Too often in life we are told we can choose one. This or that. But what if we could do away with that? Charles Lubecke and Q-Railing are doing just that, with messaging tailored to one area of the market that doesn’t leave the other areas behind. He shares some of his experience in creating messaging that is inclusive of the very different professionals that will engage with it.
The Art of Avoiding Selective Messaging Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: Doing well. I’m happy to be here. How you doing?
Jeff White: I’m doing great. I’m doing great. Good to be chatting.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think I feel like we should be doing an advanced promotion for your daughter’s appearance in Romeo and Juliet this evening, knowing that that’s on the docket for later tonight, but then of course it’s not going to get… This isn’t going to get played until after said successful performance, so-
Jeff White: Yeah. No, and as I mentioned, she dies in the end, so her character-
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: I’m giving it away anyway.
Carman Pirie: Yikes. Yikes. Okay. Well, look, I’m glad we covered that off, at least.
Jeff White: Even Shakespeare’s funny plays aren’t particularly light.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Not known for… Yeah. Never mind. I’m just-
Jeff White: Their levity is a miss. But our guest today is not.
Carman Pirie: There you go. There you go.
Jeff White: We’ll relate this back to Shakespeare somehow, but-
Carman Pirie: Somehow.
Jeff White: Yeah. We have had a handful of folks on the podcast who work in the building products industries.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And that is maybe the tragedy, is that it’s a hard category, I think, for marketers.
Jeff White: I think you’re right.
Carman Pirie: It’s quite a nuanced space. I think in-
Jeff White: It almost feels B2C in a lot of ways, but very much isn’t.
Carman Pirie: Right, right. And the layers of influence and buyers is kind of an interesting one depending on the kind of subcategory that you’re in, so I’m excited for today’s guest to kind of unpack some of the challenges and tips for success in that space.
Jeff White: Yeah. And you know, our guest has a lot of experience going back a number of years in numerous building products categories, so should be able to lend some insight to that. So, joining us today is Charles Lubecke. Charles is the management team member and Marketing Manager for North America and the Manager of Project Solutions for Q-Railing. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Charles.
Charles Lubecke: Thank you, guys. Truly appreciate the opportunity to have a conversation with you today. Excited for what topics we can cover and go from there.
Jeff White: I think it’s gonna be good.
Carman Pirie: It’s awesome to have you on the show, Charles. Look, let’s kick things off and maybe tell our listeners a bit more about you and maybe some additional texture on Q-Railing, as well, if you would for us.
Charles Lubecke: Okay, so first off I’d like to start a little bit about me. I possess a degree in architecture as well as marketing. I have a passion for architecture. I actually was a docent for the City of Chicago Architecture Foundation for numerous years. I just love to promote it to people and talk about it. I started off my career working for AECOM and technical design and then kind of took that and my marketing degree and moved on into the solar industry. Spent some time there as a salesperson and marketing manager of North America for a major brand in the solar industry and then I moved on into the windows and doors industry, also as a marketing manager, and then landed here at Q-Railing and have been here for three years.
I truly enjoy the opportunity to utilize my expertise in the building sector from my architectural background and my passion for marketing to just tell people about our products. Q-Railing is an organization that actually is headquartered out of Germany and has presence worldwide in many different markets. They are the premium brand in railing systems, providing base shoe, post and rail, glass rail, adapters, standoff systems for many different applications including residential, light commercial, commercial, and large public open spaces. They can service a lot of different needs for guard rail and balustrades in the market. They’ve been in North America since 2009 and they have currently three locations within the U.S. market in California, Florida, and New York. And we are growing rapidly and enjoying our success here in the U.S. market.
Jeff White: Pretty cool. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to comment on being a docent because you don’t hear that title or that particular job very often and it almost sounds like it’s part of the Anglican church or something, you know? Yeah, but architectural professions and others like that just have these great kind of structures and ways of kind of going to market. But anyway, I digress.
Charles Lubecke: Well, it is the Greek word, or Latin word, I believe, for to teach, right? And so, it really was… It was a fantastic opportunity. I mean, to just learn about… In order to become a docent, you had to take an 18-week class and it was just diving into all the different architecture, and the stories, and how Chicago came about from the beginning, which is really one of the true architectural Meccas in the United States, if not in the world, for architecture, right? And so, it was just a great experience I had doing that.
Jeff White: I do love Chicago.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s a great city and any time I think of it, Chicago and architecture, I think beyond the city, oddly, to the Conor Oberst line about the falling water is a perfect house where no one lives.
Charles Lubecke: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Nevertheless, let’s dive into it. I guess I’m curious, Charles. A lot of people find the category challenging to market in and I’m guessing that your enhanced connection to end users might give you a bit of a leg up. Do you feel like that kind of gives you some more insight into what buttons you need to be pressing?
Charles Lubecke: Yeah. I really think there’s a few stakeholder groups that you really have to appeal to in the building sector, right? Obviously, the first of those is the architect. Whatever your product is really has to appeal and fit in with their design intent, but then it really becomes a different layer when it goes to project implementation and estimation out in the field. You really then have to start thinking and communicating to the general contractor and the installer, right? They’re the ones who ultimately bid your product and put it into the buildings.
And you have to start understanding what are the things that help them win, right? And those things are getting them off the job site faster, right? Making their life easier with products that are easy to install. Having products that are engineered and meet the code and can navigate a bunch of different code challenges, because obviously from the time a product gets specified to the time it gets onto the job site, there’s a lot of redesign and technical implementation that’s had, right? So, I think those are the things that a lot of marketers need to think about in the building space, is you not only have to appeal to the designer and the owner for the implementation of the building, but you gotta drive the message all the way home to the person who’s gonna put it in.
Carman Pirie: And to even get considered at the first step of this, people need to be aware you exist. And since Q-Railing’s only been in the North American market since you said, what, 2009? My guess is you must be still driving a bit of that awareness challenge or be running up against it. How do you focus your message, I guess, or what do you find is accelerating, if you will, the path from unknown to having people aware of who Q-Railing is and what you deliver?
Charles Lubecke: Yeah, so I think we take a kind of a typical approach. I mean, let’s be honest. We do our digital marketing. We do our social media channels, those kind of things. I think one thing where we’ve become a little bit more involved is we’ve gotten really involved into the glass industry. We’ve made some good presence at the GlassBuild show the last few years. We’ve kind of really come with a really strong presence. We’ve actually won best in show at the GlassBuild show the last two years.
I think it’s also the way that we just get out there. We have a very aggressive sales team that’s getting out there. The other thing is from an organizational standpoint, we are looking to grow profitably at a pace that we can service our customers the best way possible, right? And one of the things that has helped Q-Railing is our ability to deliver products to the market when customers need them. We have some of the best, industry-leading lead times, and I think that really has helped resonate who we are, and what our brand stands for, and the value we bring to customers.
Jeff White: This feels like an example of marketing and sales and understanding the customer helping to drive supply chain strategy as much as it is… Sort of what you’re hearing from the market about needing to have those products on site in a timely manner has probably driven a lot of how you develop and hold onto product in order to have that sort of real time availability, isn’t it? I mean, how much influence does marketing and sales have on that side of things?
Charles Lubecke: I think the key is that we’ve taken a large investment into the market and have moved forward with courage that the market will continue to grow, right? And had no fear that we bring in a large amount where we can service the masses well. And I think that really was a business decision that really then created a really good marketing message, right? I think the key is that we say, “You know, the promise at Q-Railing is that the premium at Q-Railing stands for superior quality products at a competitive market price with customer service you can count on.
And I know I’m reading off a message, but really it is. We have in-stock, ready-to-ship inventory. You make an order today; we can ship it tomorrow. We’re processing those orders the same day and sometimes getting them out the same day. And we truly have a group of individuals not only locally in the U.S., but from our team and headquarters that provide some of the top notch customer service and technical support. It really was the business decision in the… I guess you would say the COVID years that we said we’re going to continue to service the market and put the pedal on the gas and continue to take inventory and be ready to service our customers that has given us the trajectory that we’ve had here.
Does that answer your question?
Jeff White: I think so.
Carman Pirie: I’m just curious. I mean, it’s an advantage, there’s no question. How unassailable do you think it is? How sustainable do you think that advantage is?
Charles Lubecke: I think it’s sustainable for a significant period of time. I mean, if I were to talk about Q-Railing’s strategy, our strategy isn’t to try and be the biggest in the market. We don’t have a desire to get there at least in the short term, three to five years, right? Our desire is to continue to find new customers and partners that we do business with that we can continue to repeat with them, and the key is the reason why it’s sustainable is because we open up the conversation at all levels, from the beginning of when we quote something to the time that we bring it out the door with them, and we really have two key go-to-market strategies that actually help and supplement this process.
We have a go-to-market strategy where we provide just components, pieces and parts, and we sell them. There’s no engineering. It’s just an installer buying what’s needed out in the field. And then we have the project solutions where we bring everything to the project, right? We bring all the pieces, parts, components, engineering, any customization, install, customer service, support from cradle to grave. And really, what it allows us to do is we can work the ebb and flow of the market on both sides of that equation, right? Not only that, the component business and the masses taking in smaller quantities helps gets our presence known, and then in the larger market we’re starting to work with some of the bigger partners out there who come back time and time again.
I mean, really, repeat business is what’s really getting us going.
Carman Pirie: There’s something we had chatted about earlier that I’d love to highlight for our listeners, because I think a lot of people find themselves in categories that have a big chunk of it is me too. There’s a lot of table stakes. You have to check 20 boxes in order to even compete in the market. And sometimes I think people can get almost distracted, especially if they’re more new entrants into the market, in just trying to say that they meet that me too criteria. And I loved your comment around plus one, Charles. Talk to us about plus one.
Charles Lubecke: Okay. And I have to say I bring this back from my years in the solar industry and I gotta give credit to an individual, December Cowen, who was my manager, and we really went through a lot of analyzation of how we talk to people, right? And the key is we have a few moments to gain someone’s attention as marketers, right? And the real power in that is that we need to grab their attention with the most valuable piece of information about a product that we can give them. And so, that means we go to the unique selling proposition as the primary voice or the primary tagline for our products, right?
So, I’ll give you an example. We sell base shoes. We sell multiple base shoes. We have five different variants. We have two major variants called smart and prime, which feature a Q-disc. The Q-disc is unique because it provides a three-degree leveling plus or minus for glass leveling, right? So, what we typically say is we feature Smart and Prime base shoes with our award-winning Q-disc with three-degree glass leveling. Right away, we’re hitting a pain point. The key with plus ones is to subtract the minus ones, the pain point of an installer in the field, which is aligning all the glass.
And so, if we lead with that, we have differentiated ourselves as a company and our products for why people should purchase and use them.
Jeff White: Do you find that that kind of messaging that is definitely installer targeted also resonates with architects? Or do you have to go to a different place in terms of your messaging for that particular audience?
Charles Lubecke: I think that can also exist with architects, right? Because I think the other thing that you have to understand is with architects, they are concerned about the aesthetics, right? And they are also concerned about the performance. Each one of our products fits into a performance level area, right? So, if I were to discuss a little bit about our product subset, and base shoes, and kind of give you the way that I would market our entire base shoe line to somebody, I would say we have Slim. Slim is a system that is 1.77 inches wide and is typically best fit for stair stringers because typically those are two inches in width. And it’s the best application. Another great application for Slim is when you would like bent profiles. It can adhere to bending and allows you to pair up with bent glass for those solutions, right?
Then I would say okay, if you have any other solution, you should go with Smart. Even if it’s interior. Slim could service that need, but Smart has the Q-disc, right? If you’re utilizing another portion where the engineering is a little bit greater, but you still want the value of the Q-disc, then you go onto Prime. And then lastly, when you’re looking at systems where you have high wind impact, design criteria, or design pressures on your system, then you would go with our Max, which really is a system that has a Miami Dade NOA, notice of acceptance, and can take glass up to 96 inches tall for wind screens. There’s the differentiator. There’s the one point on each one of those systems, right?
And really, when you speak to architects, what you do is you change the messaging from the installation value to the engineering value, and then the overall aesthetic value of the kind of offerings that you have. And then with the base shoes, we can pair any different kind of shape. Handrail, top rail, brackets, right? We have a wide variety that then goes with that. Does that make sense?
Carman Pirie: It does make sense, but I want to kind of push a little bit on Jeff’s question, because I do think it’s an interesting one. I appreciate that we can talk to different people in different ways, and we can certainly speak to architects differently than we speak to maybe the installer base, but you can’t… I mean, I say this knowing that there is technology that exists that does allow us to speak to them differently on our websites as well in digital presence, but most brands cannot afford such technology or don’t implement it to that extent. So, my question is how do you choose? Which I think is at the heart of Jeff’s question. Do you lead with kind of empathy for the installer when you’re thinking about one message that might be seen by both audiences? Or do you lead with aesthetic that you know appeals to the architect. What are your thoughts there?
Charles Lubecke: I think ultimately… This is a good question and you’re gonna make me choose and put a line in the sand here. I think ultimately the empathy for the installer is really the perspective that Q-Railing takes. But it doesn’t leave the architect behind if that makes sense, right?
Carman Pirie: That makes total sense.
Charles Lubecke: I think truly what that means is that what an architect wants these days is they want the ability to learn about your product from an AIA presentation, the ability for you to give them template specs so that they don’t have to write your product into their specifications. They want prescriptive details. They want prescriptive engineering. And ICC reports, right? After you check off the aesthetic box, those are all the things that the architect is looking for, right?
And at the end of the day, as much as I want to say railings are this mind blowing aesthetic application that’s implemented into a building, they all relatively are the same look and feel, with some variants that you provide to it.
Jeff White: There’s some honesty in that approach that I think really resonates, and I think part of it is your background allowing you to deeply understand exactly why something is 1.77 inches wide is the perfect application for a particular area, and a lot of marketers don’t necessarily have that ability. We’ve spoken with some who may have come from an engineering background and found their way to marketing or what have you, but the ability to understand the technical specifications of these things and sort of choosing to lead with that, knowing that the rest of the appeal for an architect is there, as well, and can be promoted, but kind of lifting up the ease of use for all parties, both installation and designer who can take the appropriate drawings and measurements and other things and know that they’re going to go into their drawings and result in something that can be installed and will withstand the forces that are required is pretty interesting. You don’t see that a lot in a marketing department within a manufacturer.
And maybe you do more in your space just because of kind of how these things are sold, potentially. Do you communicate with other marketers at other building supply and construction material related companies? Do you have a sense of them doing a similar kind of thing to you?
Charles Lubecke: Yeah. I do. I mean, there’s individuals that I know from my past lives that I stay in contact with that have this similar approach that you really have to get down to the technical side of things, right? And you really have to understand that to communicate with your customer group. I think the key with the architect and for someone to understand specifically in the railing space, I’m gonna focus back in the railing space, is believe it or not, in the majority of designs, unless you have been engaged with the architect prior to the design phase, most railings are delegated design, which means there’s only like a representative shape that equals what is a railing profile or whatever, and they delegate that back to a manufacturer like ourselves when we get it in a bigger project, or they delegate that to the installer that’s taking the smaller project and is going out there and saying, “Oh yeah, I gotta put railing here. Which one am I gonna put here?” And they really get to decide which one goes in place.
So, you have to think about it. When that delegated design comes back, the individuals who are making the choice for the delegated design are the GC and the installers, right? And your value has to be sitting in their head when they’re thinking about that.
Carman Pirie: And man, that ease of installation at the last mile of construction hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it?
Charles Lubecke: Yeah. Yeah. So-
Carman Pirie: Yeah. That makes total sense.
Charles Lubecke: And I would say another thing that’s becoming more prevalent in the building industry is finding good installation talent or experienced installers, having the generation of past that spent a lot of time in the building industry and kind of matured up, it’s a dying breed. So, as a manufacturer, one thing we have to do is innovate our products to make them easier and easier to install. It’s a necessity to move through into the next generation of how products will be installed into buildings.
Carman Pirie: Man, that’s great insight. Yeah. If a product’s difficult to install, doesn’t get installed at all in the… If we fast forward 10 years, man, I need to get all the bathroom renos done at my house now versus… No, but it’s the same kind of thing, right? Literally.
Jeff White: You don’t necessarily think of the fact that yes, the trades are definitely an interesting path for people who are looking for a new career these days, but the way that those trades are done isn’t necessarily the same way they always were, and the products that they’re working with are obviously very different. They’re not just working with wood anymore.
Charles Lubecke: I’ll tell you something that always really, really just gets my mind. So, coming from an architectural background, one of the things is that we took a field trip to Canada in architecture and the one thing that I made sure that we all did was went to every single church in Canada that we could. And you look at these historical structures and you just have to be in awe, because you ask yourself, could we build this today? It’s just amazing, right? It’s just amazing. And I really feel like we’re on the cusp of technology that might bring us back to the ability to do all those great, magnificent structures that we saw in the past, because it’s not to say that we couldn’t. We just probably haven’t gone back to that kind of historical layout and aesthetic. But I also think there’s some challenges in our recent repertoire of people out there building things. It just puts me in awe every time I look at a historical building.
Carman Pirie: Well, Charles, you’ve managed to bring in some Canadian content into an episode of The Kula Ring, so I think that’s… There’s never a better time for us to wrap up an episode than when we’ve finally achieved this pinnacle of content production. No?
Charles Lubecke: Yeah. Well, I agree.
Carman Pirie: I mean, Jeff? You’re not into it, Jeff? Come on. Work with me here.
Charles Lubecke: Honest, that was not scripted, right? It just came from the heart.
Jeff White: No, no. We believe it. And we try like hell not to script this show ever, but I do think it’s interesting because in the news in our little tiny part of Canada there have been two stories of late about some very old churches in la Pointe-de-l’Église, or Church Point, here in Nova Scotia for the oldest, tallest wooden church structure in North America that has been recently restored and kind of brought back to the community. But it’s just it was top of mind for me because I was reading a story about it this morning in the local business rag, so I find it interesting that these things continue to come full circle, but I quite agree with you and having spent a little bit of time in Europe, as well, and as an art student and architectural admirer, looking at old churches certainly blows my mind too.
Charles Lubecke: Yeah. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: I had not really thought about it through the lens of the skills gap and the need to design and build products that have greater ease of installation. There’s actual… There’s a modern marketing impact there that I thank Charles for bringing to the show. It’s been a fun conversation, Charles.
Charles Lubecke: Well, thank you guys. I truly appreciate the conversation and you inviting me to the show. Truly grateful for that.
Jeff White: Thanks so much.
Carman Pirie: All the best.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.