Shop Talk

Small-business owners use rebranding to stay relevant in an evolving market

Christine Nguyen and Joe Piccirilli eat at Jose & Sons Oct. 9. About a year ago, the restaurant’s owners rebranded the space in downtown Raleigh from Jibarra to Jose & Sons, a more casual space that serves Mexican food with Southern influences.
Christine Nguyen and Joe Piccirilli eat at Jose & Sons Oct. 9. About a year ago, the restaurant’s owners rebranded the space in downtown Raleigh from Jibarra to Jose & Sons, a more casual space that serves Mexican food with Southern influences. vbridges@newsobserver.com

They painted the walls teal and rustic red and made T-shirts that said “Hola Y’all.” They decorated the place with roosters, old milk jugs and tobacco baskets and revamped the menu to include such items as Crank Arm Barbacoa, a brisket braised in beer from neighboring Crank Arm Brewing and served in a banana leaf with rice and black beans.

Those details are traits of a 1-year-old transformation that turned a struggling Jibarra into a sustainable Jose & Sons.

“The new experience was much more of what people were looking for in Raleigh,” said Charlie Ibarra, who, along with his brothers Joel and Hector, shut down Jibarra, a 6-year-old contemporary Mexican restaurant. They re-opened one week later as Jose & Sons, a more casual concept centered on Mexican dishes with Southern influences.

“By month five and six,” sales had exceeded Jibarra’s and have continued to increase month after month, said Charlie Ibarra, who’s now Jose & Sons’ managing owner.

Stagnant revenue is one problem that small-business owners can use rebranding to solve. Other problems it can fix include new ownership, an unimpressive story, stale graphics and colors, and a shift in culture or concept, including a new product or service. Rebranding can also be used to disassociate the company from a high-profile negative event or differentiate the company from competitors with similar names and graphics.

“When you think your brand is keeping you from doing something that your organization wants to do,” said Keith Johnson, president of Raleigh design firm Carolina Reprographics. The process, however, requires research, including internal assessments and market analysis.

Evaluate products, prices

Every time a company shifts, owners should revisit the brand to ensure the company’s graphics, tagline, website and fonts reflect the customer experience, which should probably be evolving in the fast-changing modern marketplace. Rebranding can range from changing a logo or tagline to a complete overhaul.

“For me, a brand is a promise that is put out in the marketplace that that brand should be able to live by,” said Wendy Coulter, chief executive officer of Cary marketing firm Hummingbird Creative Group.

Before owners jump into a rebranding process to solve a revenue problem, they should evaluate their product, prices and customer experience, Johnson said.

Owners should then start the process by looking at what Coulter calls “insight.”

“That is when you are doing some internal and external market research to figure out competitive advantages and create positioning in the marketplace,” Coulter said. “And then create brand messaging and graphics that support that strong positioning.”

While the final transformation of Jose & Sons only took a week, the process involved months of evaluating the Raleigh restaurant market and searching for the best concept.

Jibarra was located in North Raleigh for two years before it moved downtown for four years.

When the business became unprofitable, the Ibarra brothers started asking their customers questions.

“They said they liked the place, but it was a place they were only going to go for special occasions and certain celebrations,” Charlie Ibarra said.

Ibarra traveled to New York and Philadelphia, read restaurant and cooking publications and noticed Southern influences weaving their way across the foodie landscape.

Jibarra chef Oscar Diaz began experimenting with Southern influences, and the Ibarra brothers started making lists of everything they wanted to change. They then determined they would change the name.

The rebranding process should include conversations with internal stakeholders, customers and other test groups.

“I always recommend that people detach themselves a little bit from the process,” Johnson said. “I know that sometimes we are all so passionate about our own logo and brand, you can’t see clearly.”

The drafting process should start with the logo and figuring out where and how it will be used (including letterhead, cars, billboards or in a square or a circle), along with related restrictions, such as sign ordinances.

“Where is my logo going to go, who is it going to reach, and what do I want to feel or think about when we have it?” Johnson.

A common mistake, Johnson said, is trying to do too much with the logo. Avoid wild fonts, neon colors, and don’t do anything that can’t be used in black-and-white printings, he said.

When Randy Bernstein rebranded his business Etch ‘N Stitch earlier this year, he sent some potential changes to his clients.

“I got some mixed feedback,” he said.

A designer told him why the ideas didn’t work and talked him through the process of determining the image he wanted to project. Since the business started in 2009, it had gone from a retail store that did monogramming and engraving to a promotional products company that operated out of Bernstein’s Hillsborough home.

Bernstein changed the name to BrandShark with the tagline, “Take a bite out of your competition.”

The rebranding, which is now on everything from business cards to a revamped website, is meant to reflect the company’s core service of using promotional products to take the business “to a new level,” Bernstein said.

Once the brand is established, it should flow down to all the different touch points such as email messages, website, advertising and social media.

Standardize typography

The Ibarra brothers grew up in the restaurant business. Their uncle opened the first El Rodeo in Raleigh. Their father Jose Ibarra opened the second one on Hillsborough Street in 1993 and went on to own the five La Rancheritas across the Triangle.

One of the goals of their restaurant’s rebranding was to create a welcoming atmosphere in the emerging downtown neighborhood scene. They named the new venture Jose & Sons after their father, who moved his family from California to North Carolina more than 20 years ago.

The Ibarras worked with Raleigh design agency Pixbit, which helped them select the name, the font and colors that would reflect their vision.

“From our research we found a font called Gin, and made it the foundation of the Jose & Son’s brand,” according to a Pixbit report on the rebranding. “By standardizing the brand’s typographic system, we were able to integrate its unique elements across brand touchpoints such as logo, stationary print material, and interior design.”

In the summer of 2013, the Ibarra brothers started making changes to Jibarra that included painting the dark blue walls teal and rustic red.

Diaz worked on the menu and plating ideas, and Charlie Ibarra scoured rural North Carolina, Virginia and internet outlets for decorations.

For two months they worked on changes bit by bit until they closed Jibarra and reopened as Jose & Sons in September 2013.

Initially, the response was quiet, but built up over time as they promoted Jose & Sons through fliers and social media.

“It all started to snowball, little by little,” Charlie Ibarra said.

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