Much has been written on self-branding. A number of HVAC contractors have successfully taken the route of private labeling their equipment and accessories. Others haven't been so fortunate. So what do successful contractors have in common, and why have others failed?

To answer this, you have to start with another question: “why do I want to self-brand?” There are many reasons you to do this, some of which are more legitimate than others.

Bad Reasons for Self-branding Include:

  1. The belief that self-branding alone will differentiate you from your competitors

  2. You're a small fish and want to use the self-brand to swim in the same pond as the big boys

  3. You're upset with your manufacturer or distributor and want to “show them” by launching your own brand

  4. The belief that just advertising your own brand will increase lead generation.

Good reasons include:

  1. You already have a strong differentiator and want to self-brand to enhance it

  2. To eliminate apples-to-apples comparison with competitors who carry the same brand

  3. You've built enough equity in your company name that your brand would be well accepted

  4. You have done a thorough brand analysis of your company and want to strengthen your position with private label equipment

  5. To take the focus off the equipment brand in your sales calls and focus on the delivered comfort, performance, and energy efficiency of your solution.

Enhance Your Differentiation

Self-branding is a great way to differentiate yourself in your market if your delivered product is substantially different than your competition's. For example, if you're a performance-based contractor, self-branding is ideal, as it takes the “apples-to-apples” equipment comparison out of the equation and focuses the customer on how you're different — you deliver measured performance, comfort, and energy savings.

One key to branding is understanding who you are and how you want to be perceived in your marketplace. You'll need to look at this objectively from three points of view, your's, your customers', and your employees'. The first point requires you to be really honest with yourself as you examine what your company is all about.

The second and third points of view are difficult because it's hard not to let your own bias color how you believe your customers and employees view the company.

So get help with this analysis.

Think of it as the foundation of your brand identity — if not built on solid information, your entire branding structure could crumble. There are a number of brand analysis consultants out there. If you drop me an email, I'd be glad to share their info with you.

Baby Steps

Launching a self-branding program is not something you should take lightly, and should not be attempted without careful research, deep introspection, and weighing the pros and cons. If you're very dependent on a manufacturer for local brand awareness, advertising co-op, marketing assistance, etc., you must decide if you can handle the transition from dependency on their brand to being on your own. This can be a scary thought for contractors large and small who've built their companies around the manufacturer's brand.

The good news: most manufacturers who support private labelling of their equipment will support your company as the “brand,” so you're not entirely on your own. Remember, we're only talking about losing marketing and sales support. Everything else a good manufacturer and distributor typically provides, like product support, training, and tech support, should still be there for you.

So go slow. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of self-branding. Put yourself mentally there. Ask yourself, “What might it feel like?”

“What are some obstacles to overcome with customers, with employees, with vendors?”

The biggest barrier to making the leap is really in your own minds.

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas on exploring whether self-branding is for you. If you'd like to discuss more on the subject, feel free to email me. I can also put you in touch with contractors who have gone through this process and can give you some pointers.

Dominick Guarino is Chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com) a national training and membership organization focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. NCI offers its own self-branding program. If you want to learn more, please email him at domg@ncihvac.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.