Today Cornish talks about Nanotek’s rebranding strategy, the benefits of the GFC and why he’s taking his business to Russia.
What was the thinking here? From the outside looking in I would have said you had a very effective and well-known brand?
And that’s the very un-encouraging feedback I had from most of the people on the board of the Franchise Council when I did it. Look, I think we’d grown very rapidly and in the first five years of our business we really didn’t have time to sit back and have a really good look not only at ourselves, but the market we were targeting.
I think also when we started the business, what we thought we had on offer was a very different model to what we had five years later. So when the GFC rolled around we were fine in terms of our customer demand, but obviously prospective franchisees became a lot more nervous and it gave us time to actually step back and look at where we’d come and how we were perceived by our market.
What were the underlying changes to the business that you guys saw when you did step back and do that?
What we did was we brought in someone independent which I think was the most essential thing because when you’ve been this close to something for that long you literally can’t see a lot of the things you need to. So we brought in an independent market research company and they ran focus groups with Ecowash customers but also with people that had never used us before.
We asked them the relevant questions about the brand and the service and how they perceived it. And the people who’d used us absolutely loved us, thought the service was the highest quality convenience, trustworthy, value for money, loved the brand, all that sort of stuff. But what we found is that really it was a relationship that started with the franchisee, so it was a sell in the beginning to get them over that whole waterless barrier, to get them to understand our positioning in terms of the environment versus the quality of the service.
To be quite honest just while I’m on it, the whole environmental positioning for us was deliberate, but it wasn’t what we wanted to become known for. It was what got us a lot of attention and a lot of media, but at a customer level, no one cared about the environment, they just wanted the best quality job.
So when we spoke to people that hadn’t used us they were a bit confused and sort of looked at Ecowash and thought does that mean ecology or economy wash? Should it be cheap? They are driving a Hyundai, it’s orange, maybe it’s a cheap mobile car wash? And then when you mention waterless they are like, how do you do that, you can’t wash your car without water, it’s going to scratch cars.
Now these are things we’ve been dealing with effectively for five years, but when you want to take a brand from something that’s been growing linearly to growing exponentially, you need to have centralised marketing that can overcome those objections or better still, not even raise them.
So what we did was we put in front of those market research groups the same business but in a different light. Rather than going in there saying here’s this company that’s called Ecowash that does waterless car washing, we said, here’s a company that uses the latest liquid polymer nano technology made in a cosmetic factory in Europe, what it does is encapsulates the dirt and leaves a polymer coating at the polish finish, it lasts longer, it protects your car.
People were blown away – there were none of the usual objections we were used to facing. They thought our price card was cheap whereas a lot of the people who hadn’t used us thought Ecowash’s price card was expensive. It was the same price card.
So then what we did was we asked the focus groups for our ideal profile and we had colour charts and different types of cars which personified the sort of image they would associate with a car cleaner that they would want to use. And at the end of it we came up with the Nanotek brand and really a repositioning of how we talk to our consumers and portray ourselves as a company.
Does it say something about companies who try to greenwash? Maybe they shouldn’t bother?
Exactly. And the funny thing was, we’ve had so many copycats from 18 months from after we started thinking we were chasing the green market. I’ve always been very sceptical of environmental marketing because my theory has always been if you’re trying to sell me on a guilt trip, your product is probably rubbish. That was something we tried to stay right away from with Ecowash but by default we sort of got a bit dragged into it. So I’m really loving this change to Nanotek because all these guys who tried to copy us are now so far down the wrong track they can’t turn around and catch us back up again. They can’t duplicate our technology or the results we get, so it’s much better from a competitive advantage as well.
It sounds like the logic of the rebranding was very strong. How was it selling it to existing franchisees that had a lot of time and money invested in that brand?
When we went to our national conference in 2009 I think it was when we’d just done the research and got the results and it was a seven-hour presentation. I’ve been doing this for seven years and I’ve never had a bigger mix of emotions than during that seven hour presentation because you could see the lights going off and you could see backs going up and arms folding and unfolding. And when it got to the end of it, I think they all realised that we needed to really radically change direction and the acceptance level was extremely high.
That was the easy bit as it turns out because then after it all the questions started. So what we did is we did it real slow. So for a year we were trialling this, putting our own cars on the new brand, changing the tag line a little bit here and there, speaking to a lot to our franchisees and that gradually over time got us more comfortable with how we were going to do it. So for most of that year we’ve had Nanotek always positioned with the words “by Ecowash” so people understand we have that heritage.
So I think overall the acceptance has been extremely good, certainly we’re finding that a lot of new franchisees coming on board have been watching us as Ecowash and have been encouraged by the change in the brand, so that’s a very positive sign.
I only sort of told the overseas markets maybe a few months ago and instantly they went with it as well. So we’ve got our first couple of Nanotek fit sites in the Middle East now and Saudi Arabia. Greece is swapping over completely to Nanotek, I’ve got a meeting in France next month, I think they want to do the same thing so it’s not only been accepted in Australia but also in our international markets.
Was there much cost for the franchisees or has the slower transition mitigated that somewhat?
It was obviously top of mind for us. We’ve made it so all our materials apply across the board, and we’ve come up with a transition signing package for cars. All our old numbers still work so if a customer still has an old Ecowash card or a brand new Nanotek one, the numbers still work and all the email diversions still work.
We wanted to make sure no franchisee is disadvantaged and what we have been progressively doing over that 12 months is incentivising them to swap over. So offering them that we will meet them dollar for dollar on any site running costs, we’ll do this and that. So in terms of additional costs, none, until they need to upgrade a car which they will need to do anyway, then they would obviously get a Nanotek car instead of an Ecowash one. When they buy a new t-shirt now they get a Nanotek one instead of an Ecowash one, it’s really that sort of transition.
Have you noticed any sort of cultural shift with the new brand?
That is an interesting question. I think that the culture has always been very strong and I think that the new brand did put a few franchisees off. It showed that while Ecowash has been a nice family type business, we are serious and we are not just going to continue on our merry way, we are really going to crank this thing up. So I do think what it did was it brought out a lot more entrepreneurship in our franchisees. It made them think more business than lifestyle. And I think that is a really positive thing because obviously the more entrepreneurial they are the better their lifestyle will be when they do kick back.