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3 Ways to Build a Design Brand

John McClain Shares How to Stand Out from the Rest

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John McClain is more than a designer. He has built an entire design brand for his firm with locations in Los Angeles, Orlando and Las Vegas. He is the author of “The Designer Within”, teaches design classes, and his work has appeared in numerous publications and on television programs. 

This did not happen by accident, says McClain, the CEO of John McClain Design whose aesthetic marries the genres of Hollywood Regency, Art Deco and Mid Century Modern. McClain joined Liza Hausman, Houzz Pro Vice President of Industry Marketing to share how he built his design brand, a process he says works for architects and contractors too. Here are three takeaways from the conversation which took place in Las Vegas at the Kitchen and Bath Industry and International Builders Show. Watch the full video below.

Don’t be Everything to Everyone

“I think a brand is so important because you have to differentiate yourself from the competition,” he says. Ask the question: “What do you do differently that sets you apart and makes you stand out, not only for marketing purposes, but for people to sign on the dotted line,” he says. 

He started by defining his design aesthetic. “If you don't have a clear cut definition of what you do, then you are just going to be a designer for everyone. You are going to be the designer for the masses. That's not what any of us want,” he says. 

It wasn’t until he felt like he had mastered the design point of view before he set bigger goals as a leader for the company such as moving to new markets, publishing a book and offering courses. “Now I'm really wanting to help other designers and other people in the industry to learn about what I did right and what I did wrong, and to be that leader for other people too.” 

Define Your Values

“Brand building is not only knowing what your company stands for but also knowing what you stand for, especially if you are a brand like mine that has your name on the line,” he says. McClain recommends first figuring the values that are important to you, and writing them down. “Eventually those things will become your mission statement.” For his company, “transparency, clarity and honesty” are three values crucial to its brand identity.

The mission statement and the brand is what people gravitate to, he says. “The funny part is that it not only brings the right people to you, it repels the wrong people from you,” he says. “When you are true to yourself and to your company and you tell everybody what you stand for and what you value and what means a lot to you as a business owner, those right people will come to you,” he says. “The wrong people are like ‘No, I don't like that. That's not for me’ and that's okay.”

Your team members should also know the company’s “elevator pitch” and what it stands for so that they can be the voice and face of the firm too. “Everything I do is an extension of my brand,” he says. “If you ever pull away from that, you're going to lose a lot of the right people who should be working with you in your company.”

Turn Lemons into Lemonade 

McClain’s very first client experience was a “horrible, horrible, horrible situation.” He had no written plan and few processes in place, and eventually the client sued. “I had to deliver all the furniture to this person's home with an armed guard because my attorney was scared that someone was going to harm me. I don't think it can get any worse than that.”

But during that two-hour drive returning from the delivery, McClain says he pulled himself together and looked in the mirror. “I realigned what I was doing, what I did wrong, what I did right, and what I wanted to change. I pointed the finger back at me,” he says. “As horrible as that situation was, and as much as I really loathe that client, I couldn't blame that person.”

The incident became a catalyst for changing the way he operates. Today, his firm has a 26-page written agreement for every project. “I want clarity. I want people to know what to expect when they work with me,’’ he says. As part of that transparency, he gives every client a how-we-work document before any contracts are signed so they can determine whether they want to hire the firm. It includes information such as working hours (no weekends) and how to communicate with his team (no texts). 

“It's those little things that I learned early on that I feel make me a successful business owner and also have become a part of our brand ,” McClain says.

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