Fabrick’s future success rested in the hands of 1 man
Posted by Colin Felton
There is a time in every business when you know that you have made a breakthrough, that pivotal moment when you realise that you are on the right track. In the case of Fabrick, that time was January 1987, just six months after the company had been launched.
Looking back more than three decades, I now realise that the success of my business at that particular point in time rested in the hands of one man, Richard Gray, the then sales and marketing manager of Scott Roof Tiles, a newly formed manufacturer of concrete roof tiles, based in Gravesend and set up to take on the likes of Marley and Redland.
This was our first pitch for a major account and if I am honest, the future of the business very much depended on us winning against a number of top London agencies. They all had a track record of success in the construction business – all I had was a detailed knowledge of the roofing market, loads of, as yet, untested creative ideas and a hunger to succeed against the odds.
The occasion is still etched in my mind. We had been shortlisted down to two and I waited outside as my last remaining competitor finished their presentation. They had sent in a team of six – London “Mad Men and Women” - and from the sound of the meeting it had gone well.
It was my turn in the boardroom a few minutes later, just me, no back up, no arty farty visuals – just me – and the questions started. I distinctly remember the first one: “Can you show us what you have produced for other clients so that we can get an idea of your work.”
Easy answer to that one: “Sorry I am unable to do that because we are a start-up business and if your company takes us on you will be our first major advertising and PR account.”
I can still hear the mumbles and murmurings – not going well, I thought. But, nothing to lose, let’s go for it.
“I cannot show you work for other clients but I can tell you about the roofing market and what you are up against.” Mumbling stopped so I obviously had their attention and for the next 20 minutes I gave them a detailed presentation about the marketplace and what their competitors were up to and most importantly – how Scott could carve out a market share in a sector dominated by two major manufacturers.
When I had finished, I tried to read the body language? This was after all **** and bust time for me and my embryonic agency. They gave away absolutely nothing and then further questions followed – first about PR ideas - easy to respond to, after all I had been a journalist all my life with a huge knowledge of the media.
But what about advertising ideas, they then asked? I could still see images left behind by the other agency that had pitched before me – and wow did they look good. I did not even have a graphic designer to speak of, so as explained earlier, no visuals, no great pictures to show, but I did bring with me some of the ads their competitors were running.
“You have all seen these,” I said, “and they all have a common theme – they are boring.” All they show are buildings with concrete roof tiles on them and a throwaway line underneath. The competitors worked on the assumption that everyone knew about them and their products so the ads did not have to make customers think too much, they were all about awareness.
“So, what would you do?” they asked. With nothing to lose, I then asked my audience to imagine a box of opened chocolates and inside every section we would feature a roof tile profile or accessory. This way we would show the market that Scott might be new to concrete roof tiles but they had a range, a colourway and enough accessories to take on the biggest in the business.
On that note the meeting ended, I left the room with the feeling that I had given it my best but the odds were stacked up against me – but hey, nothing to lose.
No one was more surprised to learn that I had won that account and I later found out that one man, Richard Gray, had resolutely fought my corner against the wishes of all of his colleagues and it was now my turn to prove him right.
That is exactly what followed. We outperformed Marley and Redland for PR coverage and the chocolate box ad got launched and was a massive hit with architects and specifiers. Other agencies tried to copy our concept but they could never quite hit the mark.
We kept the account for two years until a serious fire caused the company to close down. On face value this was a disaster with the loss of what was still my biggest account, but once again Richard ‘Dick’ Gray came to the rescue.
He had moved to Asphaltic, a major distributor of roofing products, and took me with him and for more than 10 years we were part of that particular roller coaster. I could write a hundred blog articles about that company and the characters I met during that time.
But for the moment I just want to say thank you to Richard Gray, the one man who made a real difference, the person who gave me the chance to launch my marketing business. Today we are one of, if not, the leading full-service, marketing and communications agency specialising in construction and the built environment. We have an enviable list of national and global clients and are very proud of our success.
It happened because one man had faith in our abilities and I shall always be grateful for that.