About 15 years ago, crews from Mt. Lake Pool & Patio in Doylestown, Pa., shot 450 yards of concrete in a single day. The work was part of a restoration project for a local pond.
Back then, several area companies donated time, money and materials to transform the waterway into a viable fishing hole.
The pond is now stocked with trout, and opening day typically brings hundreds of children.
The daylong event is something Mt. Lake co-owner Mike Stachel looks forward to every year. He brings his trucks to the site, and holds cookouts and pizza parties for the kids: “It’s all for the community,” he says.
Stachel’s company has been in business since 1962, and it’s not by accident that Mt. Lake is recognized, and trusted, by those it serves, Stachel says. The company has branded itself as such. And it’s a big reason why, even in a tight economy, the firm continues to perform well.
“If you live in a community where you want people to shop with you, you must give back,” adds co-owner Arlene Stachel. “The only other alternative is to drop all your prices to the point where you don’t make a penny.”
Giving back is one method of branding, and the concept has clearly worked in Doylestown.
But there are other ways to distinguish your company, whether it’s by fortifying a message, establishing a niche or private-labeling. Here, pool professionals discuss their concept of branding, how they do it, and what benefits they’ve gained from it.
Teddy Bear Pools & Spas
“When you brand, you separate yourself from everyone else,” says Ted Hebert, owner of Teddy Bear Pools & Spas in Chicopee, Mass.
Hebert, who established the company and its iconic bear’s head logo in 1975, has been branding his firm ever since.
He’s sponsored scores of local youth sports teams, participated in hundreds of hole-in-one giveaways at charity golf tournaments, and put his corporate stamp on events ranging from concerts to minor league hockey games to Fourth of July celebrations.
But perhaps Hebert’s most enduring decision dates back some 20 years, when he began private-labeling. In addition to further boosting his firm’s visibility, private label has also helped saved money — up to 15 percent on chemicals, he says.
“When we put our name on a product, it has to be quality,” Hebert adds, noting the lines of robotic cleaners, aboveground pools, test kits, accessories and more that bear (no pun intended) his company’s distinctive mark.
Adds Glen Olbrych, assistant general manager: “It allows you to have your name in the customer’s backyard. And then, when they sell the house, our name is already on the property.”
Strengthening his trademark is a continuing venture for Hebert. This year his employees will don new uniforms featuring the familiar bear’s head. And, he recently purchased 10 additional trucks that will be emblazoned with the logo.
“Having the Teddy Bear brand out there has been unbelievable marketing,” Hebert adds. “In this area, it’s almost become like the Nike Swoosh or the McDonald’s M — and it’s only because of all the time and energy we’ve put into building it.”
River Pools & Spas
“The majority of pool guys try to be all things to all people without forming an identity,” says Marcus Sheridan, co-owner of River Pools & Spas in Tappahannock, Va.
Sheridan says the smartest thing he and co-owners Jason Hughes and Jim Spiess did was to shift gears several years ago and adopt a singular focus.
“I don’t think diversity is necessarily the answer,” Sheridan explains. “It’s OK to try it — but in general, it’s impossible to be amazing at retail and service and gunite pools and everything else.
“So we decided we were going to be the best fiberglass builder in the country,” he continues. “We’re teachers, first and foremost, and the subject is fiberglass swimming pools. It’s a culture really: How can we turn what we do into a teaching opportunity?”
River Pools & Spas invests heavily in educating consumers by providing a steady stream of instructive content online, as well as on a free DVD.
In fact, the firm’s Website is so built-out that homeowners often already know many of the particulars of the company prior to the initial site visit.
Potential customers also are enjoined to subscribe to River Pools & Spas’ blog, which is updated several times a week and regularly addresses such consumer-friendly topics as choosing a contractor and common fiberglass pool myths.
“Clients are telling me, ‘I feel like I know you already — I get more from your site than anywhere else on the Web,’” Sheridan says. “The key is knowing what you do better than anyone else, and focusing on that,” he adds.
Olympic Hot Tub Co.
“Your brand is the outward stamp of what your company does every day, internally,” says Don Riling, vice president of sales and operations at Olympic Hot Tub Co. in Seattle.
As one of the region’s largest and best-known spa dealers, Olympic has taken on branding as a business philosophy. Much of that effort begins with its co-owner, Alice Cunningham, who appears regularly on the local public-speaking circuit.
Beyond Olympic, Cunningham is a renowned promoter of women-owned businesses. She’s also active in a statewide employers’ watchdog group, as well as the chamber of commerce and other professional organizations.
“We get hot tub sales from people who have seen her speak,” Riling says. “But that’s not why she does it — she does it to elevate our brand.”
In the early 1970s, Olympic actually designed a cedar spa that bore a plaque with the company’s name. A decade later, it began carrying a large manufacturer’s hot tubs, but the recognition remained: “When people call our service center,” Riling says, “they don’t acknowledge what make of spa they have. To our customers, they’re all Olympic hot tubs.”
The company is focused on perpetuating a health and wellness lifestyle, and making it easy to do so, says Riling. It reinforces its identity through consistency in messaging, from its showroom and merchandising to its newsletter, Facebook page, and especially Cunningham’s blog, “Hot Tub Bliss.”
Launched in 2008, “Bliss” touches on topics as intuitive as water care, and as ethereal as cloud-watching. It runs letters and anecdotes from contented customers. And it promotes concepts such as togetherness and emotional well-being, notions that lend context to a spa company beyond just selling products.
“[Alice’s blog] allows us to educate people to our culture through storytelling,” Riling says. “She has the face of the company shared through the people that use our product. What’s interesting is that everyone has something like this, they just don’t do it.”