Countertop Business Branding: Get Yourself A Duck

Aug 8, 2016 | Business

Your brand is a powerful thing. It’s what sets your company apart from the competition and it helps define expectations for your customers. Through your brand you have the ability to control, in large part, how you are perceived in the marketplace. It can become an extension of your personality.

Take, for example, Slabworks of Montana, located in small-ish Bozeman, with a population of approximately 50,000 people. That’s not a very large pool from which to draw customers for a high-end kitchen product, which means how you are perceived in the marketplace has the potential to make or break your business. Dave Scott, owner of Slabworks of Montana, who originally settled in Bozeman around 1980, is all too familiar with the challenges of opening a countertop business in a new town.

“I moved here from Minnesota,” he explains, “and I didn’t get the business because I wasn’t a native. It’s kind of the good old boy network.”

Scott initially set up shop as a tile setter for general contractors, primarily doing jobs in spec homes. Through basic salesmanship and sheer force of personality he began landing new work. Then, one day, Scott’s brother called him on the phone with an idea to help promote his business. “What is it?” Scott inquired.

“I can’t tell you,” his brother replied. “It will blow the fun of it – but it’s a great idea. How many do you want?”

“Send me the minimum order,” Scott said.

“And Now For Something Completely Different…”
A few days later a box containing 50 yellow rubber ducks arrived. On the bottom of each duck was printed, “Dave Scott Tiles” with a corresponding phone number. “I thought that was kind of cool,” Scott explains. “So when I finished a job I’d leave a duck in the corner shelf, in the niche, or on the tub deck. Days would go by and I’d get a phone call like, ‘Hey, Dave, you don’t know me, but we bought that house out on Wylie Creek. I’ve got some cracking grout and I’m wondering if you could help me out.’ I’d say, ‘You bet.’ I’d show up after work and would bring along some grout and caulk. The guy would hand me a beer, and we’d sit there and talk and laugh and I would fix stuff. No charge.”

Over time, Scott received a number of similar calls. “Then one day I was setting some tiles,” he explains, “and the general contractor was going through the house with prospective clients. As they walked by he said, ‘This is Dave. We have the best tile guy in the area,’ and then continued on with the tour. I thought, ‘Did I just get stroked?’ So, when they came back I said, ‘Why did you say the best tile guy?’ And he said, ‘Because we never get any callbacks on your work.’ In the back of my head, I’m going, ‘He doesn’t get callbacks because I’m getting them. If the clients have a problem they say, ‘Hey, here’s the guy’s duck. Let’s call him.’ I thought that was pretty cool.”

Hard Working Duck
A few weeks later Scott received another call from a homeowner. This time, however, it wasn’t about fixing cracked grout. “Everything is fine,” the homeowner said, “but I want to finish my basement and I need 400 square feet of slate; and I need a steam room; and a bathroom; and a wet bar.”

When Scott got off the phone with his new customer he immediately called his brother and ordered more ducks.

“We’ve been doing that for going on 25 years”, he says, “but now they say ‘Slabworks of Montana’ on the bottom. I figure there are about 2,200 of those ducks floating around the valley, population of maybe 50,000 people. That’s pretty good market penetration, I think.

“It’s funny, because the contractors used to take a lot of pictures of our work after we set the tile or do the countertop installation and we’d leave a duck. So I’ve got these pictures of the shower, or the kitchen, and here’s a duck in the corner. There are even a couple of guys who will send pictures of a hand holding a duck up in front of the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids or the Parthenon. It’s nice to have customers from 10, 12 or 15 years ago who are still having fun with my little rubber duck.”

Bottom line, Dave Scott’s small investment in a few bathtub toys has turned into something of a minor legend in Bozeman. “I guess the moral of the story is people will throw away your card, but they won’t throw away your duck,” he says.

See their duck, still working hard at

To hear Dave talk about their effective countertop branding strategy, Listen to StoneTalk »

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