“We’re not in the home improvement business. We’re in the simplify your life business!” declared Edward Lehman, chief brand officer for California Closets to his CEO. And that change of perspective in the late 1990s invigorated the company and led to rapid growth. After several years of expansion, Lehman was ready for a change and transitioned into advisory role for the firm. But in 2020, the company’s new CEO asked him to consider returning. Lehman said, “the CEO had looked under the hood and saw there were some challenges with technology, data integrity, role clarity and other foundational things. But as we were talking, I said what I think California Closets is missing is a strategy. And that strategy has to be about courage. The courage has to come back!” Lehman felt the company had become a little derivative and too comparative, and it needed a more compelling brand promise. So he signed up for the challenge.
“I inherited a brand whose core purpose was designing better lives,” shared Lehman. “That’s what it had been for a few years. I had a challenge with it. I didn’t think we should be a brand that says we can design a better life when COVID was challenging life itself. I wanted something more courageous. And I believe that what we were about was looking at personal journeys. Everyone has a journey, and the home represent what that journey is, both as the home and what’s inside that home and how people live. Because the treasures and memories of life are in the home. It’s also the people who you love and the unconditional power and energy of love. So, I said we have to be something bigger.”
Lehman continued, “We were working early on with a great copywriter out of New York, and she said, ‘do you mean belonging?’ And I said, that’s it. I want us to be the brand of belonging. The home is the most important thing in your life, in terms of a place of security and safety. And secondly, it’s the organization, maximization, customization of your belongings. It’s the relationship of this intrinsic feeling of belonging with the organization of belongings. That’s why we’ve shifted over the last two and a half years to this brand of belonging. We now know from our growth in brand awareness that it is resonating with our customers and prospects. Instead of making space just for your stuff, you’re making space for what belongs in your life, and the interrelationships between the people who live in that home, your prized possession, and this feeling of home.”
Once the brand strategy had been defined, Lehman and his CEO Charlie Chase began a roadshow to meet in person with California Closets associates, from installers and shop people to designers and customer liaisons. The marketing team also produced a 52-page book entitled All of You – Making Space for what Belongs, which contains ideas to help people “fill their homes with heart and order.” It was designed to be given as a gift to prospects and customers. Earlier in his life, Lehman had lived in Japan, and he used that experience to introduce a novel use of the book. He explained, “In Japan, it’s very rare to be invited to a Japanese home, whether you’re a foreigner or Japanese. When you turn up, you always bring a gift. When the host opens the door, the guest says in Japanese, ‘tsumaranai mono desu’, which means ‘it’s a boring little nothing.’ It’s not a boring little nothing. It’s a moment of grace, and gratitude and my privilege to be invited across the threshold of that home. That sort of concept, brought into an American home is really interesting. And we’re hearing ‘Wow, I didn’t buy from them because of it. But they these guys think different.’ We’ve been saying to the installers, maybe you give it to the customer if the designer didn’t. Can you imagine having an installer in your home for six or seven hours? At the end, they take you around your place, which has been transformed, and they give you this gift and sign it!”
Another important component of the brand strategy is what Lehman calls Practical Magic. He elaborated, “Practical Magic is how we do what we do. Example, you’ve got a home office. When we come to that home office, we would hopefully ask, ‘are you left handed or you’re right handed?’ Because your office wouldn’t be set up differently? ‘Now tell me how you use your workspace during the day? What happens at different times of the day? Where do you put your files? Where do you need your wiring?’ This sort of practical design thinking is more than doing a pretty home office.” Lehman also desired to be design brand that embraces the whole home, going from private spaces like bedrooms, to public spaces, like living areas and family rooms.
Customers are responding in a positive way to these changes. “What is fascinating about California Closets is when you ask a customer six months or a year after you left the home about how they feel about California Closets, it goes even higher than the minute you left the door, even though we’re really good then. We have very high net promoter scores. There are very few products or services where customers are feeling even better about it a year later than the day they got it.”
Has this brand strategy also impacted business performance? Lehman shared, “Since 2021, we have grown top line and bottom line two and a half times!” Not bad for a 45-year-old company!
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