What makes you love a brand?


Pat Cadam (far right) and his crew from Pat’s Garage, leaning into the sunny side of life

I am fascinated by the way that brands show up in the world.

If any of you read my first book, Escape from Cubicle Nation, you may remember Pat Cadam, founder of Pat’s Garage. I wrote:

“Nestled in the technology and industry heavy South of Market neighborhood was Honda shop called Pat’s Garage. On the outside, it looked like any other auto shop, with the requisite big sign and grease spots in the driveway.

As soon as I stepped inside, I knew it was a special place.

I didn’t feel my instinctive reaction which was “I will wrestle you to the ground if you leer, demean my lack of car knowledge or try to trick me into getting service I don’t need.” Pat and his staff were welcoming, open and non-threatening.

Their office walls were filled with art pieces and postcards from happy customers. The closest thing to a blond in a bikini on the wall was a picture of Hilary Clinton in S&M garb. I don’t remember exact message behind the parody, but it was in good taste and not disparaging of either Hilary or women in general.

And the best part? Really, really great coffee. Not the watered down Folgers crap that you find at most shops, but jet fuel grade, organic and flavorful coffee. Served in real mugs.

The more I got to know Pat, the more I was fascinated by his story of creating a totally unique and valuable business in a crowded niche. He once told me “My business is not really about cars, it is about people. When I focus on my customers and their needs and concerns, my business thrives.” He chose to service Hondas because “I like the kind of people that drive Hondas. In general, they are nice, funny, down to earth and environmentally aware.”

Pat started his career as a schoolteacher and quickly learned that a traditional academic environment was not for him. So he carefully researched a business to open, based on his interests and skills.

He seems to have picked the right one, as he always seems to be enjoying himself, and his customers have followed him loyally for over twenty years as if he were the Pied Piper.”

Indispensable Brand

Pat embodies exactly what I mean by an indispensable brand:

  • He offers something real and valuable to a market that needs it
  • He works with a specific, defined niche
  • His personality clearly shows up in every part of his business, from the message on his answering machine to his website to the quality of his work to his physical location
  • He inspires trust, enthusiasm and evangelism in every one of his customers. You walk away after working with Pat and not only feel great having given him money, but want to tell twelve of your friends about his auto shop. I actually held on to my Honda longer than planned since I was so sad about leaving him.
  • He attracts a great team. He values and supports his employees better than most leaders I met in entrepreneurial and corporate settings. He once told me, after explaining how he was paying for his mechanic to take a day off a week to take an art class, “When you learn what is important to people who work for you and support that, no matter if it is related to the work they do for you, they will be happier. That translates into better work and natural loyalty.

Pat’s success was not a fluke. Pat’s Garage has an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars, averaged from 497 ratings! And they were voted the Guardian’s Best Car Mechanic of the San Francisco Bay Area for 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and….2014!

I think the same things that make a company brand great also makes a personal brand great.

I am on a mission to collect a list of diverse and interesting brands that people love, so that I can dissect what makes them tick and share the lessons.

What are your favorite brands and why? I would LOVE to hear your examples. Share them in the comments below!

Reader Interactions


  1. Paaul Zelizer says

    Great post Pam! Like you, I’m kind of a brand geek – even more so since I’m in a rebrand process for my business right now. This post helps me remember who I want to be in my business and in life.



  2. Ali DAvies says

    This is a brand/organisation our family is totally in love with since we moved to Canada. What they did for our son at his very first game blew us away. When a brand values family, experience and caring it creates an raving fans and returning customers for life. We are certainly raving fans and have returned many times since this incident. Here is what they did for our family that we didn’t expect:


  3. Steph says

    The brand I am in love with right now is http://www.Beautylish.com. It is a beauty site that is carefully curated to cater to its customers. I was blown away by how much the company gives people a personalized experience and stellar customer service (e.g., handwritten notes with orders).

  4. Edith Swiatek says

    Following up a bit on Ali’s experience, one of my favorite brands is the St. Paul Saints. In a large metro area, Minneapolis/St. Paul, they are a baseball team not affiliated with Major League Baseball and they cater to families and the fun of the game. They have outrageous promotions and inexpensive tickets along with reasonable concession prices. They partner with local non-profits and engage the community into every aspect of their business. As a result, they thrive in an environment where the Vikings and the Twins reign supreme.

    • Ali DAvies says

      Edith, your example is very similar to mine. I think one of the thigns that was so pwoerful is that they care about families and it is the same thing we care about most as consumers – our families. So that creates a really strong connection and loyalty.

      I also think that you mention another critical thing – community. I think people are craving community and connection. When an organisation facilitates that it is very powerful indeed.

  5. Cheryl Pickett says

    Mudlove Pottery based in Warsaw Indiana popped into my head as soon as I read the question. It’ significant that I can even name a brand, because, in general, other than a few grocery favorites, I’m not a huge brand person.

    My husband and I happened on Mudlove while visiting a small community of art shops that’s along a lake in Warsaw. Their main product is wristbands and necklaces made of clay all imprinted with inspirational sayings and a few have images stamped on. They are also very mission driven in that a percentage of their profits goes to fund water wells in Africa. They are also Christian owned which is a wonderful thing to us.

    When we ventured into the tiny shop the first time, we were greeted by an employee who was more than happy to tell us about who they are and what they do. We just liked the whole idea and vibe. When I got home, I found the website and followed them on Facebook. I think that is another place where they won me over. Instead of just random posts about what’s on sale etc. they post about the whole of the business. New products and such do show up, but they also talk about what’s going on in their community, with the water projects, or sometimes just post something silly and fun. It really feels like a person is posting, not a company.

    We happened to go back to Warsaw a year later (it’s about a 5 hour trip and we basically go to the area for my husband’s business). We got a tour of their downtown, much bigger location and it was just a friendly as the first visit. I think we own 5 bands/necklaces now and have recommended them to others too.

    • Pamela Slim says

      That is so cool Cheryl! I love in your example how you not only describe their product, but also the shared values of the business that make you feel connected to it.

  6. Anna Kunnecke says

    I love this topic!

    I am absolutely in love with the brand that Katrina Markoff has created: Vosges Haute Chocolat.


    The chocolate is divine, naturally, but what really gets me is the attention to detail. The story of the brand– adventure, travel, a passionate engagement with the world– is woven into every detail, from their witty and vibrant daily emails to the silky purple ribbon on each box.

    The whole thing makes me swoon…. and buy lots and lots of chocolate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *