Source: The Kula Ring
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I am doing fantastic, Jeff, and you?
Jeff White: I’m well. I’m here in beautiful Buffalo, New York where it is no warmer or nicer than it is in Halifax Nova Scotia.
Carman Pirie: I found that the good people in Buffalo like to be self-deprecating. So the fact that you called it beautiful Buffalo, I don’t think will go unnoticed.
Jeff White: No, and it is a lovely city. It’s quite cool. I like it.
Carman Pirie: Nice, nice.
Jeff White: Yeah, and joining us today on the program is Emily Boland. Emily is the Marketing Manager at Tayco, a contract office furniture manufacturer located and based in Toronto, Canada. It’s so nice to have another Canadian on the program. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Emily.
Emily Boland: Hi, thank you for having me on. I’m excited to be here and like you mentioned, we’re an office furniture manufacturer located in Toronto. We’ve been in business for 43 years. I’m just a little bit further down the road from you, about a two-hour drive since you’re in Buffalo today.
Jeff White: Yeah, right on.
Carman Pirie: I got to say this is like old home week for me. I spent a former career in the contract office furniture space, and that’s really where I cut a lot of my marketing teeth actually. So it’s really cool to be chatting with you today, Emily.
Emily Boland: Yeah, it’s definitely exciting to chat with you considering your background in the industry.
Emily Boland: A lot of people don’t really realize how vast and large the industry is. I know with myself getting into this industry, I had originally worked in public relations, and I did some marketing, public relations about planning mostly for fashion, and I didn’t really have a ton of knowledge about the office furniture world. I came in here and it just kind of opened my eyes.
Emily Boland: If you think about it, every office needs furniture. Everyone’s got to go somewhere, but just how large it is and the amount of players in this space is crazy. You’re dealing with North American made product, you’re dealing with import product. There are all sorts of different things out there that you have to compete against as a manufacturer to pull a little bit of that market share in.
Carman Pirie: I think it’s a really challenging space for manufacturers. It’s more subject in some way than an awful lot of industries to fashion. We have fashion impacting workplace trends and what we see from an expectation in a product, but then even how people are working and organizations are changing. There’s another layer to it. So it’s got to be a challenge for you all to keep up with, frankly, and try to stay ahead of.
Emily Boland: Oh, for sure. There are so many elements that … you have to pay attention to the fashion world and those trends. Often things you’ll see the pantone color of the year. You’ll see that start being reflected in the fabrics that are offered from fabric suppliers and mills. You’ll see laminate colors that really follow suit of what’s going on in kitchens.
Emily Boland: So there’s a huge area of things that you have to pay attention to, to make sure that you’re staying on trend. Actually, not even staying on trend; I should say getting ahead of the trend, and a few of the ways to do that are through the fashion industry, through other interiors that are more residential, and that’s where the trend’s been really going, but it’s definitely an interesting place to play, and there’s a lot to consider, because there’s a lot of different buyers out there with different tastes and different expectations.
Carman Pirie: I’d like to dive into that a little bit, Emily, because I think our listeners … there’s an awful lot of manufacturing marketers that sometimes find themselves dealing with a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde in their persona makeup of who they’re trying to speak to or track with their market, and I often think that a contract office furniture business is because of that. We have so much of the businesses driven by architects and designers who set spec on large projects, which are the ones that manufacturers often live and die by, but then, of course, facilities managers, building managers, small business owners, all of those people are also a part of that target.
Carman Pirie: So, can you walk us through that a little bit about how you go about shaping the company’s message and appealing for these various groups.
Emily Boland: For sure. So I love the way you called it the kind of Jekyll and Hyde approach, and I’d say that’s totally true. There can be a juxtaposition between different areas that you are trying to cater to.
Emily Boland: So just to give you a little bit of background on the way our company works is we’re B2B and we sell to dealers who then go and sell to the end user. So it’s multi-level in the fact that we’re trying to make a brand name for ourselves directly with the end users so we know who they are when the deal brings us up, but we’re also trying to work with the dealer to develop good relationships and help them market their company in their territories to, in turn, get us sales.
Emily Boland: Through the dealer network we encounter a lot of architects and designers in the A&D community, and just within themselves there’s a juxtaposition because you’ve got dealers who might want to sell quick. They’re very transactional. That’s not all of them. Some of them are more doing larger projects and want more high design, but typically when that happens, they’re playing A&D field, and there’s an architect or designer who’s involved.
Emily Boland: That’s when, all of a sudden, the fashion industry really comes in. So you need to market in a way that appeals to both categories there. So you’ve got your dealers and your A&D and you want to somehow fit in both.
Emily Boland: When we rebranded about two and a half years ago now, we tried to make our brand follow suit. So what you’ll see if you go to our website, if you look at our view and catalogues, it feels very high end and luxurious. Something that would appeal to a designer or architect who is really looking for those little pieces of design flair. Little elements showing that it’s not just quality, it’s also well designed and well thought through.
Emily Boland: But the brand is also friendly in the point that it’s user-friendly, you go on that website, it’s super easy to use. It’s easy to understand who we are and you can still really see kind of the family homegrown values that Tayco is known for.
Emily Boland: So through that we kind of show that you can do both. You can get that design aspect, but we’re also still friendly and approachable and we can do quick and smaller jobs that need to be done. I think it’s a little bit tricky to play in both fields at the same time. Of course, you’re going to get some people that might not understand the brand or might not understand different changes that are happening, but we do our absolute best to be able to communicate with both through one clear message on our website, on our e-blasts. We don’t really separate it, I would say. Those direct to everybody that we have, and we try to make it kind of all-encompassing. So high design, but ease of use, and a kind of homegrown boutique deal.
Jeff White: Focusing on the high design and the quality and the kinds of things that an architect is going to look for is not necessarily going to preclude that more transactional dealer from liking or specking your product. It may just be ignored, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as the end customer is still seeing the things that they value and that they want of the product coming through in their office set up.
Emily Boland: Of course. So, I mean, it’s something that you can’t forget either is the client. I’m telling you all of this about our branding towards what maybe transaction I want, what maybe a designer might want, but in the end, it’s the end user who’s really making that decision, and that just comes down to having, for us, a brand that has that right, airy, welcoming feel, and dealers that are out on the field that are well trained and educated about our product so that they can show that they can do both.
Carman Pirie: I think that this is a … it does make sense to me this notion of basically leading a bit more towards the A&D community, visually, in the approach of the site, but then in how the kind of brand is brought to life, how the site functions even the identity of being perhaps a little bit more versatile, a little bit more welcoming, and Jeff’s point, there’s hardly a downside to that. It’s not like people are going to be anti-aesthetic, as an example, it’s just that I may not resonate with them in the same way it does with the A&D community.
Emily Boland: Exactly.
Carman Pirie: Have you found that you have to be similarly nuanced in your approach to copywriting, and your approach to whether it’s site copy or all other manner that copy comes to life in marketing?
Emily Boland: I mean, to an extent. I think, as you said, no one’s adverse to nice aesthetics. There are just certain things that appeal to certain people more than others. So when it comes to copywriting, you just try to keep that in mind, and you make it easy to read. People want quick tips, but in the end, whether it’s dealer or A&D, they want the features and benefits of the product. They want a little bit of a down and dirty, how it gets put together, ease of installation. Then they want information about something that makes the product original. What’s the design feature that you put into this. Is there an element that nobody else has? Is there a handle or a foot that you’ve designed specifically for this product?
Emily Boland: So I’d say when it comes down to copywriting, for us I keep it simple, I keep it compact, and I try to get the message across as easily as possible no matter what field you’re playing in. If you’re an A&D, if you’re an end user, or whatever it might be, so that you can have a better understanding of our product and why it’s going to work for you, and why it’s going to look nice.
Carman Pirie: Have you introduced some harder working content for the A&D folks as well? Things they might be more used to using that others wouldn’t have a use for, like CAD drawings, things of that sort?
Emily Boland: Yes, and no. So when it comes to things like CAD drawings, we do on our website have something called typicals and they’re essentially frequently ordered items as well as higher designed aspirational items that you can download the CAD files for designing directly onto your computer, which I think is really, really helpful with the A&D community.
Emily Boland: We also use a software called Geesa which is very popular with our dealers. So we kind of play in both areas, and we’re also on Project Matrix, which is another kind of design tool that a lot of the A&D community is using. We have to make sure that we are putting ourselves in all the different areas, because the different dealers, the different A&D companies, they’re all using different software. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re reaching all of them, and in that case, it’s a little bit of extra work.
Emily Boland: I will say the one piece, and it’s not technology related, but the one piece that really makes a statement with the A&D community is our look-book that we release every year and it’s essentially a coffee table book catalogue of all of our products. There’s no writing really. It’s entirely just beautiful, big, real photography of our product, and the A&D community absolutely loves it because it gives them all types of idea starters and aspirational layouts that they can show to the clients. Our dealers have been having a fantastic reaction to it too. We just came out with our third one for 2019, and I’d say it works really well with both parties, and we’ve received amazing compliments to it. So that’s a big piece that we’ll keep moving forward with that I think hits home for both parties.
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Carman Pirie: I don’t want to get too far down the path here before we talk about one area where Tayco has really kind of zig where a lot of people zag in your industry. In the contract officer furniture space, NeoCon is a famous trade show. I don’t know how many people, is it 50,000 or more descend upon the merchandise march in Chicago, and the furniture manufacturers from all over the world put their best foot forward, but you folks have chosen not to participate, which is, I think, a pretty bold move, so can you talk to us about that, and about the marketing impact of that and what you’ve done instead, etc?
Emily Boland: For sure. So yeah, as you mentioned NeoCon is this huge trade show. Honestly, it’s like the Disney World for anyone who’s in the office furniture industry. You will see everything from product prototypes to revamped product to stuff that might not be out for another five, six years that’s totally innovative.
Emily Boland: There’s everything there for the office. It’s an amazing show. It’s a ton of fun to attend, and we’ve been showing there for years. We use to actually have a showroom year round in the merchandise.
Emily Boland: As you mentioned, yeah, we’ve chosen to take a step back from NeoCon, and it’s only really because we weren’t seeing the value that we were when we were originally going.
Emily Boland: So, basically, we started going and putting a ton of money into this beautiful showroom, and having a great experience, giving our dealers a great experience. Going out to these fun dinners and conversations, but we were finding that we were coming back with piles of business cards with notes scribbled all over them with tons of people that might be relevant and might not be relevant to selling Tayco or purchasing Tayco.
Emily Boland: A lot of times these scribbled notes and business cards might end up getting thrown somewhere that you never look at again or you might end up calling it and you find out, oh, well this person doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with the office furniture manufacturer. Maybe they’re a residential designer, and they were just interested in checking it out, or something along those lines, and a lot of it really didn’t come to fruition with signing out the new dealer or making a whole bunch more sales.
Carman Pirie: I think a lot of marketers can identify with that. I think a lot of them are spending money, huge portions of their budget each and every year, on one or a network of trade events and they’re just not so sure.
Emily Boland: It’s totally true. And it’s so hard to measure your ROI from a trade show. Like you can leave up a list of emails or a list of names of attendees and you can say I talked to this person from here, but a lot of times, a lot of those emails, a lot of those calls, don’t necessarily bring anything about.
Carman Pirie: Oftentimes I found at NeoCon, a lot of what was happening here was more of a sales assist. There’s something maybe already on the go and therefore that prospect was being entertained.
Emily Boland: One hundred percent.
Jeff White: All it took was a five-figure dinner to close the deal
Emily Boland: Pretty much.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, but that dinner could have happened in probably a lot of cities, right?
Jeff White: Yeah, exactly.
Emily Boland: There is a fun element to taking someone out around the NeoCon time. I mean, Chicago’s always a really fun city to visit and has some great restaurants and places to go with potential customers, but we found because of all of this, because all the business threads we’re coming back with, not necessarily understanding the ROI or seeing that direct value.
Emily Boland: We thought we’d take a step back and save some of that money, and what we’ve done with that marketing budget is instead go out and found dealers that want to partner with us. Found A&D firms that want to learn more about Tayco, want to learn how to spec Tayco.
Emily Boland: And after betting them, we use that money to fly them out to Toronto. We put them up in a hotel. They get to come to our head office for training, walk through our manufacturing facility, learn how our product is installed, see our showroom, see our staff, and how friendly and happy everyone is to be working at Tayco, and it kind of gives them a completely different experience.
Emily Boland: As opposed to maybe seeing somebody quickly for an hour, for a quick lunch, quick dinner at NeoCon, trying to make an impression, here we’re getting them one on one for a full, whatever it might be. Maybe two days, maybe three days. We’re really able to show them what Tayco can do and give them a bit of understanding around our brand and our message and why we have been growing so much, and why they should be a dealer partner with us, and having them come to Toronto and being face to face has really, really paid off.
Emily Boland: So it’s been a great use of our money. Not to say that I don’t miss NeoCon. It’s a very fun event, and it’s always fun to walk the show and see all the new stuff that’s coming out, but for us personally, at this time, we’re all about relationship building. The best we can do is get people who want to be partners with us flown out and brought face to face with us so they can really see what we’re about.
Jeff White: There’s something to be said about not doing the exact same thing that all of your competitors are doing, and it’s not just that they’re all doing that, they’re all there at the same time. So you’re having to compete for eyeballs and ears and everything all in the same place, all at the same time, and all of your competitors are trying to do the exact same thing at the same moment.
Jeff White: I think it’s a really smart decision, and we talked a little bit in the pre-show about how Apple made that same decision about the Macworld conference many years ago, and basically they didn’t want to have to align their product release schedule, align everything to do with their marketing with what the rest of the industry was doing. So by pulling out of a trade show like NeoCon, you’re able to set your own schedule and bring the dealers on site in that way. I think it’s really brilliant.
Emily Boland: Thank you. I mean, I think it was a hard decision to make, but it’s paid off, and you’re right, it means that we don’t have to necessarily align our new product with NeoCon when everybody else is coming out with a brand new product. We can wait until there’s a little bit of low after NeoCon, or something like that, so we can really grasp the attention of our marketplace. At NeoCon, it’s so easy to lose the attention, because like I mention, it’s the Disney World for the office furniture industry. People are looking everywhere, going everywhere, it’s literally a sensory overload. So it is hard to kind of get attention and control the message and that’s something we’re able to do much easier when we can get them to our showroom, to our headquarters.
Carman Pirie: Emily, I’d be curious to know what other advice you would have for marketers listening, other than maybe to go your own way on this trade show circuit. What other things have you been implementing in Tayco’s marketing that you really say point the way to superior ROI in your mix?
Emily Boland: For sure. I mean, I’ve been with Tayco for just over three years now, and in that time we’ve completely rebranded. I mentioned our look book. I mentioned our website. Those are areas, tangible areas that we’re very, very proud of.
Emily Boland: If I were to advise anybody out there who maybe are potentially going through a rebrand and they are selling B2B like we are to other dealers, that they really focus on their content, they really focus on their market, and they put more money into polishing up the brand message, and the brand strategy, as opposed to kind of showing up at trade shows, plastering your logo everywhere.
Emily Boland: Really, where we’ve seen the ROI is where we’ve taken the time to build relationships with dealer partners. One thing that we offer, specifically, and I think it’s a fantastic thing to talk about in our marketing work, is our customer experience. So that is a huge area of focus for us. It has been since our rebrand. We’re definitely thinking more strategically. We’re thinking about how we can help our dealers make sales. We have a dedicated space planning team who works in our office and actually will do the designing for dealers out there that may need help specking it.
Emily Boland: We do all sorts of installations and different training that we can provide, and I think having your dealer being happy is going to make sure that your end user is happy.
Emily Boland: So I would say focus really strongly on what you’re putting out there and don’t worry too much about guerilla marketing and big logos and flashy design. See where you can get with building those relationships.
Emily Boland: One of the things that we recently did is strategically decided to call all of our dealers customers. We did that because when you take good care of your dealer, the dealer is going to take great care of the end user, and you’re kind of enforcing that. So, really, the focus has shifted from trade shows, crazy branding, mascots running around, all kinds of things like that, to individual, one on one experiences for our dealers along with a really great reliable customer experience from the minute you walk in our door to the minute your furniture is installed, and there’s an end user looking at it.
Carman Pirie: Have you found that that is, within the dealer network, driving increase to brand preference for Tayco? I mean, I know that the dealer network and contract office furniture is notoriously full of conflict, and many dealers carry a number of different brands and have a lot of different options available to them for specking product. Has this enhanced focus on customer service for the dealer paid off in an increase in brand spec for Tayco, do you think?
Emily Boland: Oh, for sure. There’s so much competition out there, as you know, and dealers have multiple lines. Most of them are not just selling Tayco, and we know that, and we’re really aware of that. Showing our dealers the amazing things that we can offer to them, whether it be a dedicated designer to work on all of their products and different renderings. Whether it be marketing support, individual brochures that they maybe created, showroom signage. Whatever it might be, we can show them that we’ve got that available for them, we’ve got that customer experience portion, and I think that’s made a difference.
Emily Boland: Dealers say, “Okay, it’s so much easier to place an order with Tayco. They’re responsive to me. I know exactly who to call. I know who my person is there. I know the CEO. I’ve met him. I’ve shaken his hand. It’s an easy way to get a great product at an affordable price, and I know that I’m going to get what I ordered. I know that I’m going to get that good quality,” and that’s why dealers have started flocking more towards Tayco.
Emily Boland: So I’d say that customer experience has tenfold helped us increase our brand recognition, and I think that’s where we’re going to keep continuing to put our focus, because we’ve got to make sure our dealers are happy and help them so they can make sales and market in their territories, and hopefully, with knowing the ease of order and all of the different stuff we provide, they’re going to think of Tayco first.
Jeff White: One of the other things that you talked about here is just the undertaking of this rebrand about three years ago, and I believe you were relatively new to the organization when that happened?
Emily Boland: Yes. So the rebrand, basically when I came on, was just in the air a little bit. They had chatted about doing it. They had looked into third-party agencies that they could work with to help with the rebrand, but it hadn’t come too, too far.
Emily Boland: I mentioned earlier in the podcast, I have a background in public relations, in marketing, event planning, all within the fashion and lifestyle industry. So it was a little bit of a quick awakening to learn as much as I needed to know about all of our competitors, and about the office furniture industry as a whole, because I wanted to be able to provide valuable insight as to what the Tayco brand should be, as to what our brand values are.
Emily Boland: It was a lot of work, and it took about a year to actually launch this brand, this website, the look books, all of this stuff, and it was a really, really great experience. I recommend that to any marketers that are out there if they ever get the opportunity to revive a brand, dig deep, learn the entire history of this company. Learn the downfalls, the ups, learn about all of the products. Even about things that have been discontinued, and archived. Learn about the people, and then don’t stop there, learn about all of the competitors, and really see what you can bring to fruition because it is an amazing experience.
Emily Boland: The brand’s been out for two some odd years, all the time we have dealers coming in and saying, “God, your brand is absolutely wonderful. It’s easy to use. It’s clean. It’s slick. It’s trendy. It’s fun, and it embodies Tayco,” and hearing that feels really good, because it’s something that I worked alongside our CEO with endlessly and tirelessly to make sure that we were going to hit a home run, and it was such a great experience.
Jeff White: That’s awesome. Did you find it challenging at all, being new the organization and bringing such robust change?
Emily Boland: For sure. It’s always a little hard when you’re coming into a new place. People don’t know you, don’t know if they should trust you. They haven’t seen your work history, so how did they know that you’re bringing the right insights, right?
Emily Boland: Luckily, our CEO is a fantastic resource. Kevin Phillips, he’s the second generation owner in the company. His father started the company in 1976, and he’s taken over for about the last 7 years, and he was a great tool to be able to help me learn and bounce ideas off of while I was still trying to really understand the scope of the marketplace. So was it challenging? Yes, but did I feel like I had the resources behind me? Yes. So it wasn’t scary, it was more a quick learning opportunity and a really great opportunity to breathe new life into the brand.
Jeff White: Very cool.
Emily Boland: Yeah, and one thing I didn’t mention earlier that I think is so important to anybody who’s out there listening, maybe they’re thinking about doing rebrand, they’re thinking about changing their market strategy, whatever it might be, we were completely blown away by the impact that this had on our employees. You really don’t realize the change that it’s going to make. It’s not just external. It’s not just your dealers, some of your customers, who are going to look at this and think, “Wow, they know what they’re doing. It’s professional. It’s modern. It’s sleek,” your employees are going to all of a sudden take a breath of fresh air and say, “I’m proud to work here. Look at this website. I can show this to my friends who might want to work here one day. I can show them our social media channels. Look at the logo, everything is refreshed and renewed,” they feel good to be wearing their new Tayco shirts with the new Tayco logo. There’s a new sense of comradery within the building. It was an unbelievable shift in the culture that we really weren’t even expecting, honestly, we were thinking all about external and getting brand awareness out there, and internally it may be the biggest difference.
Jeff White: That’s fantastic. Well, this has been a really interesting episode to record with you Emily, and I’m so glad you were able to join us and tell us about all the incredible things that you have been doing to really bring Tayco into the modern era of success.
Emily Boland: Thank you for having me. I was happy to be on and chat a little bit about it, and it’s been a fantastic experience at Tayco so far really working on the overall strategy for how we’re going to market. We’re working on the new brand. You know, kind of stepping away from the trade shows. It’s been a lot of learning. It’s been a lot of fun, and I think we’ve really got something great here when it comes to building our dealer network.
Jeff White: Very cool. Thanks again.
Emily Boland: Great, thank you so much.
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