An unsexy product gets a sexy makeover

A small construction products company revamps its image and boosts sales by hiring a design firm.

By Maggie Overfelt, FSB Magazine

(FSB Magazine) -- When Jim Libke took over as sales manager for Protective Coatings Technology, he set out to expand the company's market share beyond its strongholds in Minnesota and Wisconsin. But the first thing he noticed was the way his new colleagues answered the phone. "There was no standard greeting," he says. "There were all these different names - 'Hello, Protective Coatings,' 'Hello, PCT,' 'Hello, Poly-Wall.' We had zero company identity."

Translating that identity to a national market saturated with large, established brands was even harder. The ten-employee PCT, based in Menomonie, Wis., manufactures Poly-Wall, a sealant that contractors apply to basements to prevent air and moisture from seeping in. Because it's made from plastic or rubber, Poly-Wall performs better than asphalt, the standard foundation sealant. Poly-Wall also goes on faster and lasts years longer. (Asphalt-based products have to be heated up, and because they're biodegradable, they disappear after a few years.)

"It's a new way of doing things in basements, and in ten years we've had no callbacks" about a home that needed resealing, says Libke, 36. "But when it comes to marketing, our brochures were brutal, not focused unattractive."

Libke wanted to update the product fliers that PCT staffers handed out at sales calls and trade shows. He also wanted better ads and packaging that could explain a complicated product to a diverse market: architects, concrete masons and engineers. Libke met with DBD International (famousnapkin.com), a Menomonie design firm that helped rebrand the New York City Ballet and several small food companies across the U.S.

For nearly a year Libke's boss, company president Ted DeZurik, deliberated over hiring DBD. The design firm quoted a fee of about $25,000 for the initial steps of the redesign, nearly four or five times what PCT had paid to independent designers to update product brochures. "Jim and DBD came to me and really wanted to change our image," says DeZurik, 60. "I never thought of our old logo as broken; they had to take out the velvet hammer and work me over a bit." PCT finally hired the design firm in the fall of 2004.

David Brier, DBD's creative director and founder, started by collecting marketing materials of Poly-Wall competitors and spending hours with its sales team, familiarizing himself with the buying habits of contractors. "Poly-Wall's brand was easily dismissed," says Brier, 47. "They didn't have the presence in the marketplace they needed to have their stuff gave the sense that you're dealing with someone running things out of a garage."

Eight weeks later DBD presented redesigned brochures and a new logo. "It's a standout, and it has helped sales measurably," says DeZurik. Poly-Wall's new fliers and image debuted at a Las Vegas trade show in January 2005, and by the end of March, the sales team cracked 30 new accounts, up from six within the same time period in 2004.

PCT started shipping canisters of Poly-Wall with new labels that spring and by December, annual sales had increased by 20 percent. PCT's revamped Web site debuts this summer. And back at company headquarters, there's now only one correct way to answer the phone: "Hello, Poly-Wall."

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.