Reinventing Itself Through Marketing

October 8, 2013
SPECIAL FEATURES | Close-Ups
 
Getting the Word Out

EXCELLENCE IN MARKETING

 

Somerville Aluminum

Branchburg, N.J.

Several years back, Somerville Aluminum stood at a crossroads. It had 60 years’ worth of brand equity in its name, but its name reflected its business model of decades prior. The third-generation, New Jersey-based business had expanded far beyond its aluminum storm window roots and it was ready to redefine itself as a company with new leadership, contemporary infrastructure and a much broader product offering.

“The roots of this company started back in the 1950s by my wife’s grandfather,” explains President Gary Shiman, who now manages the window and door dealer and home remodeling company with his brother-in-law, David Gropper. “We started by installing aluminum windows. The business philosophy of providing a good product and installing it correctly is the very basis of what we do at our company.”

 
  Building on a long history and solid brand recognition, Somerville Aluminum has redefined itself among its customers with contemporary marketing and service offerings.

Still, as the company was handed down through the family, some aspects of Somerville Aluminum had gotten stuck in a prolonged and potentially dangerous rut. “Back in the early days of siding and windows, even when vinyl came on the scene, the marketing approach was pretty one dimensional—that was the phone book. Any money that went into marketing was for the phone book. And it worked for a lot of years.” Shiman and Gropper knew that Somerville Aluminum had to think beyond what had worked in the past in order to survive well into the future. “We knew we’d have to make a change, otherwise we’d die on the vine,” Shiman notes. “Consumers have moved on from phone books. Their expectation is that what they see on the outside has to match the inside. We can perform on an excellent level with the installation and with wonderful products, but if the name Somerville seems like a back-in-the-day company, it won’t work.”

For the past 10 years, Shiman and Gropper have worked to update the company, transitioning from handwritten ledger entries to a sophisticated project management system, and investing in a more contemporary web presence. “When we took over the company, we made a conscious decision that we needed to finally change the look and the feel of the company,” he said. “It had to match the experience our customers get.”

Opportunity Knocks

Before joining the family business, Shiman spent years in corporate America and brought a wealth of marketing experience to Somerville Aluminum when he joined the team. “Marketing was a strength of mine and I did it here for many years myself,” he says. “But I recognized two things. Number one, you can’t run the company at the same time you’re doing all the marketing. It’s very complex and it’s a full-time effort. And number two, you need someone from the outside looking in to have an opinion. It gets very biased on the inside.”

Shiman was aware that the company’s longevity was a significant strength. Decades of high levels of customer service had led to decent brand awareness and strong word-of-mouth referral business. Still, the company had outgrown its name, and its marketing presence outside the company didn’t reflect the experience the company was striving for on the inside. “You can never discount the hard work that was put in before you,” Shiman explains. “We are very blessed to have the name and there are people here today who helped make this company what it is. But having said that, the expectations of the American consumer had changed.”

Shiman recognized that the building products sector faced similar evolution issues as the American car industry and looked for examples of success that would serve Somerville Aluminum. “American brand car dealers faced a similar dilemma in the late 70s and early 80s,” he notes. “They didn’t change with the times. Then walked in Lexus and Acura. Those companies did a heck of a job bucking the system and making sure the American consumer could receive a quality product and an ‘experience’ at the same time.” This recognition led Shiman to dedicate years to updating the company’s antiquated ordering approach—trading in decades’ worth of handwritten ledgers to a digital system—and investing in a worthwhile website. The company also opened a state-of-the-art facility to house Somerville Aluminum’s showroom and offices.

With these systems and infrastructure in place, the company had reached a crossroads. Shiman was looking for an outside perspective on the marketing. The answer came four years ago with an unexpected knock at the door by Manish Patel and Jerry Chu, owners of The Think Cloud agency. “One day we were approached by a gentleman named Manish Patel,” he recalls. “He knocked on my door and I listened to him and his partner, who both had experience at an agency in Manhattan.” After an initial conversation, Shiman asked the business partners to propose three suggestions about the creative direction a home improvement company should pursue. “There started a wonderful relationship,” he says.

Go With The Pro

  
 “Go with the Pro” encourages consumers to go about their daily lives, leaving important home improvement projects to Somerville Aluminum.

Although the relatively new marketing company had practically no experience with home improvement companies, The Think Cloud’s founders had extensive retail experience and brought a consumer-focused campaign to the table for consideration. The resulting strategy aimed to “connect the high precision and skill it takes to be a performance athlete to the high precision and skill of Somerville Aluminum,” Shiman notes.

The campaign is built entirely around the “Go with the Pro” tagline. “Hands down, it spoke to us immediately,” Shiman recalls from The Think Cloud’s initial pitch meeting. “In a very simplistic phrase, it softens the aluminum name. The biggest struggle we had out there is that we can’t change our name. We have built amazing brand equity.” The “Go with the Pro” tagline became an addition to the Somerville Aluminum name that helped the company break out of its mold without abandoning the brand equity of its name. “We had a two-pronged attack with the campaign,” Shiman says. “We needed consumers to understand that we’re a home improvement company. We’re not an aluminum siding company and we’re not making coils or something.”

Secondly, Shiman liked the way the “Go with the Pro” approach would serve the segment of the population that prefers not to engage in do-it-yourself home improvements. “I’m up against that American thought to go to Home Depot and do it yourself,” he explains. “Some people can do that, but not everybody can do it well. Installing these products is a fine art, and that’s our strength. This campaign tells them, ‘You go enjoy our life and leave this project to the professionals.’”

In addition to the new slogan, the marketing partnership looked for ways to separate the categories that Somerville Aluminum served—which included not only windows and doors, but also siding, decking, roofing, awnings, kitchens and bathrooms. “Every ad campaign before was a mish-mash of 15 products shown in one ad,” he says, “So we separated the categories. Our ad campaigns became one dimensional.” The “Go with the Pro” ads often feature pictures of people going about their everyday lives, implying that hiring Somerville Aluminum for a project will not turn customers’ busy lives upside down. “The messaging is very subtle,” Shiman explains. “Enjoy your kid’s birthday party while we do the rest.”

The Execution

“Go with the Pro" has played out with prominent placement in local sports arenas, including digital scoreboard animations during games. The campaign includes print placement in newspapers and magazines, as well as direct mail campaigns to targeted homeowners. The slogan also reaches to apparel, online advertising, sponsorships, social media, and even a large-scale takeover of the entrance to a local mall. “The mall is unprecedented for a company our size,” Shiman proudly shares. “We took a two-and-a-half story entrance and we wrapped it. People think I bought the entire mall. We’ve got the entire entrance and two gigantic signs outside the Microsoft store.”

The campaign will also be featured on more than 25,000 commercials this year, most of them during key sporting events and on sports-related channels. “It’s not just Somerville Aluminum anymore—it’s ‘Go with the Pro,’” Shiman says. “I can’t even count the number of times that people shout at me, ‘Go with the Pro’ when they see me. It goes to show you that people really took that tag, and it’s grown into something that defines us.”

  
 Somerville Aluminum has moved far past its phone book days to invest in modern marketing strategies, including an impressive display at a local shopping mall.

The marketing relationship with The Think Cloud is in its fourth year and continues to expand. Somerville Aluminum recently partnered with a public relations firm to stretch into a new area of marketing. “Never in my life did I think we’d have a PR company working for us,” Shiman says. “I can’t do that internally. I’m not big enough to have a PR and marketing team at my beck and call. I didn’t spend my career at an advertising company or writing articles. You’ve got to surround yourself with professionals you feel comfortable with and who understand your message.”

“As a marketing agency we have never at any level seen so much positive feedback put in writing from so many customers,” says Patel. “While we have seen firsthand how Somerville Aluminum goes out of its way to satisfy their customers, on the flip side we have also seen how homeowners will do anything for Somerville Aluminum. Whether it is participate in TV shoots or photo shoots, they are extremely happy with the outcomes of their projects and the relationship they have built with Somerville Aluminum. The testimonials that people see on TV or the Internet are natural and top of mind.”

Letting Go

One of the most difficult challenges for many business owners is knowing when to turn to the professionals for help. “I can’t cut myself into two and look from the outside in,” Shiman says. “The true marketing person can view it from all sides.”

While the marketing strategy will always require oversight, Shiman encourages other window and door dealers to prevent marketing and public relations efforts from falling to the wayside with other operational priorities fighting for attention. “I could not continue to grow and operate this company by spending as much time delving in and not letting go of my marketing efforts,” he says. “I got too busy with it, and that poisons the water to some degree. Yes, you have to be involved and oversee it, but that’s different than being involved on a daily basis.” Whereas Shiman was formerly responsible for the creative direction of the company’s marketing efforts, he now sleeps easy at night knowing that dedicated marketing professionals have lifted that burden from him. “I’ve let them take creative control,” he says. “And it’s worked—tremendously.”

In fact, Somerville Aluminum has recently been recognized for its branding transformation by the Somerset County Business Partnership. The organization’s Economic Vitality Award was bestowed upon Somerville Aluminum over other prominent consumer brand companies located in that region of New Jersey. “That was the beginning of our understanding that we are going in the right direction with all of this,” Shiman says.

Letting go also allowed The Think Cloud team to do its best work, Patel notes. “They had a successful business and probably did not need us to continue to remain that way and grow,” he says. “However, their vision was to take the business to extraordinary heights. The new state-of– the-art showroom seems to be a culmination of our first stage efforts with them. Now the showroom matches the brand matches the website matches the personalities of the team and their clients. Some of the opportunities we presented to Gary and David required investments they had not made previously. However, they recognized that to remain many steps ahead of the competition they had to take some risk. Jerry and I are extremely grateful for the creative freedom we got from them.”

Shiman says he and the entire Somerville Aluminum team are excited about the marketing direction and potential for future growth. “You have to translate your passion into being inventive and taking a little risk,” he says. “It’s important to go look outside your comfort zone.”