Meridian Mark Management gets brand buy-in Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

A lot of people have seen Dan

Rolfes in his underwear.

After all, “The Red Tag Man”

is best known for wearing his

red long underwear on TV commercials for Holiday Homes, the

manufactured housing company

he formed in 1969.

But when Rolfes became a

stakeholder in some not-soundergarment-friendly financial

companies, he realized that his

image couldn’t easily cross

industries.

“You can’t change the brand,”

Rolfes says. “What you can do is make it a part of a bigger

thing that stands for something

else.”

So he founded Meridian Mark

Management as a holding company and a collective “green”

brand over about 30 companies

he owns or owns stake in,

ranging from commercial development to insurance brokerage

to floor cleaning. In 2007, revenue of those companies

totaled $92 million.

The branding transition is

never complete for the CEO,

who is still driving the vision

through 120 employees and

even more customers.

Smart Business spoke with

Rolfes about how to get everyone to buy in to your brand.

Brand and repeat.

The key to

branding is repetition. You

can’t be bouncing from idea to

idea. You’ve got to stay and

run the course. When we started with energy efficiency, for

instance, the public didn’t really care.

If you believe you’re on the

right course and you have

been able to sell your employees on it ... you’ve got to stay

with it. You’re making a statement: ‘I believe this. This is

where we’re going. It’s OK if

you don’t believe it, Mr.

Customer, right now. You’re

getting it anyway because it’s

the only way we’re going to do

business.’

If you just keep doing your

part, sooner or later, people

will understand that that’s the

answer.

Test the perception of your brand.

We believe strongly in

research and going back out

into the market (to) find out

what the customer thinks of

us. We have changed a couple of companies a couple of

times because it didn’t play

out the way we put it on

paper. We had one plan, but

the customer picked it up

another way.

When we went into the site-build market, I wanted to take

the name Holiday Homes. My

marketing people kept saying,

‘No. At least let’s do focus

groups.’ Then you’re on the

other side of the mirror

watching them.

We showed them the houses,

the drawings, the price points.

Then we start saying, ‘Now,

who do you think might have

built these?’ We named all the

biggest builders in Cincinnati.

As soon as we said the name

Holiday Homes, they said, ‘Oh

my God, I know what that is.

That’s a trailer, and I don’t

want it.’ So then we understood branding.

The hard part is listening to

what it says, whether you like

it or not. I always think I can

change somebody’s mind. Only

you can’t go to everybody in

the city individually and

change their mind. It really is

sitting back and listening to

what the information coming

back to you is and being willing to accept it, and if it is not

working, being able to say,

‘Well, that didn’t work,’ and try

another method.

Live the brand.

When you do it,

you have to live it. It has to

occupy that space in your

employees’ minds, too. It cannot be a sham.

If you’re going to sell it to

somebody, it better be real.

And if it’s real, then you better

be willing to live it. So we try

and instill it in all of our

employees.

Bring it back up every meeting you have, with newsletters,

with personal statements, that

they see [what] I’m doing. If I

can’t convince my employees

that it’s the right thing, then

I’m probably going to have a

hard time convincing the public. If you can get your people

to believe it, then they’ll get

the public to believe it.

Involve your employees.

I’ve got

to [have] 80 percent or more

of the employees behind it. It’s

not even a 50-50 deal. You

can’t have 49 percent of the

company. It’s a consensus.

We operate on the philosophy that you believe in what

you’re doing. And when you

don’t believe that, then my

door’s always open. You come

up and tell me why you don’t

believe it.

Sometimes I have to listen,

and sometimes they listen.

‘Well, I understand it costs us

money, but this is where we’re

going because it’s the right

thing to do and because I feel

better when I come to work

and I do this.’ That’s branding

to the core, is people come to

work and they do it because

they think it’s the right thing to

do and they feel good about

doing it.

It’s important to allow it to

be their idea. I brought out a

suggestion that we should start going green and what did

they think and what did they

see that we could do. The

ideas started flying, so we’re

changing light bulbs and doing

all this stuff that was mostly

other people’s ideas.

I think the other part of that

is to communicate back again

and say, ‘Here were six great

ideas, three of which we found

we could implement now, and

these three — while they’re all

good ideas — we can’t do

them now because ... .’

It’s to gauge the overall

response but also to get buyin. We have a suggestion box,

but you don’t have to do that.

You just e-mail it or whatever.

Oftentimes, some of the best

ideas come from (employees)

who don’t necessarily get them

out in an open forum.

HOW TO REACH: Meridian Mark Management, www.meridianmarkmanagement.com or (513) 575-0100