A CPG success story cut from stone

Driving sales with an established brand at multiple retail accounts is hard enough for the biggest consumer packaged goods companies. Creating a new brand in a nonexistent category is even more daunting as a pair of entrepreneurial family members discovered a decade ago when they launched the Granite Gold line of stone-care products. This is their story.

Two stone guys with no experience in consumer package goods or retail set out to conquer the world by trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

After spending a few years in the late 90s developing a consumer DIY solution for proper stone care — literally creating and mixing formulas, and testing them on granite, marble, travertine and all other natural stone because of variances in porosity and density — we figured we had a strong case to bring Granite Gold to a mass audience.

We quickly encountered our first lesson. There wasn’t a category specific for stone-care products and they didn’t necessarily fit neatly into any of the existing categories. We were able to pique the curiosities of retail buying executives who, in many cases, had natural stone in their own homes — and our deep experience in the stone industry helped with our credibility. Yet, the results of those meetings were the same time and again: Where does this fit in the store? Do consumers need it or want it? How will we get the consumer into the store to buy Granite Gold?

Those doses of humility and reality set the course in our formative years as we developed a strategy to respond to those challenges. It started with “get the consumer first.”

From 2003 to early 2005 when the building boom was still growing, we hit the road with a product sampling program for local home builders and distributors in the San Diego area. We performed what seemed like an infinite number of how-to demonstrations at regional home and garden shows and in Costco club stores. This led to Granite Gold becoming the no. 1 Costco road show in San Diego and the first of many rotations across the U.S. While that endeavor proved effective, we discovered that homeowners had little to no knowledge about how to care for their natural stone properly — particularly the damage common household cleaners do to natural stone surfaces.

Product efficacy, our expertise in stone care and our willingness to take the time to teach homeowners the essentials of stone-care maintenance became the foundation upon which we built a loyal consumer base. At the time, Granite Gold wasn’t readily available at retail stores, but consumers were buying our products in droves from our website thanks to word of mouth.

With our consumer base limited to Southern California, it still wasn't enough to convince retail buying executives to get on board. So in 2005 we set out to expand our footprint and create demand for Granite Gold. We launched a national consumer awareness campaign that year on the dangers common household cleaners pose to natural stone surfaces. That effort proved effective because it expanded our footprint, got consumers to ask local stores to carry Granite Gold and got retail buyers and brokers to meet with us.

After Costco, Raley’s, Bel Air and Nob Hill gave us our first shot in grocery, Albertsons, SuperValu, Fred Meyer and Smart & Final and Unified Western Grocers soon followed. Delivering on our promise to hold in-store demonstrations on proper stone care and how to use Granite Gold helped immensely and has proved to be our most effective sales tools.

As we entered the retail marketplace, we used every communication tool at our disposal — email, Web, postal mail, direct-mail coupons — to drive consumers to stores to buy Granite Gold. Frankly, it was more cost-effective for consumers to buy products at retail stores instead of via our website because of shipping and handling.

Realistically, we were only scratching the surface. We understood we didn’t have the knowledge or experience necessary to build a brand, grow distribution and create a category at retail and mass. That’s when we brought in a CPG sales and marketing veteran from WD-40 Co. who knows a thing or two about supply chain, packaging, retail, mass, big box, and so on. We went into a sort of bunker mode with Scott Martin, formerly SVP at WD-40 Co., and developed a national sales and marketing strategy. Moreover, we found a solution to our greatest challenge at the time: supply chain.

We were able to handle the boon in our online sales with relative ease, but as we began to distribute more to the retail environment, we realized we were in over our heads in meeting demand. Fortunately, we discovered contract manufacturer Goodwin Company, a long-trusted and valued partner to this day.

With supply chain management solidified, we expanded distribution in 2006 to Orchard Hardware Supply and True Value hardware stores and Ralph’s and Bristol Farms grocery stores. That was our first of several banner years, doubling business growth at year-end, and shortly after, in 2007, we achieved another milestone: Bed Bath & Beyond, our first national account.

Throughout the next half-dozen years, we doubled our product portfolio from the five SKUs we started with and expanded distribution in grocery, hardware, mass merchant and specialty store channels throughout the U.S. and internationally.

It really just started out as an idea to create a product to help our installation and restoration businesses' customers. Little did we know back then we were building what would become a widely recognized brand known for great stone-care products. We’re still relatively young with more room to grow and plenty more to learn, and the one constant will remain: sharing our expertise about stone care and using that expertise in product development. It’s old-school customer service, and it works.
 
Lenny Sciarrino is president, CEO and co-founder of Granite Gold Inc. He started the family company 10 years ago with his cousin, Lenny Pellegrino, who still runs his own restoration business in Southern California. Granite Gold brand stone-care products are available in grocery, hardware, mass merchant and specialty store channels throughout the U.S. and internationally.