Quast admits to being concerned that Holmes's dreams "are growing exponentially." He fears burnout. But there are just so many opportunities. "They've done a pretty genius job of extending the brand beyond where people might have thought he could go," says consultant Healy. "I don't see anyone else stepping into that market." He's particularly impressed with the company's ability to maintain Holmes's reputation and a consistent public persona. Even when Holmes went on CBC's The Hour , he sported his signature muscle shirt and overalls. Reeves, who's spent 25 years "aging" in the public eye, knows the challenge. "You can't vastly change your hair colour or style, but at the same time you can't be in a time warp," she says. "And if you're relating to the everyman, you can't act super successful and super rich."
But there's a risk that Holmes will spread himself too thin, diluting the brand's potency. For all his insistence on wanting to help the industry, pros dismiss him as-in the words of one commercial contractor-"fluffy." Professor Hardy notes that "a professional would get laughed out of town if he showed up in Mike Holmes-branded overalls, because Holmes is viewed as retail-focused-the hero of the amateur-and no true professional should carry a retail brand."
Yet amateur work is exactly what Holmes rails against. Meanwhile, maintaining the quality of the Holmes products won't be easy for a small business that needs to rely on supplier partners and has to balance quality with affordability. During economic downturns, it becomes tempting to cut costs by cutting corners. For Holmes, who's all about integrity and workmanship, doing that would be especially harmful. Canadians are very patient and polite, says Schulich's Middleton: "You won't hear from them, but they will go away." And will they really be willing to fork out a 15 per cent premium for a green home, even one endorsed by Holmes? "People are green until you ask them to pull out their wallets," says Healy.
Then there is the issue of succession. At 45, Holmes admits there will come a time when he'll have had enough. Would that mean the end of the Holmes Group? Not necessarily. Other brands have survived without their core personalities-Loblaw's President's Choice, for example, is doing just fine without Dave Nichol. And Nichol was a consumer's champion, just as Holmes is, points out Middleton. "That soaks into the brand name." Match that with trust-and, to capitalize on the recession, value for money-and it's a seductive combination, says Middleton. As long as the brand's values have been institutionalized, it's possible for other people in the organization to carry the flame.
Still, the more ventures Holmes launches, the greater the chance that consumers will contract brand fatigue and dismiss him as another pitchman-for-hire. Quast, who along with Kettlewell has a small equity position in the company, insists that won't happen. "This is not just a job," he says. "I do this because I believe in the product that Mike is. That sounds really hokey, as unbelievable as the Nescafé story, but it's true." Verisimilitude is what counts. "I believe he's for real," says Healy.
As long as the average consumer agrees, the sky is the limit.
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