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Teaming up Featured

9:52am EDT March 29, 2006
ICS Garland Inc. was looking to reconnect with its customers in 2003 when it started a newsletter for past customers. But much to the dismay of Ken Hughes, president of the flooring manufacturer and installation company, a large stack of them came back in the mail marked “Return to Sender.”

“All of a sudden it became very apparent that we were just losing touch with our end users,” says Hughes. “Our database had basically diminished because we weren’t selling to (home and business owners) anymore. We were selling through our contractors. ... And so there was kind of a big wakeup call as to, ‘Well, how the heck are we going to market to our customers if we don’t know who they are?’”

For years, instead of focusing on the end-user consumer, the company had focused on forming allegiances with contractors around the country who might use Garland flooring in their jobs. Now the company needed a way to leverage those relationships with contractors to get better access to and more familiar with the consumer. But Hughes hit another hurdle.

“They were their customers, as they saw it, even though they may have been putting our floors in,” says Hughes. “It became very apparent to us that we had to do something to ... allow them to share (their customer) lists with us, and to do so, there had to be a reason why you’d do it. This is when we came up with what we called our cooperative marketing program.”

With the help of Felber & Felber Marketing, the company developed a program called “Garland By” that would enable Garland to co-brand with contractors and installers across the country. Everything would be branded with “Garland By,” followed by the contractor’s name.

“Because they run an independent business and we run an independent business, when it comes to really branding our company and theirs, we’re really in competition,” says Hughes. “Locally, they want to get their name out there, and as well, we want our name out there nationally. So we felt that if we co-branded, did everything with a Garland By — Garland By the contractor’s name — we would ... no longer be in competition, but it would be cooperative.”

And Hughes had a winning plan to get contractors on board. For participating, Garland would provide each company with myriad marketing materials, including printed materials such as brochures and direct-mail pieces with both companies’ names on them; public relations, trade show and inside sales support; promotional items such as polo shirts, hats and golf balls; and a personalized, co-branded Web site. The kicker was that these companies would only have to pay a fraction of the marketing cost in exchange for sharing their customer lists.

“What we wanted to do was take our expertise on the marketing side and help our contractors, who really don’t spend a whole heck of a lot of money in marketing,” says Hughes. “What we tried to explain to them is that Garland spends about 6 percent to 7 percent of their total sales dollar toward marketing. A service business would never put as much into it as that, but even if we just could get them to use 1 percent of their total sales volume, that would be a good thing.”

The program has allowed Garland to build on the local reputation of each contractor or installer to gain national recognition and reconnect with consumers. Meanwhile, local contracting businesses are seeing booming business from the increased marketing, which assures their loyalty to Garland and keeps their discretionary business coming Garland’s way.

HOW TO REACH: ICS Garland Inc., www.garlandfloor.com