. Gene Simmons, the lead man of the group, will admit that they carefully cultivated that billion dollar “bad boy” brand and he and his group made a ton of money doing it.

When you hear the names Rolls Royce, Apple computer, Coca-Cola, I bet some very clear thoughts, feelings and images come to mind. This didn't happen by accident. Each has spent a lot of money to make this happen. So right now you're thinking: sure, these big boys did it, but they have the big bucks. You're thinking that creating a brand for your showroom business is beyond your reach. Wrong again! Branding is something you should and must do.

Big businesses used to have the inside track over the smaller folks because of their resources. Bigger used to be better, but no longer. Little is the new big. Three things have changed the landscape in your favor:

A change in thinking. Folks have come to realize that smaller is quicker, more innovative, more entrepreneurial, and better able to adapt to increasing change. Bigger can be slower, boring and bureaucratic.

The information/computer/technological revolution. With computers, laser printers, great software, cell phones, etc., any small business can look and feel big.

A growing market. Almost all of the traditional wholesale product manufacturers recognize the importance of the “local” showroom and the fact that “luxury” products are in demand. They're working hard to push their brands and are using your showroom as “the source.”

Creating Your Brand

If you truly want to be the best you can be, you, too, will need to create an identifiable brand. Boiled down to its basics, a brand is the essence of what makes your business unique. It combines your name, logo, and purpose into an identifiable whole. It is your image, based on reality. Your brand is your business identity, your unique position in the market. Are you a higher end showroom, a more commodity oriented business, a one-stop bath and kitchen source, or what? Without a brand, you may find that instead of being all things to all people, you are very little to very few. A brand is a hook to hang your hat on so that people will remember you.

You begin to create a brand by carefully thinking about what your business is, what makes it unique, who your customers are, and what they want. Deciding upon a brand is vital because many other decisions will hinge on this one. Your name, logo, slogan, package of products and services, and even the location you choose depend on the brand you are trying to create. The big boxes do things far differently from well-run decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms. You have to identify what “things” you do differently or better - then you have to communicate this to your target audience.

Naming Your Showroom

There are several elements of your brand. One of these is: your name. For your showroom, what you name your business will have as much to do with extending your brand as anything else. Because you will not have the same sort of budget as large companies do to create brand awareness to the general public, one of your best chances of developing a favorable image is with your name. The name of my business was The Plumbery. This was fine when we only showed and sold plumbing products, but when we expanded into decorative hardware and the full range of kitchen products, the name didn't tell who and what we were. A better name might have been Distinctive Bath & Kitchen.

I have several wholesaler clients that have recently changed the names of their showroom businesses. Castle Supply in Florida renamed its showrooms Galleria Bath and Kitchen. Southern Pipe and Supply in the Southeast now calls its showrooms Southern Bath and Kitchen. And Moore Supply in Texas has named its showrooms Bath and Kitchen Showplace. All are very descriptive names. And I believe it's a good idea to show in smaller letters: “A Division of ABC Wholesale.” This creates the perception of the company being large and implies to the customer that pricing will be competitive.

There are two important things to consider when naming your business. First is the image and brand you want to create. For a brand to succeed, there has to be consistency across the board. The image, colors, location, logo and pricing should all reinforce each other.

The second factor, aside from the name, is to convey the benefit someone would get by patronizing your business. The best name will combine the image you want to create with a perceived benefit. Something like, Distinctive Bath and Kitchen or One Stop Bath and Kitchen.

Branding is so important and a bit complex that we are dedicating two columns to this subject. But don't wait to start learning more about what you can do to start creating your brand. Browse the Internet, search out a good book or get professional help to find out more about what you need to do to develop your brand. <<