Successful business owners know the value of innovation mixed with pragmatism, a utilitarian model that is critical when it comes to partnerships between companies. Everyone knows that in business it often comes down to this: You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Thus, when Jon Wise, president of The Garland Floor Company, realized his company needed more from the contractors who install its products, he sought mutual advantage. Garland already provided an excellent product, a strong reputation, and the expertise of an ex-contractor, yet most of the independent installers in the Garland network were reluctant to market the products. Wise knew there must be a win-win solution, but no one at Garland knew quite what it was.

The Garland Floor Company is a national leader in the production of industrial and commercial flooring materials. Founded in 1959, Garland currently offers more than 75 products including resurfacings and coatings, decorative floorings, and the industry’s only complete line of ESD coatings to prevent damage in buildings where electronic components or volatile chemicals are handled. For 35 years, Garland installed its own flooring for clients in a range of industries, including automotive, aeronautical, chemical, and food service, but in 1994 it handed over installation to a network of certified contractors in order to focus on production and R&D. This worked well in terms of sales, with Garland providing site inspections and recommendations to the contractor, who would then deal with the customer and complete the job. But finding new customers proved a challenge; expensive national campaigns hit far too many unqualified prospects and achieved only limited success. As Ken Hughes, vice-president of sales and marketing at Garland, admitted, a small business owner looking through the Yellow Pages is more likely to call the contractor across town than a faceless national company, no matter how solid its reputation. Garland needed more information about end-users—the people who purchased and walked on Garland floors. Local installers possessed the information, but few were willing to share their databases.

President Jon Wise had called in Andy Birol months earlier to integrate Garland’s sales and marketing efforts, and with good results, so Wise asked him to focus on relationships between the company and its contractors. “They needed to get close to their existing customers,” said Andy, “meaning, the guys who actually lay the floor. They’re the ones holding the aces. Garland needed them to want to share information.” Andy suggested co-branding. Working closely with Ken Hughes, he helped to develop the “Garland By ______” program, which allows local contractors to leverage their community presence with Garland’s reputation for quality. The tagline is deceptively simple. “It has become a pervasive program,” noted Andy, “allowing Garland to create merchandising with the contractor brand and, perhaps more importantly, to give contractors the means to build up both names in the marketplace.”

Mindful that contractors would only use Garland By if it was cost-effective and easy to implement, Andy recommended Felber & Felber Marketing to design the program. The results, according to Hughes, are “really exciting.” Rob and Bruce Felber developed a comprehensive set of products and services that can be purchased through a Web site, letting installers point and click their way to self-designed, co-branded marketing. Available products and services include:

  • Custom-designed company brochures.
  • Direct mail postcards.
  • Trade show support materials, such as banners and signs.
  • Company profiles (case studies).
  • CD-ROM business cards.
  • A variety of promotional products, from the classic (mugs, T-shirts) to the inevitable (golf balls, mouse pads) to the sublime (locking tape measures, fishing lures).
  • “Microsites”—simple but professional co-branded Web sites.

Another crucial component of Garland By leverages the Best and Highest Use of Rob and Bruce Felber, brothers and partners in Felber & Felber Marketing, and recent subjects of a BGC case study. The Felbers offer their unique abilities as “public relations teachers” to Garland By customers through the “Power PR,” “PR Profile,” and “PR Primer” packages. For a set fee, contractors can purchase various levels of skilled PR execution and personalized training from the Felbers. In effect, Ken Hughes said, “We are giving contractors an easy, inexpensive way to market their company and learn how to benefit from co-branding. And they are giving us increased loyalty.”

After floating a trial balloon in late 2004, Garland rolled out the program in January “with fairly low expectations,” according to Hughes. “We would have been satisfied to get 10 of our 40 contractors signed up,” he said, “but the response has been enthusiastic.” Garland By became the focal point of the company’s national sales meeting, where contractors literally handed over their customer lists. Garland has achieved deep market penetration, sales are up, and Garland By is fast becoming the backbone of the company’s national marketing.

Hughes is guiding Garland By into new areas by continuing to ask his staff “what else” they can do for their contractors. For example, Garland has put out a co-branded calendar, customized and pre-dated for end-users; contractors can give calendars to manufacturers who face predictable shut-down dates, with printed reminders to check for and start planning flooring fixes. “We have endeared ourselves to the installers,” noted Hughes. “They see that we are interested in giving them a better brand in the marketplace, that we are committed to their business.”

Hughes credits Andy for playing a big role in Garland By’s success. “We simply wouldn’t have gotten to this point without him. In the flooring business, you can sit around a room with people who are experts at what they do,” he said, “but you end up with the same old ideas. Andy challenges you to innovate. He finds creative solutions to any problem.” Jon Wise also stated, Andy worked with me and my sales and marketing team to develop a remarkable co-branding strategy we call “Garland By” that eliminated channel conflict throughout our distribution system and aligned my firm’s needs with the goals of our contractor customers who have enthusiastically embraced it. Our competitors are amazed with what we have implemented.