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Who Is The Brand? (Guest Column)

‘What is the value in independent paint dealers building their own brand?

Is your brand YOUR name on the door or theirs: theirs being the manufacturers you represent? Is my brand Adler’s Design Center & Hardware or is it Ace Hardware? And if it’s Ace, then how do I build my own brand? And what are the strategic and spiritual benefits of building your own brand? 


Several years ago, during the dark Dennis Abrams era (at Benjamin Moore), I was at the AllPro Show. I stopped at the Benjamin Moore booth to have them sign my sheet showing I had visited each vendor (FYI, I am not a Benjamin Moore dealer, see below).

I was speaking with one of the reps that they had working in the booth. He asked me how we were doing with the Benjamin Moore brand? He seemed genuinely surprised when I told him that we were not a BM dealer. His follow up question was “why not, don’t you want to make more money?”


I told him that while running a profitable business was always of interest, there were three reasons that I could not or would not become a Benjamin Moore dealer:

1) They have a very good and loyal dealer about one mile away.

2) BM has written a policy that I felt was aimed specifically at putting C2 Paint out of business. Since I was one of the founders of C2, I took issue with that policy. The policy at the time required that C2 and Benjamin Moore not coexist in one store and I was not prepared to take my brand out of my store to bring in theirs. 

3) I would not give up my Adler’s brand, and change it to a Benjamin Moore/Adler’s brand. That would make us suddenly look like we had sold out. 


Undeterred, their rep stated, “I’m sure your customers would quickly get past the backlit plastic Benjamin Moore signs on the outside of your building, to experience the Adler’s brand on the inside of your building.” He added that he was sure that Benjamin Moore was a much better-known brand in Rhode Island, than Adler’s is… I asked to see the market research to back up that claim?!


So, the topic is, how and why does an independent paint dealer build their own brand versus living off the brand of the manufacturers they deal with?  


I have lots of thoughts on how we’ve done that. This year is our 100thyear celebration and we have gotten lots of amazing publicity around here from that accomplishment. A quick look in the comments section on our Facebook page illustrates that while we may not be perfect, our great strength is clearly the emotional connection we have made with our clients.

Here is our goal, and I think a worthwhile goal of any retailer, large or small: to make sure that the answer to the following question is always YES!


If your business were to go away tomorrow, would your community truly mourn that loss?  If the answer is yes; that your business would be truly missed, then your future is bright. If the answer is no, then you’ve got work to do. We have worked hard at being a business that would be truly mourned if we went away. I think our customer comments validate that. 

But why do I think that it's important for an independent dealer to build their own brand? First off it’s your store and it should be able to stand on it’s own merits. The brands that we sell are important, but they should be subordinated to our store brand, not the other way around. Why should I build a brand for someone else over the course of a 40+ year career and walk away empty handed, when I can build my own brand and sell it when I’m done?

Half of the business that I grew up in was a traditional hardware store. The other half was an Army/Navy and work clothing retailer. That was our store until 1987 and the advent of Home Depot in the Northeast. We knew that we needed to get good at the things that Home Depot would not be good at. 


For us, that meant, design related products that women were shopping for. We added decorative hardware, wallcoverings, window treatments, and a PREMIUM paint brand. Not long after we took in a national premium brand, a larger manufacturer purchased them. Their new goals no longer had my store in alignment with their brand. Had we been known at the time as the store of that national premium brand, we would have been in very big trouble.

We were able to transition most of our customers to C2 Paint, which was a start-up back in 1999. Our customers were shopping at Adler's, not our former brand! Without missing a beat, we were able to switch and keep the business growing.


And how about when you sell your business? If you have someone else’s name as your brand, then chances are they are going to have something to say about the sale.

I’m an independentretailer…. I’m the only one who gets to make decisions for my store.

By being a true independent, we are appealing to the millennial generation: who we are all now counting on to make us successful over the next 40 years or so. They embrace the shopping local movement. It’s hard to make that case that you’re local when you look and act like you are part of a national chain.



Harry Adler, Adler's Design Center. Providence, RI

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