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Can Mom & Pops Come Together to Create an Adirondack Brand?

April 30, 2013 - Ernest Hohmeyer
We marvel at how big companies market themselves: their message seems so clear. You just hear the name of a Target, Olive Garden, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michael’s and a Holiday Inn and you have a good idea of what they stand for. They don’t even have to put words in their ads; you already have an image of what they are about.

I know what you are thinking: “I can’t get my name out there like that!”

Or can you?

Do you ever have one of those days where one moment you want to cry and the next laugh?

My day started off innocently enough with a cup of coffee and rummaging through all those community development and business journals that I belong to and came across a National Geographic Traveler magazine article “Family-Run Hotels: Endangered Species?”

Well, that ruined my breakfast.

Family-run businesses, according to this article by Margaret Loftus, “are becoming less common in this country. A little more than a third of family-owned businesses are passed successfully to the second generation and only 16 percent make it to the third generation.”

“Ultimately, an important touchstone in our heritage is at stake” the executive director of Historic Hotels of America is quoted, “It’s not just about the architecture, it’s about relationships and special events. It’s about a sense of place and unity and a memorable impact on people’s lives.”

Where Are We?

Okay, now feeling a bit depressed, I rummaged through an SBA journal. . In their “FAQS: Recently Asked Questions” published by the Advocacy Small Business Statistics & Research, there are less small businesses “opening” and more closing. In 2009, the last year on this report, births were down to 552,600, closures were up (660,900) and bankruptcies nearly doubled to 60,837. I wonder if things have changed much since then.

By this time I was in no mood to go to a Paul Smith’s College event hosted by the Hotel, Resort and Tourism Management Program on “hotel branding and development.”

“What for?” I muttered to myself. After all, their guest speaker Jim Anhut of International Hotels Group (IHG) is the “world’s largest hotel company.” “One of these folks who have all the marketing resources at their disposal” I went on trying to talk myself out of it. “They are in such a different world, what does that have to do with me or the Adirondacks?” Somehow, something said to go and I pawned it off has supporting the College and the students.

PSC Branding Event

So off I went to hear about “branding” with a bit of a jaundice eye that was immediately wiped away when I saw students excited and properly dressed for this “special event” that they and the College had worked so hard to create. How can you not become enthusiastic when the leaders of tomorrow are excited about the future?!

Mr. Anhut was a very down to earth speaker equipped with easy to understand graphs on branding. He defined brand as “delivering a promise consistently.” He talked about the importance of a “strong vision that guides you” and “defines the brand vision.” Over and over again he used the word “consistent.” “A consistent guest experience in a clear framework” related to your people, product, place, price and promotion.

“Consistent delivery delivers results” Anhut stated and went on to describe the “brand pyramid” that begins with a “brand promise.”

Participants were designated tables that were divided up between members of the community, faculty and students and we went through a branding exercise. This included beginning with determining which needs were we trying to address, the benefits and features of our products based on these needs, the resulting strategy to reach target markets and the return on investment.

Can We Do This?

The environment was full of energy and the independent strands of the day hit me like different color yarn that meant nothing until woven into a beautiful quilt. I suddenly remembered an Adk Biz Today post I wrote a year ago on an “Adirondack Quality Logo” (July 7th, 2012).

“Brand names,” like big businesses from Target to MacDonald’s are really good at being “consistent.”

But here is the reality that hit me in the face not mentioned that evening: A brand is not only about what you can expect, it is also clearly understood what you won’t get. Anhut suggested that one of largest growing markets is brand-named hotels (Holiday Inn’s etc.). A Holiday Inn, a MacDonald’s gives you a distinct picture of the experience. But you also know that MacDonald’s is not a full-service dinner with table cloths and wine experience. You also know that a Motel 6 may not have on staff a massage therapist. Different Strokes

And here is a more salient indicator: you have a good idea on the type of quality you can expect, what type of environment it is (family friendly, senior citizens, etc.), the level of service and the products (average size of rooms, type of food, typical clothing lines, etc.).

In the Adirondacks, you have a much lesser certainty of what to expect.

Our independent businesses are part of our greatest strength and a potential source of our weakness when it comes to branding.

What kind of clothes does the downtown clothing store carry? Is it geared toward old people or kids? Does it carry name brands as well as local artists? Is it an expensive store or cheap? What kind of customer service does it have? Refund policy? When are they open? Can I order on-line?

It is the same for virtually every business sector in the Adirondacks from auto shops to restaurants. You can ask the same questions and potentially get a different answer each time.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? Absolutely not. Folks shop our stores because they like the unique; they visit our restaurants and stay at our lodgings because they like the small business atmosphere.

An Opportunity?

But is there a way for our small businesses to have our cake and eat it too? Is there a way for us to play with the big boys and potentially grab some of that huge, huge brand market that seems to be growing exponentially? To capture some of that market that may want a unique experience but are too afraid to try – instead they choose the “safe” and known experience?

Can our independent businesses work together to create a “brand promise”?

There may be a way if we are interested and models to help point the way.


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