Guide

Small business reinvention is all about the branding

Every small business has something that makes it unique, and showcasing this is crucial to continued success, one branding expert says.

Melissa Dawn Simkins, author and president of brand consultancy Velvet Suite, said that while entrepreneurs are focused more on the successful execution or performance of their business, branding gets left on the back burner. That is, until they actually face a problem that requires bigger promotion.

Small businesses need to change that mindset, she said.


Chef Fuji of Standard Burger attends the Blue Moon Burger Bash presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats hosted by Rachael Ray - Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE at Pier 92 on October 16, 2015 in New York City.
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Chef Fuji of Standard Burger attends the Blue Moon Burger Bash presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats hosted by Rachael Ray - Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE at Pier 92 on October 16, 2015 in New York City.

"Branding is everything," Simkins said. "Branding truly is creating a mark of value that says, 'I have to have this.' "

One Staten Island burger joint learned that lesson the hard way.

Standard Burger was losing $5,000 a month and the owners couldn't pay the bills. However, they were far from alone in their plight; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of small businesses close their doors within five years of launching.

The old Standard Burger lacked management, quality ingredients and recipes. Moreover, it didn't have an 'X-factor' that differentiated it from any other restaurant. In trying to keep their business afloat, things like having cool decor and a fun atmosphere were the last thing on the owners' minds.

"Failure isn't always the worst thing in the world.... Sometimes you need to be a failure in order to be a success." -Sammy Lazoja, co-owner and founder, Standard Burger

That changed after serial entrepreneur and host of CNBC's "The Profit," Marcus Lemonis, responded to Standard Burger's founder and co-owner Sammy Lazoja's call for help.

Lemonis' investment allowed Lazoja and his partners to pour their efforts into reinventing their ordinary restaurant. Now, it's a gourmet food destination that attracts "hipster" and "new millennial" clientele.

Simkins said that Standard Burger is a great example of how branding can save a failing business, no matter how large or small the company is. She cited the example of fast food giant McDonald's, which recently refreshed its brand image by offering all-day breakfast.

"Every brand needs to stay relevant," she said. "So you've got to think about ways to reintroduce your brand in simple ... and sometimes more sophisticated ways to keep your brand top of line." 

Lazoja and his partners worked with Lemonis to build upon Standard Burger's brand. As part of the restaurant's new gourmet concept, they revamped burger recipes, installed a potato station and an ice cream bar.

"We have great burgers, of course, obviously. We have craft beer, and craft soda, something a lot of our competition doesn't," Lazoja said.

"A father could take his son to a burger place, and actually be cool, and have a good time with it," he added. "The atmosphere is fun. The decor is really cool. The staff is extremely friendly. And the product is great."

Reinventing one's brand can be bittersweet for small business owners. While change can be a great move for the business, it may be difficult for the business owner to let go of a concept they worked so hard to build.

"Emotionally, tearing it down was rough. It wasn't an easy pill to swallow," said Lazoja. "Because I actually painted the walls. I laid the floor down."

However, Lazoja added that rebuilding wasn't all bad.

"It kind of felt like it was new beginnings," he said. "And it kind of needed to be done. We needed to shed that old feeling, that old feel of the restaurant. We needed to really reinvent ourselves."

And for other entrepreneurs looking to do the same, Lazoja said to not be afraid of failure.

"Failure isn't always the worst thing in the world. It's actually a benefit in business," he said. "So it lets you look at the situation, re-map, and recourse, and figure out how you're gonna fix it. Sometimes that's what you need to do. And sometimes you need to be a failure in order to be a success."