Monday, March 3, 2008

Changing It Up: Why Rename Your Business?

I received an email over the weekend from one of my vendors announcing the company’s name change and additions of new products.

While I’m excited about the new products, I’m finding myself really irritated at the name change.

Firstly, their products are among my best-selling items. So a name change put me at risk of losing repeat business from my customers.

Secondly, it’s more work for me. I have to acquire new product images, format and upload them, as well as update the company bio on my webstore. Those aren’t difficult tasks, but they’re a grand waste of time when I have so many other things to do. (Like many a small business owner, I’m beginning to more frequently ask: what’s in it for me?)

The company had a difficult-to-pronounce name to begin with, but the new one isn’t an improvement. The first name evokes the emotion of love, which tied in well with the product line of luxurious, conscientious, organic skin care products. But the new name sounds like a bastardized version of the Italian word for “baby.” The new company name has a way different mouth feel, sound and visual impact. And it loses that emotional suggestion and doesn’t replace it with anything more evocative or relevant.

So what made them do it?

I will call them and ask (and try to be supportive), but in the meantime, I’m noodling it on my own and coming up with nothing.

Consultants suggest that business owners only change their business names if they need to change direction, put the past behind (as in the case of negative publicity or scandal), or to be more clear and descriptive of what the business actually does. But none of those reasons seems to apply in this case.

My supplier has been in business only about two years, so part of me wondered if it isn’t part of the process of maturing. Like a toddler who finds his voice and screams “no” to the world of authority, is a 2-year-old name change a step in clarifying a business’s identity?

Or is it, as one British branding expert suggests, a mistake of vanity? Looking from the outside in as a customer, it does seem like a selfish thing to do. But knowing what I do about how thoughtfully my supplier approaches the business, I doubt it. There must be something going on. Perhaps a trademark issue?

That was the case for a local Portland manufacturer and retail boutique, Poppi Swim. In business for only a few years, they recently changed their name to Popina Swim not too long ago. When I saw that announcement in the newspaper, I had to scratch my head then, too. Why bother? Rebranding your business to make such a minor name alteration couldn't happen for no reason. And it didn't. According to Popina's archived winter newsletter, difficulties in acquiring a trademark for "Poppi" mandated the change.

Regardless of the motivation, renaming your business is not an inexpensive choice. The costs add up not only in potentially lost customers who can no longer find you, but in new signage, labels, stationery, marketing collateral, advertisements, website redesign and more. It can easily run you $10K in just those expenses alone.

Before you start dreaming up a new name for your business, consider whether that money wouldn't be better spent in advertising and promoting the one you already have.

How about you? What stories can you share about the pros and cons of renaming a business?

Want to learn more about lessons learned in the trademark process? Check out the cool retro swimwear by Popina Swim and visit their blog for the full story and advice on how to avoid trademark pitfalls as a start-up.

Recommended Reading:

Change Your Business’ Name: 7 Issues” at the Microsoft Small Business Center

Changing Your Business Name” at

Changing your business’ name” at

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