Despite the thick carpets and leather furnishings, the plush sitting room at Abercastle Holdings’ Leith base is cool in contrast to the mid-afternoon heat outside.
Stephen Percy-Robb, managing director of Craig and Rose, is running a little late, battling against the traffic over the Forth Road Bridge, commuting from the firm’s base in Dunfermline. Running parallel to him over the waters of the Firth is, perhaps, a reminder of his company’s long history.
When he arrives at the distinctive old building, over-looking the docks, he introduces himself with a smile, a handshake and a wipe of the brow, before making a move to the cold bottles of Scottish spring water on the table.
Paint manufacturer, Craig and Rose was formed in Leith in 1829. It became a household name when it won the prestigious contract to paint the Forth Rail Bridge, a contract that it retained for over a century.
Once one of the smallest plcs on the stock exchange, the company was bought-over in 1999 by Abercastle Holdings.
When the factory subsequently moved from Leith to Fife, Craig and Rose launched its own range of paint, 1829 – named after the date the company was formed. The range now retails exclusive to B&Q as its premium brand.
On the back of the success that 1829 enjoyed, Craig and Rose launched the Opulence brand in 2003, again exclusive to B&Q, while licensing ranges for Crayola and Bang On The Door in Focus and Homebase stores (respectively), and producing a range of own-name brands for other DIY chains.
However, this month sees the release of a new brand advertising campaign for the paint firm – the first ever in the company’s long history.
“We identified last year that we, perhaps, weren’t doing as much with our brands as we could,” says Percy-Robb. “That really instigated the adoption of a more marketing-led approach.
“This is the first time that the company has done any brand building above-the-line... or below-the-line, for that matter. Craig and Rose probably should be a marketing-led company. We are not unique as a company manufacturing paint, and the only way to differentiate a product’s unique selling point is to market it in the right way.”
However, and perhaps unusually, when setting out his new marketing philosophy, Percy-Robb’s first port of call wasn’t with a branding specialist, or even with an advertising agency.
To start the marketing-led evolution at Craig and Rose he focused, initially, on the firm’s website.
“Prior to appointing an advertising agency we engaged with Line (an Edinburgh-based online agency).
“The intention was to freshen up our website and create an e-commerce side to it. We put six brands on the site – two owned and four licensed brands. Since then, through the site alone, we have seen sales increases of 40 percent, month on month, since March. “Other paint manufacturers had been pushing the online side of their business to good effect, but we wanted to develop the online market further, becoming more personal and approachable.”
Although working from the web up is relatively unusual, for Craig and Rose it made sense, continues Percy-Robb. “Online has a big part to play going forward and it is a realistic revenue model. Although, I don’t think that it will ever be more than ten or 15 percent of the business,” he adds.
“In saying that, we want to continue to be more inventive online. I am still working with Line on a weekly basis to try and take advantage of the full capacity of digital communications. Not just online, but also in mobile communications - text message promotions and other drivers. I don’t want to sit back and monitor digital communication’s progression. I want us to be at the cutting edge.”
Following the launch of the website, Percy-Robb expanded Craig and Rose’s marketing services roster further, bringing on board advertising (Newhaven and Feather Brooksbank) and PR (Sharon McLaughlin) agencies to intensify the communications push.
“We have a relatively small budget [around 500k in total],” admits Percy-Robb. “But when we started talking to Newhaven, they were keen to take on the task. It is vital for us that our agencies show an enthusiasm - our budget has to work hard.”
While the new campaign created by Newhaven has a contemporary feel to it, Percy-Robb is quick to point out that Craig and Rose still leans heavily on its heritage as an important backdrop to the business.
“The brief was quite wide, but quite straightforward. I want to raise awareness of Craig and Rose and I want to raise sales of the 1829 and Opulence brands by at least 15 percent. We decided to develop a campaign that tied the two together under the Craig and Rose brand.
“Of course, we don’t want to lose the heritage behind the 1829 brand, but this is a relatively contemporary brand campaign. What we’re trying to communicate is that it’s all about colour and about having the confidence to pick colours. We are pushing innovation and an awareness of what the brand can do for you - rather than just painting everything white. Eighty to 90 percent of all sales of paint in the UK, at present, is white,” he explains.
“It’s very important that you keep your roots, though. We are certainly the oldest paint company in Scotland - and one of the oldest in the UK. You have to retain that heritage and, at times, play on it.
“We still get requests from castles and palaces all over Europe to colour match and create for them.”
In Edinburgh, for example, Craig and Rose painted the golden fountain in Princes Street Gardens and the company is called on for a number of prestigious jobs, everything from council buildings in Edinburgh to grand palaces in Holland. The company is regularly contacted by Historic Scotland and it has painted the Victoria and Albert museum in London.
“Jobs like these need knowledge, experience and skill. We need to keep the history, but we also need to move on, developing from that historic back-drop. We are now also a very contemporary paint manufacturer.”