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RMD Group Moves Into North Long Beach Headquarters: ‘It’s Our Pride And Joy...’

By Michael Gougis - Contributing Writer

February 12, 2013 - Ralph Holguin, CEO of RMD Group, takes a detour from the tour of his new 97,000-square-foot corporate headquarters, walks past the fleet of spanking-new Ford test drive vehicles, and points to a small, well-worn trailer that carries a pump and a modest water tank.

It looks like something a young entrepreneur would use to start a modest mobile car washing business.

And then Holguin points to a sign and spells out what RMD originally stood for.

“Ralph’s Mobile Detailing,” he says, pointing again at the trailer, the basis for the car washing business he founded when he was 19. “That’s the guy that started it all.”

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Automobiles still play a big role in Holguin’s business operations. But now, he’s designing and operating experiential customer interactive displays for Ford Motor Co. And huge automobile corporations are only part of RMD Group’s client portfolio. RMD designs and executes customer interactive operations for a wide variety of clients, from Callaway golf clubs to Red Bull energy drinks.

The company knows its business – it was among Event Marketer’s Top 100 agencies in 2012. “We don’t know if the RMD crew sleeps, but we know they get it done,” the magazine wrote. Not only does RMD now occupy a substantial chunk of Long Beach commercial space, it employs 52 people full-time in Long Beach and its San Jose office and has 170 part-time employees across the nation that it calls on to do marketing events from coast to coast.

RMD moved into its new Long Beach location on South Street near Cherry Avenue early in January. Shortly afterward, Holguin and Chief Operating Officer Laura Gonzalez (you want edgy from your marketing agency? Gonzales owns and rides a 162-horsepower, 170 mile-per-hour Suzuki GSX-R1000 sport bike. Edgy enough?) spoke to the Business Journal about the company and its move to Long Beach.

RMD is not a traditional advertising agency. It specializes in what it calls experiential marketing services. It’s not about beating customers over the head and exhorting them to reach into their wallets and purses right now, but about building an understanding of the client’s brand, Holguin says.

“Our key focus is to bring brands to life,” he continues. “We design and build campaigns around certain brands and then take them out to the consumer and give them life – to allow consumers to engage and interact with our brands. It’s a pretty unique experience.”

One recent example of what RMD excels at: The “pop-up” stores for Ford throughout San Francisco. RMD designed and executed a series of boutiques in small street-level retail shops in the city, basing the theme for each on a particular vehicle. The stores became a blend of art gallery, interactive learning experience about Ford vehicles and kids’ play space where local artists were encouraged to exhibit their work. After a month, the “pop-up” stores were dismantled, leaving behind a significantly increased awareness of the brand and its technology.

The idea, Gonzalez says, was to give potential customers a way to explore Ford products in a comfortable, interesting environment, and let the customer dictate the terms of engagement, she says.

“Nowadays, with all the different platforms for consumers to engage with brands and services, most people can’t even make heads or tails of all the stuff that’s happening, and they’re constantly being bombarded with information and options,” Gonzalez says. “I think one of the things that experiential [marketing] allows us to do on a very different level is to engage one-on-one with consumers and to make sense of all the information they’ve been seeing or hearing and make it relatable, make it relevant to them. It’s about creating a space that is not intrusive and that allows you to make your assessment about this in a really free space where you get a chance to touch and feel the product and hear about it.

“It’s not just whether this product or the service will meet their need, but will it make them feel good? Will they feel that the brand aligns with some of their ideals, their ideas? Sometimes it’s beyond just touting the product or service. It’s about letting someone know that this brand cares, this is what they’re about. [Experiential marketing] is about bringing out the personality of the product that sometimes seems a little out of touch to people.”

This does more than simply create a valuable emotional connection with the customer. It provides an opportunity for real-time feedback from potential clients. And if the space feels safe and comfortable, the feedback is honest and direct.

Ralph Holquin is the CEO of the RMD Group, a full-service experiental agency.
(Photograph by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville)

“You’re having a genuine conversation,” Holguin says. “That conversation is a little more heartfelt. It really is the engagement that you have with the consumer that allows you to have an emotional opportunity with them and they express their feelings. It allows an amazing insight to what the consumer is thinking.”

“And we have the ability,” Gonzalez says, “to instantly have that dialogue with the consumer and get that information so much faster than market research and advertising and all that other stuff that you have to wait for, and you have to trust another agency. I mean, we are literally, on the ground, with our ears to the ground, knowing exactly what consumers feel about the brand. It allows us to get information very quickly to the brands.”

Having their ears to the ground brought RMD Group to Long Beach. The agency’s needs were unique – it needed a lot of space to do things like mock-ups of car displays. And the agency wanted to have all of its operations in one place.

“Creating a space where we could be all together was important,” Holguin says. “One of the things that we’re really proud of is that we’re a full, in-house agency. That means we offer everything from print to fabrication to customization to development of the campaign, modeling, 3-D renders to activating it out in the field. So for us to be under one roof, with our production team, our fabrication team and our print team, was very important. We needed a big space.”

What they found in Long Beach was more than just a big space. They found city officials who were enthusiastic about welcoming RMD to the neighborhood. And the history of the building itself sealed the deal. “This building was used by the Police Department’s youth services,” Gonzalez says. “They used to bring inner-city kids here and provide all types of outlets – this actually was a basketball court here in the middle. You’ll still see some traces, some reminders of it – our bathrooms and showers!

“What we thought was important – what sold us was that I really believe that places carry on energy that was previously there. We’re hoping that the spirit of play, of laughter, remains. A lot of what we do is about evoking human emotions, connecting people on a very visceral level with the brand. We think it’s important for our employees to remember that, and to always keep that spirit.”

In short, RMD invested in the building – in part – because of its history in the community. And RMD is investing in what it sees as the future of North Long Beach.

“After having conversations with the local councilmembers and adjoining councilmembers, and having the great opportunity to meet with important people from the city, listening to their passion and commitment to revitalize this area, we decided to buy into the dream, too,” Gonzalez says.

“We believe we got front-row tickets to what we believe will be a revitalized area. The city has been amazing in the way they’ve opened their arms, and the community is excited. It’s awesome, and we feed off of that energy.”