The Raybestos brand has been around since 1902, when A. H. Raymond started the Raybestos-Manhattan Company. In the 1920s, the company won more than half the automotive brake business in the U.S. The company survived the Great Depression, produced parts for the military during World War II, and in 1950 touted its best year ever. Raybestos-equipped cars won every Indy 500 from 1957 to 1979, and the company helped make composites for the U.S. space program.
Brake Parts Inc. (BPI) purchased the storied brand in 2014.
The BRAKE Report spoke with Kristin Grons, marketing manager for BPI/Raybestos, and Paul Ferrandino, BPI’s Chief Commercial Officer, about marketing Raybestos and the brand’s new product lineup, which was unveiled in November. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
The BRAKE Report: You have a 100-year-old brand. How do you keep it fresh but honor the tradition?
Kristin Grons: It’s really exciting because when you’re looking over that history, it’s incredible to see all of the milestones that have happened over the years and how Raybestos has been on the leading edge of so many innovations.
As we move forward with the brand, we want to make sure that we’re continuing that innovation with products, how we approach the market, how we deal with the channel and all the different aspects of it, and how we look at other channels as well.
The challenge sometimes with an old brand is that you don’t want to get stuck in the history. You want to use the history because it’s a strength, but then you need to show that you can evolve and change as well and still be on the cutting edge.
That’s where we look to the innovation of our program and our products. Even the things we do internally with all of our value-added services, our manufacturing, our R&D. All those different things really work to make the brand fresh and new and innovative even though it does have the legacy of those 100 years.
TBR: Your vehicle giveaways are a signature element of your Raybestos marketing. Tell me more about them and why they fit the brand.
KG: We’ve done seven now. We’ve done everything from a 1932 Roadster to a 1964 Pontiac GTO. Some more recent vehicles were a ’69 Mustang and this year’s, a ’53 Chevy pickup. It’s a really great program. We can showcase our different products based on the type of vehicle and what’s going on with our company, what’s new, what introductions we have.
It’s a great way to connect with our customers. One thing I notice when I travel with the cars is all the different stories. The truck we just did, the ’53 pickup, everybody had stories about their grandpa or their farm or their dad. It brought out that emotional connection with people. I think that really helps with the brand loyalty. We work with so many great partners that help by providing products for the vehicle, too, so that brings a lot more to the table than if we were to do the vehicle on our own.
Overall our customer base loves these builds. Partly the products, partly the history and just the process, watching it become this beautiful, amazing vehicle.
Paul Ferrandino: There’s also a connection to the legacy of the brand. These cars and trucks have a history with Raybestos. We were here then, we’re here now, and we’ll continue to be here in the future. When you look at the new packaging and the innovation of product, it really speaks to the future. But when you look at some of the things you do to market around it, it speaks to the tradition of the past.
TBR: Who picks the vehicle? How does that process work?
KG: A lot of it depends on where we’re at with new product innovation and launches and what we want our messaging to be around the vehicle and then it goes from there. When we picked the truck, we were starting to push our new truck and medium-duty pad line and rotors, so we thought a truck would be interesting. We started tossing around what era, what brand, all of that.
In the past, they’ve often been American musclecars. Our target audience, our core people, that’s important to them. As the industry starts to become younger and more diverse, we could expand.
PF: For the next couple of builds we are kicking around multiple ideas and you may see something a little different than what we’ve done before.
TBR: Your recent decision to simplify your product lines … take us inside that process.
KG: In the past, when a new product launched or a new parts line was put together, it kind of was looked at as its own thing. A name would be developed, a line would be built around that one thing. For example, a couple years ago we came up with a mid-grade line of pads, Reliant. Good, solid, mid-range product, really reliable, good offering, a lot of coverage. But from a marketing perspective it was looked at on its own.
So, for friction we had multiple sub-brands for different things, for calipers we had multiple sub-brands, for rotors we had multiple sub-brands. They didn’t really connect. It became a little challenging for our customers and their customers to understand what goes with what. If I want all premium, what am I looking at?
So we really looked at that and tried to find away to make it easier. Easier for our customers, easier for their customers, easier to market, easier to sell. So we came up with three families.
- The Element3 family has our top-of-the-line products, products with some enhancements.
- The R-Line has great, solid product, very reliable products focused on daily driving.
- And our Specialty line, which we started a couple years ago and have expanded, is for niche products and niche markets. If you’re looking specifically for something for a very targeted application, you can find it in Specialty.
PF: The industry normally divides product lines into good, better, best. What we’re trying to do is better, best and specialty applications. We don’t really have an entry-level product. We don’t make lightweight rotors. We don’t make low-quality friction that wears quickly and makes noise.
All of the R-Line is really good, premium product. What’s in Element3 is ultra-premium — with an attribute that makes it ultra-premium.Whether that’s rust-protection on the rotor or a caliper that’s newly forged instead of remanufactured, or friction with some kind of hybrid technology formula that gives you great stopping power as well as good pedal feel.
In the past our product teams were responsible for branding the product. The product teams always worked together to produce products, but they differed in how they were promoting the product from a marketing aspect, the packaging, the labeling, and how we put that together. So we moved that part of it into the marketing team. And we said, ‘OK, how do we put what are great products together into families to simplify the process.’
KG: We also have the ability now to have kits for top applications, so someone can find their application, decide what level of product they want, order one part number, and get their rotor, pad, and caliper.
TBR: From a workflow perspective, is the packaging change a little overwhelming?
KG: It’s that old question of how do you eat an elephant — one bite at a time. You take a product category and you work through that. Largely when you’re within a family, you’re taking elements of packaging across each product. It comes together. You have to have a process, you have to be organized, but it’s manageable.
PF: The factories are on a just-in-time component inventory system, so this is going to be a running change. They don’t keep a large quantity of packages on hand. So that part was relatively easy.
Will there be a bleed-out effect because of slow-moving versus fast-moving parts? Yeah, somebody’s still going to get the old packaging into 2019. By the mid-year and into the end of 2019, 95 percent of what’s coming out of the warehouse to our customers will be the new package with the new look.
TBR: I’m curious, where did that Element3 name come from?
KG: That was developed in 2012-2013 when we came up with a new, enhanced hybrid technology friction formulation. Traditionally you had semi-metallic formulations, then ceramic came in. We started developing this new kind of friction, which was EHT.
They really took a look at the different pieces that went into it and decided, from a marketing perspective, the three key things about this new formulation were innovation, performance, and stopping power. Then the three elements really went into that whole brainstorming and naming process. What can we do with three? What can we do to make it seem exciting and new and different? Because it really was something new that the industry hadn’t seen before.
TBR: What’s next for the Raybestos brand?
KG: We’re coming off a fantastic 2018. As we head into 2019, we’re really focused on continued growth and support of our channel. We’ll be working with our customers to leverage our digital email platform to really reinforce the brand and help them grow their business.
Our digital platform is a tool that allows us to have targeted communication that will help in specific areas to retain and grow the installer base. So we can work with the individual customers and target their customers with specific messaging and campaigns that really will help their customer growth, which in turn helps us.
We have a tremendous demand for calipers. Our business is up over 50 percent in that area. We’ve made a strategic decision to invest in increasing our capacity so we can better serve our customers.
We will also be focusing on revitalizing our commercial vehicle line, including a broader selection of products and working on a new catalog, working on some new advertising, reaching out in a way that we haven’t done recently.
We’ll be working with buying groups to increase our support throughout the year and doing a lot more to grow their business. As part of that, we’ve added headcount in the field to support the WDs, whether they’re group members or individuals.
With all of that, 2019 is really going to be a fantastic year for new product introductions. It’s going to be our biggest year for the number of new product numbers we introduce.
PF: The company is up, overall, double digits, including the flagship Raybestos brand. We’re expecting that to continue, so we’re putting in the support to keep growing. The acceptance of the brand, I won’t say it’s resurgent, because it’s always been strong, but it definitely has a momentum that it hasn’t seen in a number of years, and we have a lot of room to grow.
If you look at our sales model, we only use a handful of select agencies. We are primarily a direct sales model. We’ve got a team that actually covers the market, responsible for maintaining customer relationships and a business plan within each region and the customers in those regions.
Then we’ve got a ground-level support team that does the customer experience work. That’s the field work with our customers, the education of the installer base, education of the counter people, inventory recommendations, service level work, whatever drives the business.
We feel that a direct model like that gives a really good focus to the brake category.
We want that focus to remain for our customers. We’re investing in expanding that coverage, expanding the relationships with groups, expanding the relationships with WDs, so we can make Raybestos what it once was — not only the leader in product and attributes, which we have right now, but also in market share.
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