New branding seeks to boost North Bay's craft manufacturers

SANTA ROSA -- A new branding initiative for producers of craft goods and foods in the North Bay is among the latest efforts to leverage the region's growing rapport with consumers, providing distinct branding for companies creating products in the six counties of Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Solano, Mendocino and Lake.

Called "North Bay Made," the branding, developed under Santa Rosa's Share Exchange, features county-specific logos with a common visual motif meant to evoke a broader North Bay regional brand.

It is among the latest co-branding efforts born in Sonoma County, following the recently launched "Sonoma County" brand developed under the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau and the widely adopted "Go Local" branding offered by the Sonoma County Go Local Cooperative.

Together, the efforts point to the desire by a wide variety of companies and industries to leverage a region-based marketing message, along with the sway that those initiatives have in both capturing the interest of current residents and attracting the dollars of outside buyers for locally produced goods and services.

"Part of the reason we can do this here is because we have a strong history of local production," said Kelley Rajala, founder of the Share Exchange and its associated retail operation, the Made Local marketplace. "If you can get locally grown produce at your local merchant, why would you go elsewhere?"

The branding has begun to roll out in the Made Local Marketplace after a soft launch this month. The downtown Santa Rosa shop operates on a consignment structure while stocking craft goods and foods from more than 300 small-scale producers in Sonoma County, and is connected to the adjacent co-working and office space of the Share Exchange.

As adoption rates grow, Ms. Rajala said that she expects the revenue from yearly licensing agreements to help support programs that provide a co-benefit to the participants. It is an approach that draws some inspiration from the nonprofit SF Made group in San Francisco, which uses revenue to support shared advertising for its members, events, training, job posting and other programs.

"Small business doesn't have the marketing dollars of Target, per se. But they can pool their resources for a stronger voice," she said.

The shared logos would also serve as a marker for consumers, identifying the sourcing of products that are distributed throughout the six-county area, she said. While envisioned as an asset for smaller-scale producers, the brand is also available to companies with annual revenue exceeding $2 million.

A founding member of the Go Local Cooperative, Ms. Rajala left the organization to launch the Share Exchange in 2010.  The nonprofit increased its footprint significantly in October 2012, now allocating the entirety of its former 1,000-square-foot space to retail operations while moving the co-working operations to an adjacent 2,000-square foot office. The co-working space, with three private offices and around 10 desk spaces for rent, quickly reached capacity, inspiring talk of another expansion in the future, she said.

As the connected operations continued to grow, and as public events concerning local manufacturing and economic vitality continued to draw large crowds, Ms. Rajala said that a new branding for small-scale manufacturers seemed like a natural extension of an operation that she described as a "local economy center." The long-term vision, she said, is to use revenue to support goals that include the duplication of the Share Exchange model in other counties around the North Bay, serving as a hub for organizing and promoting smaller-scale manufacturers.

"The idea is to work with the different North Bay economies and start looking for opportunities in products that we're getting from elsewhere, and produce them here," she said. "It takes a lot of energy to get your food from Missouri. If you can shrink your supply chain and do it locally, you can do it more efficiently."

Similar to the North Bay Made initiative, the Sonoma County Go Local Cooperative co-branding program allows members to use their logo through a license agreement while benefiting from shared promotion, rewards card programs and other initiatives. The program is nearing its fifth anniversary, and currently counts over 300 members, said Terry Garrett, operations manager at the organization.

The Go Local brand also incorporates service-type companies, and can be seen as part of marketing for industries like banking, food manufacturing, waste collection and restaurants. Despite a number of anecdotes concerning the way that consumers have responded, Mr. Garrett also sought to determine a dollar value for the brand based on its presence throughout Sonoma County.

"It would be equivalent to spending $8 million on advertising, just in Sonoma County," he said. "It shows the power of aggregation from a diverse membership."

The brand has also begun to expand beyond Sonoma County, with adoption for a "Grown Local" application in Marin and a "MendoNoma" application along the coastal region incorporating Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.

One adopter, the Sonoma County-based supermarket chain Oliver's Markets, has itself seen measurable results after redoubling its focus on locally sourced goods and services approximately four years ago. The company was an early adopter of the Go Local branding, part of a push to market its existing emphasis on Sonoma County products and respond to competition from chains like Whole Foods, said Tom Scott, general manager.

The company developed a point-of-sale system that would list locally sourced products on a customer's receipt, also allowing those products to be tracked independent of other items. While the 5,200 Sonoma County products represent approximately 10 percent of the store's inventory, Mr. Scott said that they now represent more than 27 percent of its overall sales.

Those product categories have experienced year-over-year sales growth between 10 and 20 percent, helping to drive an overall sales growth for Oliver's that has grown from 4 to 6 percent to between 10 and 13 percent since that branding emphasis began, Mr. Scott said.

"If all things are equal -- if I'm offering the same quality good at a competitive price from a local company -- it's a real game changer," he said, noting also the greater induced job creation from using regional suppliers versus larger national companies.

Both Ms. Rajala of the Share Exchange and Mr. Garrett of the Go Local Cooperative noted that, despite the potential for some overlap, the different shared branding proposals throughout the county could service to complement one another by addressing different niches for businesses and consumers.

"At the end of the day they all say the same thing, which is 'Support the local guys,'" Mr. Garrett said.

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