Growing a building materials brand is about the story you’re telling. The better the story, the greater the sale. But what if you’ve got a few different audiences? What should your brand’s story sound like then? Let’s find out from a company that began their story from the ground up.
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Greg Rohl is principal of The Rohl Model and the family-founded Rohl Faucets brand. The company has an established reputation for innovation and luxury brand quality, so we talked with Greg about what it takes to build a winning brand in the building materials industry.
Modern Luxury, European Legacy
The Rohl brand was started in 1982, by Ken Rohl, Greg’s father, and it’s been a family-owned business since the start. “I came on board officially in 1993,” explains Greg.
The Rohl company introduced the first pull-out faucet design and became known for their high-end products, inspired by European decorative plumbing markets. “It was pretty much considered a commodity market. And there were a few decorative faucet lines, but they were more on the bath side and they evolved out of hardware companies,” explains Greg.
Greg’s father worked in building materials for many years and saw an opportunity in the marketplace for a high-end faucet product line, but his employer didn’t think customers would spend more on bath fixtures. Greg’s father held fast to the idea.
“I think he understood, at that time, European products, particularly appliances and cabinetry, and that Euro-style, was starting to come into the larger metro markets like New York metro and Los Angeles,” says Greg. “And so, he moved our family from Chicago to Southern California and started that business.”
It was a risky move, and Greg’s father had to work out of his home in the beginning phases of the company’s growth. “When we think back on that scene, the office was the spare bedroom, the warehouse was the trunk of the car, and he'd literally fill up the trunk of the car and head out and place these products in the marketplace,” says Greg.
It was a bare-bones setup, but enough for Ken Rohl to bootstrap the business and form the beginnings of the Rohl brand. “Fortunately, he had been in the building materials industry for many years, particularly focused on kitchen, so he knew the showrooms, the kitchen and bath designers, and he knew the marketplace across the country. So he really had the strategy in mind,” says Greg.
And the timing was right for Rohl because the “Boomer wave” was just building up. “That generation was just starting to enter its home formation years — late 20s, early 30s — and really so well positioned. That was a wealthy generation, they were interested in luxury,” says Greg. “And the force of that generation and that strength of that buying power and the refocus on home, particularly kitchen and bath, certainly buoyed our company early on, and through the years and through the various trials and tribulations, successes and setbacks.”
The hard work and dedication that the Rohl company is built on have been the foundation for its success, and that’s come with a few lessons learned.
“I think the lessons learned really are both the art and the science of business,” says Greg, “I think empathy is the first step towards getting the spec and really understanding your customer … you want to achieve, you want to be successful, but I think you also have to be humble and really listen and understand what's motivating your customer.”
Greg has a few other ideas for manufacturers who want more specifications.
Storytelling: Marketing Methods That Grow Your Specs
Greg’s father really set the tone for how the Rohl product brand would be perceived internally and in the marketplace. “He would call himself a corporateneur combination. He had the entrepreneurial spirit, but a corporate training,” says Greg.
“And a lot of those tools really came in handy, both internally, no matter whatever size the business you are starting out, but also in communicating with our own teams, our sales teams, and then ultimately our customers.” Some of these corporate tools included the use of acronyms: DP&E is an important one at Rohl.
D is differentiated. “So from a product standpoint, making sure that you have a story of differentiation, whether it's a functional improvement, better quality at the same price or lower price,” says Greg.
He suggests that manufacturers ask a few questions about their company. “What's the unique backstory? What's the origin story behind your product or your service for that matter?”
P is profitability. “At each step, there had to be a story of profitability in working with our product line. It had to be profitable for our sales team … And then in the showroom, obviously, the owner, the manager, they need to see that your program is profitable and worth investing time and space in a retail environment. And the people selling the product on the showroom floor,” he explains.
The specifier will need to understand the product's benefits, to determine profitability. “See either it performs better, it's easier to work with, it's more dependable from a sourcing standpoint. Better service, obviously, your service team has to be second to none,” explains Greg. “So you can have the greatest product, but if the team in the field isn't well-supported and keeping promises, that product's going to get set aside for another selection.”
E is easy. Greg explains that manufacturers need to make choosing their products easier: “Your product has to be easy to work with, easy to specify,” says Greg. “Ideally, if it's something that an end-user is also seeing, it has to be easily attractive, whether it's a design or a function.”
The story that a brand tells also makes an impact on its success. Storytelling isn’t just marketing some kind of contrived message to your customers, though. Greg explains further.
“We built the company around this luxury strata within the kitchen and bath world. We had to become very good storytellers,” says Greg. But the origin stories of these products held years of history. “We had the great fortune of dealing with factories that were in beautiful parts of Western Europe.
“It may have been because of the resources in the area or the ability of access to water, but there was a real generational tradition of working with metal and brass,” explains Greg. “So there was a lot of storytelling that we had access to. Which again, made it compelling for, again, the end-user, the specifier.”
How To Market Your Brand to Multiple Audiences
Rohl began to develop as a company and started working with other manufacturers and brands. “There is no factory with Rohl above the door. We were working with other manufacturers, some of which had great stories, but trying to incorporate all their brands, it would be more confusing,” explains Greg.
There were lessons learned when it came to finding brand balance since multiple companies were involved. According to Greg, the balance is really about understanding who all the end-users and stakeholders are within your distribution channel.
“And again, that's where that empathy, I think, comes in, and really taking the time to understand. Big brands oftentimes will develop customer personas, and that's a typical more of a consumer brand process. But I think it's well worth, even on the building product side, that we think in those terms,” suggests Greg.
Greg looked within the industry for clues about this customer, including the National Kitchen & Bath Association. “And I remember very early on the message was the competition isn't necessarily the showroom across town or even that display next to yours in the showroom,” says Greg, “it's really the other ways people might spend their money instead of upgrading their kitchen.”
The luxury consumer would likely be spending their income on fashion, jewelry, travel or dining out. “So for us, it was looking outside our world and seeing what was appealing to that buyer in other areas of their life and bring that to our story,” says Greg.
Understanding that part of the story has helped the Rohl brand convey a consistent message and strong presence online, “but the reality is that the sale, we're not there when that designer or that builder is standing in that showroom, they're standing with whoever's working in the showroom.”
“You Can’t Buy a Brand, You Build a Brand.”
The goal for Greg is to ensure that the story is crystal clear so that anyone along the supply chain can tell that story well.
“And that's something that it's hard to do, but the clearer the messaging can be — and consistently broadcast out across all of the stages or positions of selling and specifying — is something that people really need to focus on,” says Greg. “You can't buy a brand, you build a brand. And it was 30-some years of us doing what we did and doing the right things day in and day out. The brand gets built incrementally. It's really built on a foundation of trust, right?”
Brands are also built by investing in them. “We were always marketing. I think we were always speaking to not only our B2B, but we always had an eye on B2C. But being a relatively small company, we always invested in marketing, but we just didn't have a big advertising budget,” says Greg.
He shares how his father didn’t have an immense advertising budget in the early years but wanted to take out an ad in Architectural Digest. “You could do a section of advertising that was distributed just within the California market. So as opposed to being a $45,000 dollar ad, it was maybe a $5,000 ad,” says Greg. After the ad was published, Greg and the Rohl team bought extra copies.
“And then we sent them all to Chicago and New York and Florida, gave them to our reps like, ‘Go out and can you walk into your showrooms and say, ‘Here's Architectural Digest. And look at Rohl is advertising in Architectural Digest to create awareness.’”
“But we looked at it as it wasn't about just creating overwhelming consumer reach, it was also about showing that investment. We would call it ‘merchandising the advertising,’ because it was a signal back to our customers that we were investing in our own brand.”
Want Even More Insight?
The Rohl brand and products sold under its reputable House of Rohl name come with reliability and luxury in tow, and we’re looking forward to seeing what else Rohl has in store.
“It's an amazing journey from one product to sourcing from over 20 different factories from Western Europe, through North America, and even New Zealand, we got some partners there, too. It's been a great experience,” says Greg.
Need more great marketing content in your ears? Check out the rest of our podcast episodes at venveo.com/podcast.
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