What’s in a name? Everything — at least that’s what C.R. Hall believes. In 2007, he was running office coffee service under five brand names, three of them well-known OCS providers, so he hired a professional marketing firm to help rebrand the company. “It was worth it,” Hall said. “Our presence is magnified compared to what it used to be, visually speaking…We couldn’t have done it ourselves.”
The five brands became PrairieFire Coffee, a Midwest roaster and coffee service provider based in Wichita, Kan. Dedicated to quality coffee, personalized service that customers can rely on and a good understanding of the value of marketing, the business has grown 20 percent in five years and increased distribution to seven states.
A Culligan family legacy
Hall grew up a Culligan kid. His father was a Culligan water dealer in Iowa, so Hall learned the business early. After attending college, he got a job at Culligan of Wichita in Kansas in 1988. He bought the franchise in 1992 and has steadily grown his empire to include 26 franchises in multiple states.
About five years ago, Hall decided to add coffee as part of his service. He called it Culligan Coffee. The one brand grew into two, then five after Hall acquired his friendly competitor and the largest OCS provider in Wichita from owner Sam Riffel, which encompassed three different business names. When he realized he was operating so many brands and such a big operation, Hall knew it was time to make a name change, but first he needed someone to run the growing coffee operation. Hall chose Jeff Deitchler. “He was a key employee at Culligan,” said Hall, “And I needed someone I knew and could trust.”
Deitchler had worked in the grocery business for close to 30 years before joining Culligan of Wichita as an operations manager, so he understood about inventory and other aspects important in OCS. He was more than ready for the challenge. “I really enjoy working in the coffee business,” said Deitchler. “There’s a lot to learn every day.”
Deitchler may not have had specific OCS knowledge, but for Hall, other management skills were more important like running day-to-day operations and being a good boss. “The regional managers trust him and him them,” explained Hall. “I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the industry.”
After getting the right manager into place, building the new brand became top priority.
Professional agency got it right
As a franchise, Culligan has a pre-made brand and marketing plan. With the new coffee business, Hall and Deitchler were making the decisions and wanted professional help. They contacted a number of agencies, but a local company, Tallgrass Marketing, really understood their goal. “We wanted a regional brand, not local, not national,” said Hall. “Carrie Trainer of Tallgrass understood what we wanted it to say without words.” Hall and Deitchler also wanted a brand free of licensing requirements and one that didn’t already exist in another part of the country.
When the agency came back with several names, PrairieFire stood out. “We liked it because it was what a good name should be,” said Deitchler. It indicated the company’s locale within the U.S., without stating the obvious. The addition of fire reminded Deitchler of flame roasting coffee, which fit well with the business.
The agency came back with eight different logos and styles, but Deitchler and Hall thought the strong orange and black of the current design was the best choice. “It has a Latin feel,” said Deitchler, “which works well since much of our coffee comes from South and Central American coffee growers.”
Once decided, the PrairieFire image was added to everything in the organization. All the vehicles were wrapped with the logo, stickers and decals were applied to the brewing equipment, labels, cups, shirts and business cards all bore the new look. “We don’t do TV or radio ads,” Hall said. “This is our advertising.” He is certain the rebrand was worth the money. “It helped bring us up from just service, to a brand,” said Hall, “all the points of contact with the customers, whether its uniforms or coffee bags — it helps connect us to the stuff they’re drinking.”