To understand the power of a brand and the importance of nurturing it, consider the example given by Michael DeSorbo, director of market segments for auto parts supplier Carquest Corp.
Speaking recently at the North Carolina Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association convention in Raleigh, Mr. DeSorbo asked his tire dealer audience to visualize two pickup trucks no one had ever seen.
The first was a BMW. Picture what the truck would look like, he said, how it would ride, its quality, what the dealership would look like and how the purchase experience would be. Then think of a pickup truck from Yugo.
``Why do you have a different picture in your mind's eye of a BMW pickup truck and a Yugo pickup truck when neither one exists?'' he asked. ``Because of the brand,'' he responded, answering his own question.
Brand is everything, Mr. DeSorbo said. A brand, he explained, creates perception, feelings and beliefs that customers associate with a product or service.
Tire dealerships, he said, are a brand in their individual markets-and what they do and how they do it impacts that brand every day.
``It's every single thing that you do,'' he said. ``It's the total experience that your customer leaves with and the position in his mind when he thinks of you.''
And the minute you slip up, ``you hurt your brand.''
A brand is made up of many components, such as the quality of the products sold, the quality of the services offered, warranty and pricing. The people in a business also affect the brand.
``It's what they do and how they act,'' Mr. DeSorbo said, especially when the owner's not around.
As a result, employees must understand how their role impacts the brand.
``Have you ever talked to your people about their role and how they impact the brand?'' he asked.
This is critical, especially if a dealership operates more than one location, where the owner can't be present at each outlet all of the time. There has to be a consistency in operation, and the only way to get that consistency in a business is through communication.
``If you don't tell everyone what their role is, if you don't explain it, you cannot expect them to know what you would do,'' Mr. De-Sorbo said. ``But if you explain it, and you have processes and have a system, then you can.''
When Mr, DeSorbo opened his second auto parts store-at one time he owned 10-he said it was 400 times harder to run that facility than the first because he was the one who made the initial store work. He was the business and when he was working in one location the other one would slip and vice versa.
``I didn't have a system,'' he said. ``It was in my head.''
He gave the analogy of an orchestra and the difficulty it would have being led by a conductor with no music in front of him or her vs. a situation where everyone was operating from the same score.
``When everyone has the sheet music and they know their roles and what and when to play, all the conductor has to do is coach and keep the timing and keep everyone happy,'' he said. ``And that's your job.''
In building a brand, Mr. DeSorbo encouraged dealers to focus on the basics-the blocking and tackling that got them where they are today.
Citing a quote from the late George Allen, legendary coach of the Washington Redskins football team, he said, ``you need to do ordinary things in an extraordinary way.''
``It's not rocket science,'' he said. ``We're not solving world hunger. We're selling auto parts. We're selling service. We're selling tires.''
Mr. DeSorbo asked his audience to remember when they first went to work for themselves and opened up for business. Back then, there was not anything you, as the owner, wouldn't do for the operation, he said. Once you got busy, though, and the business became successful, you began to focus on different things and lost some of the zeal for the basics. As a result, things you never would have let go started to become OK.
As business owners, ``you need to go back and you need to remember the basics,'' he said. ``And you need to do the ordinary things extraordinarily, every day, in every way, in every detail. It's the only way you can build your brand.''
Mr. DeSorbo urged dealers to take a step back and examine their dealerships critically and think about what it takes to become great in the customers' and employees' eyes.
Good is not enough anymore, he said. ``If you're as good as the next guy, in today's competitive environment, you lose. You have to find a sustainable advantage.''
That advantage is the company's brand, which is difficult for others to duplicate.
``Your business, the experience, the position you occupy in your customer's mind, the way they feel, the way that they perceive your business,'' he said, ``is what makes you successful.''
He showed a picture of a building where it was obvious from the faded paint that a sign had been removed. The photo also showed weeds growing through the concrete next to the building and cracks in the parking lot.
``There's no justifiable reason why that grass should be there,'' he said. ``Now that's a small thing, but it says an awful lot about the owner of that business. You know what it says? He's not paying attention to what made him successful.''
The first step in developing a great organization is realizing there is a problem and then making the changes needed to correct it. To make sure change happens, he encouraged dealers to have a ``one-at-a-time mentality,'' and he suggested involving the employees in the process.
``Ask them how to fix it and do it,'' he said. ``Then, once it's done, write it down. That's your first piece in a procedural manual for your business.''
Having the firm's employees participate in creating the manual helps them to buy into it and gives them a pride of authorship. ``Don't think this doesn't work. And don't think your people don't know how to do certain things better than you do,'' Mr. DeSorbo said.
Citing a book ``Brands that Rock'' by Roger Blackwell, Mr. DeSorbo talked about three different types of retail patrons-customers, friends and fans.
Customers are price driven, are surprised by good service and will drop you if they are disappointed, he said.
Friends are repeat customers, driven by value and will return to an outlet because their expectations and feelings about the business are high. They will tell you if they are disappointed and give you a chance to fix it.
Fans, he noted, are experience-based. They've dealt with an outlet repeatedly and want personalized advice and solutions. They'll tell you if they're disappointed, are anxious to forgive you and want you to fix the problem.
``You need to turn customers into friends, and friends into fans of your business,'' he said.