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Image Is Everything

Giving your business a strong identity can enhance your firm’s visibility – and profits.

By Philip D. Zaleon

branding your showroom from z promotion & designKitchen and bath professionals create identities for their clients every day. Designers regularly consider lifestyle, taste and budget to create a reflection of the client’s personality in a room that expresses how that client lives – and how the client wants to be perceived by others. Yet, few of these same professionals have developed an identity for their own business, showroom or studio.

For example, ask any member of your community what comes to mind when they hear the phrase “NBC.” The answer will likely include “a peacock” or “Must See TV.” Likewise, if you ask what comes to mind when they hear the name “Home Depot,” they may cite orange aprons or the familiar diagonal logo.

Now ask about your own showroom or business. If the answer begins with “hmmm…” it may be time to give your firm an identity overhaul.

Why You Need It
The number one reason to create a strong identity for your business is because it will, quite simply, help you to increase profits. In an overly competitive marketplace, you need every advantage possible. Home Depot and Lowe’s are engaged in a national advertising war for market share. Their spending has greatly stimulated the kitchen and bath sector, but without getting into the game yourself, you will miss some of the “collateral” benefits of their battle.

As a retail sector, advertising consumes 6.9% of sales and 15.1% of gross margin, according to P.K. Data, Inc.

Artificially inflated by the national advertising war or not, big marketing budgets are reality. And, while you may not possess the kind of marketing budget a major chain has, you still can enhance your profits by creating a strong, consistent identity that makes a statement about who you are, what you do and who you do it for.

One of the primary purposes of marketing is to create an identity that carves out a niche for you in your community. Whether you specialize in high-end kitchens or speedy bath remodels, turn-key service or hard-to-find European accessories, you need to be sure your firm presents a strong image that conveys who you are to your potential audience.

To that end, you must develop and nurture an image that clearly defines your showroom and gives you “top of mind” awareness. The right identity will bring ideal prospects to you. Remember, you can’t sell to someone who thinks that the local “big box” is the only destination for cabinets and doesn’t even know you exist.

Defining Identity
Your identity is the way in which the public (especially your target customer) perceives you. It is a combination of elements used consistently as part of your overall marketing campaign that, over time, establishes you in the mind of the public in the way you want to be seen.

For example, if you want to be thought of as a high-end design firm, your identity can encourage the right customers and discourage those who are more budget conscious. You don’t have time to waste on price shoppers, and a properly promoted identity will help pre-qualify customers and eliminate the time wasters before they ever set foot in your showroom.

So, how do you begin creating a strong identity for yourself? Consider the following elements:

  • Logo – The graphic representation of the name of your company, usually a combination of letters and symbols. This not only should be visually appealing, but also speak to the type of clientele you are targeting. For instance, an elegant, understated logo may work better for an upscale client base, while something bolder and more colorful may work better for a more mid-scale, family-oriented clientele. Something high-tech-looking may hold special appeal for Generation Xers, while a mature clientele may respond more positively to beautiful, old-fashioned scripted initials.
  • Positioning Line/Statement – A statement that expresses how you want the public to see you. This statement should also illustrate what differentiates you from the pack.
  • Colors – A color or color combination, used consistently on all marketing materials, ads, television, Web sites and collaterals, which helps establish continuity and makes your image memorable. Each color has a psychological profile, so you may want to consider the underlying message before making color choices.
  • Typeface – The typeface used in all of your written materials, which sets a tone and enhances your image. Your logo typeface and the one you use in your ads and collaterals can be different, but should blend together well, and you should be sure your typeface is easy to read.
  • Icons/Symbols/Shapes – Whether an offshoot of your logo or simply a geometric shape that works well for you, a recurring icon, symbol or shape can reinforce your image.
  • Message – The way you express who you are in your marketing and advertising.
    Developing your identity is a process, not unlike the design process for your client’s new kitchen. Your identity is strategically developed based on a combination of how you’d like to be perceived, market research and personal taste. The process requires patience and resources; it’s developed over time, and should be nurtured and tweaked as conditions require.

Two approaches
The ABCs of developing an identity can be examined through the actual steps taken by two different firms with different objectives, different paths and different tastes. The first example, Royal Cabinet Co., has been a Hillsborough, NJ fixture since 1962, designing and manufacturing custom cabinetry, as well as designing and remodeling kitchens, baths and other rooms. In 2001, owner Paul McDonald decided to:

1. Begin distributing Royal Cabinetry nationally.

2. Increase local awareness of the firm’s remodeling side of the business.

To meet his goals, McDonald wanted collateral materials that would get the ball rolling. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, that decision began the process of developing an identity for Royal Cabinet Co. – an identity that needed to work for both the dealer market and the local remodeling market.

McDonald knew he wanted some sort of brochure or booklet to showcase the Royal Cabinet line, as well as a pocket folder for prospective in-showroom clients and a new Web site.

The first thing was a review of the logo, which had been updated one year earlier. The logo had achieved recognition in the marketplace and possessed a simple elegance that the firm was comfortable with, so McDonald decided to stick with it.
In designing the brochure, it was determined that an eight-page booklet format would best suit the objectives. Simultaneously, the designer began work on the pocket folder. Decisions that would shape the new Royal Cabinet identity were made at this phase of the development. They included:

  • Colors – The Royal Cabinet logo is reflex blue, and this was incorporated into the design. More important than color, however, were decisions made regarding texture. Royal Cabinet Co. manufactures cabinetry, so maple and cherry wood were incorporated as a major element at this point. The cherry bar and maple background have become identifiable features in print ads, on television and on the Web site. In addition, the designer looked at the sales process Royal Cabinet uses and developed a blueprint motif that was used in both the pocket folder and the booklet.
  • Positioning Line – For the cover of both the booklet and the pocket folder, a positioning line was developed that reflected the identity Paul wanted to project – “quality crafted cabinets designed for life.”
  • Symbols/Icons/Shapes – The oak leaf center of the Royal Cabinet logo was used as an accent and bullet on the front of the booklet design, on the Web site and in print ads. The lines from the logo background are used prominently on the Web site, as well.
  • Typeface – A typeface complementary to that used in the logo was selected.
  • Logo – The existing logo was incorporated into the new identity and its elements used liberally.
  • Message – The message for local advertising was developed to position Royal Cabinet Co. as a home-town company that combines old-fashioned craftsmanship with state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques. For potential dealers, the “home-town” appeal is a bit more understated.

The Royal Cabinet Co. identity was enhanced through graphics that could be used on everything from black and white ads, a fax cover sheet and embroidered shirts to TV commercials.

As the identity developed from the initial elements, McDonald understood the benefit of publicizing that identity. Booklets and pocket folders were handed out, but McDonald wanted to reach a larger audience, so the firm began a television campaign and magazine advertising. In both instances, the ads reflected the same cherry and maple format established as the graphic elements of his identity. In addition, his distributors’ catalogs feature the Royal Cabinet identity on the cover.

All of the Royal Cabinet marketing materials and ads promote the Web site (, while an aggressive Web marketing program was put in place to help generate internet leads.

McDonald notes, “Intellect-ually, I’ve always understood the benefits of becoming recognized through identity, logo or even positioning a line, but running the business always cut into the time I should have put toward marketing an identity. Now that I’ve made the investment in identity development, ongoing marketing decisions are easier. As we develop more things, such as a CD-ROM slide show, we stick to the already establish identity; and things are beginning to compound. In the year or so we have been ‘out there,’ people in our community know us by name, and our dealers are thrilled to represent a company whose look of stability, craftsmanship and elegance help them sell kitchens.”

Going for Growth
The second example, the Raleigh, NC-based Triangle Design Kitchens, is owned by Bill Camp, CKD, and has been around for over 28 years. Camp decided in 1999 that it was time for his firm to make a concerted effort to achieve three objectives:

1. To increase revenues by increasing the value of each job without having to hire additional staff or spend more time at work.

2. To make members of the community aware that they did not have to go to Washington, DC or Atlanta, GA to get unique, custom or high-end products.

3. To make the showroom “by appointment only,” since too much time was being taken up by window shoppers.
Camp, too, felt he had a lot of equity built up with his logo, and did not want to change it. The firm did, however, take a good look at its marketing plan, including media, collateral development, public relations and an Internet strategy.

  • Colors – Triangle Design Kitchens’ logo colors were gray and blue, but were set aside for black and red, which gave the impression of European elegance.
  • Positioning Line – A specific positioning line was never developed as a part of Triangle Design Kitchens’ identity. However, consistent use of key words and phrases in the headlines and body copy achieved similar objectives. The Web address is always prominently featured in ads and on collaterals in much the same way a positioning line is used.
  • Message – The message remained consistent, stressing the unique position the firm holds in the marketplace, and mentioning exclusive lines by name.
  • Symbols/Icons/Shapes – Rather than utilizing elements of the firm’s logo, simple geometric shapes – rectangles and circles – were used in ads and collaterals to accent and to lead the reader.
  • Typeface – Avant Garde was chosen for the headlines and copy of all Triangle Design Kitchens’ ads. It blends well with the Times New Roman of the logo and complements the European image being established.
  • Logo – The existing logo was incorporated into the new identity.
    With the marketing campaign set, the identity was created with the initial set of ads. Triangle Design Kitchens was aggressive in its advertising, presenting itself in the area’s lifestyle and business magazines, as well as cultural event programs with full-page, full-color ads. Each full-color ad features a black background, one or two images of a kitchen, red accent shapes, a headline, body copy and the Web address. Over time, Triangle Design Kitchens has become instantly recognizable in its market – so much so that as the North Carolina economy took a dip, Camp was able to downsize his ads to quarter pages and still be recognized at a glance. In addition, the firm supports the local NPR (National Public Radio) affiliate with announcements driving listeners to the online showroom –

With all advertising leading to the firm’s Web site, as well as an aggressive Web marketing program, the site has become the first line of sales. Over 80% of prospective clients have been to the Web site before they call for an appointment, Camp reports.

Developing an identity has met Camp’s initial objectives and given him an edge with the competition, he says, explaining, “After maintaining a consistent, integrated marketing campaign for three full years, I can honestly say people know us; they recognize our ads, they have been to our Web site and are familiar with our services, philosophy and staff. Potential clients often are able to tell us exactly what product they want on their initial visit based on their having viewed previous jobs on our showroom pages, visits to our suppliers Web sites from the links on our Partners page or from kitchens shown in our print ads. Thanks to the identity we have created and nurtured, I believe that when the Expo Design Centers decides to invade Raleigh, they will have to compete with our established base, rather than vise versa.”

Regardless of location, competition, years in business, specialty, sales or size, you will benefit from developing and nurturing a strong identity. The industry is changing; you cannot bet your future on referrals or the Yellow Pages alone. To compete efficiently and effectively, your business must have a strong identity that gives a clear indication of who you are and what you do. Equally important, your identity must be marketed in such a way as to ensure that your target audience recognizes it and thinks of your firm when its members decide to renovate their kitchen or bathroom. All it takes from you is desire, determination, patience – and an investment in time and resources to make it happen.

Philip D. Zaleon is founder and president of Chapel Hill-based Z promotion & design – a full-service integrated marketing and creative agency focusing on the kitchen and bath industry. Prior to this, Zaleon was v.p./ research & development for a new technology-based communications firm. He also worked in the television industry as a graphic designer, producer, director, animator and marketing director at top 30 (TV) market affiliates, as well as CNN.

He can be reached at Z promotion & design, PO Box 17291, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; Phone: 919-932-4600; Fax: 919-932-4447; Email:; Web Site:



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