By Adam Vlach
Greatness is not a status to be achieved or a destination, but rather a never-ending process of change and evolution. In Topeka, this concept of evolving to become better is alive and well.
Don’t think a motorsports park, a human resources company, and a photography business have anything in common?
All of these companies share a fundamental understanding of this search for greatness and the importance of change. All three—just within the past few months—underwent one of the most ambitious forms of change a business can go through: rebranding.
WHEN IT COMES to rebranding a company or a business, especially one that’s already well-established and reputable in the local community, the first question that comes to mind is “Why?” Why would business owners intentionally subject themselves and their organizations to such drastic change that inevitably comes with great risks, financial or otherwise?
While rebranding is a time-consuming and often expensive process, the need to do so can sometimes be the result of incredible success or an explosive growth in business—good problems to have, by most accounts. Studio Bloom by Shelley has a large footprint in the Topeka area that many people may be familiar with, although perhaps by its former name, Shelley Jensen Photography.
Studio Bloom by Shelley officially embraced its new brand this year, and the decision to do so was indeed due to an overwhelming growth in business.
“Over the past nine years, my business has grown so much, and I’m very blessed to have had it grow the way it did,” said Shelley Jensen, owner and sole proprietor of Studio Bloom by Shelley. “The problem with it growing so fast, though, was that I was trying to do everything.”
As a one-woman show, Jensen is responsible for every aspect of the business, from client acquisition, to the photography, to the editing. In recent years, Jensen was shooting photos for about every type of occasion— weddings, engagements, corporate events, newborns, senior pictures, family photos…you name it.
“But it became too much for one person,” Jensen said, “and I was losing time with my own family, and I couldn’t give my clients the attention they needed.”
A rebranding was in order, and with it, a new logo, website, and an update in the services the business would offer.
“I re-evaluated the photography that I was doing, and I decided to narrow it down to four specific photography areas: families, high school seniors, engagements, and couples photography,” Jensen said. “That’s the reason I rebranded, to re-evaluate my strengths and weaknesses and come up with four different areas I could focus on.”
And as entrepreneurs and business owners know, that concept—focus—is many times the difference between a company making strides toward excellence and collapsing beneath its own weight.
In addition to helping a company focus on its strengths, a rebranding can also be an opportunity to clarify a company’s message or vision. Such was the case with HR Partners, a company of human resources professionals located in central Topeka. In late 2017, HR Partners, led by its president and owner, Kristina Dietrick, changed its corporate identity with a new logo and website, new brand colors, and a breakaway from its previous name, Creative Business Solutions.
“We made the decision to rebrand because we found that after growing in different markets and trying different things, our name didn’t really describe what we do,” Dietrick said. “As HR Partners, we partner with clients on their HR needs. Period. That’s what we do.”
Unlike Studio Bloom by Shelley, HR Partners kept its same business model through its rebranding, which caters to companies looking to outsource HR services such as consultation, compliance, benefits administration, training, and coaching, just to name a few.
“Changing from Creative Business Solutions to HR Partners—now you know what we do,” Dietrick said. “We wanted our name to represent our mission.”
Focusing and clarifying are two of the greatest benefits that stem from a rebranding, but can such an arduous process benefit an organization that is happy with where it’s at but still wants to improve?
Absolutely, says Jake Schmidtlein, general manager of Heartland Motorsports Park.
Coinciding with its 30-year anniversary, Heartland Park Topeka, the iconic motorsports park just south of the capital city, rebranded at the first of the year as Heartland Motorsports Park.
“We want to set forth a new vision, a new direction, for the facility as a whole,” Schmidtlein said. “2018 marks our 30th anniversary, and we thought that rebranding would be a good way to put out there that we’re moving forward. We want bigger and better things.”
As with Studio Bloom by Shelley and HR Partners, this rebranding boasts a new logo as well, one that Schmidtlein describes as a bit “edgier” to match the organization’s vision of forward progress.
“We respect the heritage and the history behind the track—that’s why we didn’t do a radical rebranding—but we wanted to elaborate a little bit more on who we are,” Schmidtlein said.
The rebranding also has helped when Schmidtlein and his team are talking with national racing organizations, including NASCAR.
Previously, without the term “motorsports” in the name, organizations from outside the Kansas area often didn’t know what type of park Heartland Park actually was.
“I’ve gone to trade shows, and people would ask me where I work,” Schmidtlein recalled. “When I would say ‘Heartland Park,’ they would say, ‘Oh, really? What’s that? Is that an amusement park? A water park?’”
Now, there is much more clarity.
Honoring the past while looking forward and striving to add to an already-storied brand, however, is the idea behind the third major reason for a rebrand, and the key reason for Heartland Motorsports Park’s evolution: the opportunity to enhance.
“We’re really just building on the events of the past. We’ll continue to have the NHRA Heartland Nationals. From a drag racing perspective, we’ll have the Lucas Oil Double Divisional race, and we’ll have the ET Finals.
“New, in 2018, though, is the first no-prep national event. This will be the largest, truest, no-prep motorsports race in the U.S.”
That event, coming in September, will feature backward racing down the drag strip, with the prize purse sitting in the six-figure range.
Motocross events will also start making an appearance, with motorcycle and go-kart races.
For all three of these businesses, the rebranding process has proven fruitful and worthwhile. But that’s not to say the decision to go through with the process was an easy one. With rebranding comes risk, and not a small one at that.
For HR Partners and Studio Bloom by Shelley—both businesses that have been prevalent in the Topeka community for about a decade—one of the risks of rebranding was simply losing brand recognition with a name change. In each case, however, strategic decisions were made to mitigate this risk.
“When we decided we wanted to rebrand, we looked internally first, to our clients and our team, and asked them what they thought, and we received positive feedback,” Dietrick said of HR Partners. “For any company that’s thinking about rebranding, you’ve always got to keep your current client base in mind.”
Before moving forward with anything, Dietrick sought the opinions of her clients and especially her internal team. Their overwhelming approval, she said, was key in giving her the confidence to move forward with what can be a very disruptive process.
In the case of Studio Bloom by Shelley, Jensen elected to keep her first name in the title of her business.
She said having a concrete reason behind rebranding helps keep a business owner focused on what they are trying to achieve and will reduce the risk of getting distracted or questioning your decisions.
For Schmidtlein and Heartland Motorsports Park, a 30-year history had to be taken into consideration before moving forward with a rebrand.
“Racers, and racing fans, like to go to tracks that have history and heritage to it, and so the concern when rebranding is that we didn’t want to lose all of the history that’s been established over the past 30 years,” Schmidtlein said.
The desire to keep the rich history of the track alive and palpable was what led to the decision to keep “Heartland” in the name, and ultimately to lean toward what Schmidtlein refers to as a “soft” rebrand.
What does it take to pull the trigger on a decision as big as a rebranding?
“You have to believe strongly in your vision for your business, and if you truly believe, it takes it to another level and gives it a competitive advantage,” Schmidtlein said.
Without a doubt, there’s a multitude of issues to consider before rebranding an established company, from the cost, to the amount of time it will take to execute, to the risk the business incurs. One decision that any business about to rebrand must make is whether to hire outside help.
Jensen, who was looking to make her business more lean and focus on her strengths; Dietrick, who wanted to clarify her brand and align her company’s name with its mission; and Schmidtlein, who was hoping to enhance his brand by innovating while continuing to honor the past, were all looking for something a little different from a rebranding. Still, for each of them, it made sense to enlist outside help, at least to some extent, particularly in terms of consultation and new logo and website design.
But at the end of the day, the only way for a business to survive and strive for greatness in constantly changing times is to change with them.
“Nobody likes changes—everybody knows that,” Schmidtlein said. “But if you believe in what you’re doing, it will help you grow to where you want to be down the road.”