In today’s sophisticated, media-gluttonous culture, building a competitive reputation is aided with an identity that triggers at-a-glance recall and its byproduct, trust. Experts compare building a strong a brand in the marketplace to building a friendship, nurturing familiarity and acceptance, and earning popularity over time.

But brand identity is much more than that — it’s a bona fide business tool that corrals a company’s ideals, aspirations and core competencies into one identity and dovetails it all together, touching everything from marketing, hiring and retention practices to how it deals with the community and vendors.

Jason Michael Geil, General Manager of Janitorial Inc. in Fresno, Calif., has been with the company his parents started in 1986 for fifteen years. Due to confusion in identities with a sister company, the firm decided to spend $10,000 on creative and artistic consulting to rename and rebrand itself.

Geil wasn’t worried about eroding the original brand identity because it was so weak.

“Typically, in our area, janitorial companies are hired via word of mouth,” he says. “People get known for cleaning certain things. For instance auto dealerships — they call each other for referrals. But office complexes are not the same. We get phone calls from our branding.”

Including the core service in the company name was a very good move, according to Geil. It enforces their identity and helps prospects find it if they’re doing a blind search in the phone book or online.

“The biggest thing we ever did,” says Geil, “was rebrand to include what we do in the name.”

Another way to build a brand is with a unified theme throughout the company’s marketing and advertising products. Janitorial Inc.’s new “look” includes a signature green color and logo that grace 14 company vehicles as well as letterhead, business cards, web site, exhibit booth, uniforms and sportswear. A company brochure showcasing the firm and its three sister companies that specialize in security and sanitary supply products will be handy for prospects interested in bundling services.

A new headquarters is another relationship-builder; Janitorial Inc. offers its conference facilities to local nonprofit organizations at no charge — free exposure for the firm.

“It gives us credibility in the marketplace,” says Geil about his new, cohesive brand. “We hand out a business card and they say ‘yeah, I’ve seen that green on the road coming into town.’ People also say ‘why did you pick such a hideous color,’ and I say ‘did you notice it?’ It triggers familiarity.”

Brand doesn’t replace the human touch, but it certainly helps it along. Today Geil and his colleagues are creating a variety of strategies to build the brand and company, including as it always has, personalized sales calls and relationship-building activities.

Lori Veit is a business writer in Madison, Wis., and a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.

Do you rent a car while traveling? If so, you should be on the lookout for aggressive claims of vehicle damage, warns travel expert Chris Elliott in a recent New York Times article.

In the past, rental agencies were more likely to overlook minor damage, especially if they couldn’t prove the customer was at fault. Now, faced with slumping profits and a slow recovery after Sept. 11, 2001, some firms are pursuing even the smallest scratches, dings and dents.

To combat this, Elliott, on his Web site, recommends taking pictures of any damage the rental agent notices before you leave the lot, and asking for a second opinion when necessary. Many renters, though, just fork over the extra money for a small dent or chip, rather than risk an escalating claim — and escalating bill.

Getting that promotion from cleaner to manager often means different hours, more pay and greater responsibility, but also the opportunity to make some common “new-boss” mistakes, says columnist Connie Glazer. In a recent column, she highlights four common rookie errors, including expecting too much too soon, not getting to know your employees, pretending to know it all, and not taking the time to learn the corporate culture.

Glazer suggests new managers listen more than they talk, but also asking pointed questions so they can learn the ropes.

Buying a franchise can provide building service contractors with near-instant name recognition, but it can also be a minefield if buyers aren’t careful, warns Inc. writer Roger C. Rule.

In an online article, Rule reminds prospective franchisees to carefully read the disclosure document — many buyers misunderstand who is responsible for what processes. This can eventually delay a grand-opening date.

Also, anyone considering purchasing a franchise should speak with as many current franchisees as possible — in addition to referrals from the franchisor, contractors can find a list of past and current franchisees in the disclosure document. Buyers should interview a variety of owners, from diverse locations, business stages and levels of success.

Also, Rule recommends prospective buyers retain an attorney, preferably one versed in franchise law, and an accountant if buyers need financial assistance.


Making The Leap: Companies That Succeed, And How They Get There

By Stacie H. Rosenzweig, Editor
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don’t by Jim Collins (HarperBusiness, 2001, $27.50, available on CD)

Built to Last:Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins’ previous bestseller (with Jerry Porras), is considered by many to be one of the must-have titles in any business library. Whereas Built to Last was written about already successful companies and what made them special, Good to Great profiles several businesses (including jan-san paper giant Kimberly Clark) that weren’t always markedly more successful than their competitors, but that broke out from the pack and stayed there over a 15-year period.

To fit that category, thousands of companies were analyzed for stock performance relative to their industry, as well as relative to the market in general, from that own company’s “transition point” through the next 15 years. Profiled companies range from Pitney Bowes and Wells Fargo to Gillette and Walgreens.

Good to Great is neither an easy nor a quick read — its 200 main pages, plus nearly half as many pages of notes, are dense, full of quotes, facts and some jargon. Readers with a more-than-basic understanding of business in general, and the stock market in particular, will have a better time with the book than readers with other backgrounds.

Some readers might find Collins’ use of jargon, including some terms of his own creation, a bit off-putting. By the time readers are done studying the “Hedgehog Concept” and its “three circles” and how they come into play in implementing a “big hairy audacious goal” (BHAD), they might find their own notes are as detailed and lengthy as those Collins leaves at the end of the book.

Still, the message is there, and it is solid. Although readers will be able to walk away from the book with some tips to apply to their own businesses, some synthesis will be required. Collins doesn’t often come around and say, “do this, and you will be successful.” Rather, he presents his tips in anecdotal form — “good-to-great companies do this.” Readers in a hurry can skim forward to the end of each chapter and read the key points, summarized.

Also, Chapter 9, “From Good to Great to Built to Last,” ties in both of Collins’ books, and offers some more direct advice that owners of small- and mid-sized businesses will find helpful, including tips on how to turn an idea into reality and on how business improvement can help leaders live a more meaningful life.

Editor’s note: Jim Collins will be delivering the Keynote Address at ISSA/Interclean 2005 in Las Vegas, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 8:30 a.m.