After what seems like an overly long hiatus, Aggregate Industries' commercial imprint, Charcon , has burst back onto the scene with a new product guide and a proper website. Following a couple or three years of playing musical jobs within the company, and seeming to prefer a low, if not non-existent profile, the phoenix rises from the ashes and wants to re-assert its place in the commercial paving landscape.
The website itself is a major development. For a decade, the company has had a minimalist approach to web presence with a site that was little more than a splash page, with no valid information, thumbnail images that didn't get bigger than a thumbnail, and a tendency for the handful of links to direct you to the North American site, which was no better and even less relevant.
The new site is a huge improvement with links to actual products and sprinkling of technical information. There is still a way to go. The images are sparse, it can take too many clicks to get where you want to be, there are some typos (you have to "know" down the kerbs, f'rinstance), but there is a more-or-less complete set of PDFs for the various products and a complete absence of the sort of whizz-bang-jiggery-pokery that can blight some sites, which has to be applauded. Overall, it's a useable and useful site, and we can't really ask for any more than that.
Turning to the new product guide ('brochure' doesn't seem to be the right word for a commercial paving offering, while "Portfolio", Charcon's preferred title, sounds a bit grand) which comes as a rather manageable 64-pages of slightly wider than A4 sized bound heavy glossy paper, a radical departure from the shelf-filling ring-bound, plastic covered productions of previous years. Customer marketing manager, Katie Glover, explained that the thinking is that more and more specifiers are now relying on the web for information, so the bulky product guides of yesteryear are redundant, and all that is needed is a quick and easy flick-through visual reminder with the key points and direction to the relevant page on the website for more detailed information.
I tend to think she's right, and I'm certain the younger specifiers, brought up to be web-savvy, will have no problem following that model, but I wonder how those more mature members of the profession will react. Many of them do have a penchant for big, weighty tomes that not only contain half a rainforest of pages filled with irrelevance, but give a sense of how serious that particular manufacturer is about their place in the hierarchy of producers. A product guide that takes two hands (or, even better, two people) to get down from the shelf has, for many years, indicated a BIG company with all the right products and the ability to cater for even the largest of projects. Does a guide less than 10mm thick convey the same sense of self-importance?
I like this new approach. One page per item, and very easy to find what you want. There's a bare minimum of trumpet-blowing about corporate social responsibility and that sort of thing, while easily understood icons for recycled materials, ethical trading, the Green Building Council, breeam, etc are used to show compliance without boring the reader with worthiness.
There's a logical herding of products into six groups, with the top 50mm of so of each page colour-coded for that particular product group, which makes finding the relevant page that much easier. Products are shown in a main photo with key features or design detail ideas provided as smaller thumbnails. The descriptive text is succinct and restricted to a single sentence, while essential information is provided as a series of concise bullet points and colour/texture options provided as a series of standard-sized swatches. The page is then rounded off with a clear and crisp table of sizing and packaging information.
This is all we really need as a taster for products:
- what does it look like?
- what are its potential uses?
- why would I use it in preference to summat else?
- what colours/textures are available?
- what sizes/formats does it come in?
As mentioned previously, there are directions to the right place on the new website for further information, such as the in-depth technical PDFs. The guide is enlivened by the occasional full page image, which, as you would expect, are of a very high standard and tend to feature really eye-catching projects. Overall, the photography throughout is exemplary, showing off the paving or drainage in a real-life scenario without resorting to arty-farty styling or obviously staged models. This standard of photography needs to be transferred to the web – there's nothing potential customers like more than looking at pretty pictures.
There's also a sprinkling of one page case studies which indulge a little trumpet blowing but also show how products from different groups can be combined and emphasise that Charcon can be a one-stop supplier for all hard-landscaping requirements, whether is flags, block paving, natural stone or innovative drainage solutions. It's a little ambitious to describe a photo and two hundred words of text as a case study, but it's in keeping with the overall feel of this product guide, in being concise and sticking to the pertinent points. Case studies are expanded on the website, which again shows a good understanding of how the specification market is moving.
Very cleverly, there's an accompanying "Paving and Kerb" pocket guide, the size of an A4 sheet folded into three and stretching to just 36 pages of the absolute essentials with no fancy photographs and a minimum of text. It's the sort of thing that will be kept on the desk or the dashboard and will be a first port of call for speedy answers on basic information such as size and colour options. This is the very antithesis of those bloated tomes of 5 years ago. It's the products without the marketing and it fits right in to the busy life of your typical specifier or contractor.
Overall, this seems like a re-launch for Charcon, even though they would say they haven't been anywhere. The website is 10 years overdue but very welcome nonetheless, while the product guide is lean, keen and very much in tune with the current mood in the hard-landscape specification trade. The pocket guide has been done by others but is fantastically useful and is bound to be appreciated by those of us with cluttered desks and messy dashboards.
The only very minor negative is that this product guide is not the best sales tool for contractors looking to sell into the residential market. That market responds to photos, lots of photos, aspirational photos, and empty rhetoric eulogising the wonderful life improvements that come with each installation, and so this product guide would be viewed as too dry, too pared down for that market, but then it's not aimed at that market. This is a guide for commercial hard landscapes, for town and city centres, for retail parks, office developments and transport hubs, and for these projects, it's exactly what is needed.
Maybe there is a need for a 'Driveways' brochure. Or maybe the feeling is that such a task is the responsibility for one of the other imprints, with Bradstone being the most likely candidate. Or perhaps Agg Inds don't see the residential driveway business as part of their market: they've never really pursued it, if truth be told, preferring to focus on the target for this guide - the commercial sector, and it can't be denied that, in that niche sector, they have a stong product range with excellent technical back-up and a professional attitude, all of which can't hurt.
Despite leaving the Interpave gang, and despite having a low profile for a couple of years or so, there can be no denying that Charcon are still a major manufacturer and a highly significant player in Britain's commercial hard landscaping. Those reasons alone would be sufficient to warrant every landscape architect practice having a copy of this product guide in their library and the link to the website in their bookmarks/favourites, but the product guide is actually more than capable of standing on its own as a well-considered, attractive and informative guide to what's what in commercial hardscapes. Miss it at your peril!
Order your own copy of the Charcon Commercial Landscaping Portfolio......
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