Better Business: Should You Change Your Shop’s Name?

Jul 20, 2012

Your shop’s name just isn’t working for you anymore. Maybe you’ve added new services, changed locations, lost or gained partners, so feel a new name will better fit everything your shop is or does today. Be aware that a new name may not be the fix you envision it to be, at least not without careful consideration.

“They really need to outline what the benefits of the new name are going to bring them [and] what is the change of positioning that’s inherent in the new name that was not available in the old name,” said Wendy Flanagan, president of Brand4Market, a marketing consulting firm based in Columbia, New Jersey.

Before changing their name, Flanagan suggests shops take a close look at how many people know their current name, how much business they get from referrals, and how much money they’ve invested in marketing and search engine optimization. Would a name change undo all of those efforts?

“It’s never done on a whim,” she said. “Anybody who changes the name of the company just because, ‘I’ve got a better name,’ either their original name was so poor that it was interfering with business or they just are not thinking of the ramifications of what they’re doing, especially now with so much invested online.”

Here, three shops at different stages of the name-changing process share how they came to this decision, offering insights and advice that can help you answer the tough question: Should I change the name of my shop?

Fourth Time’s the Charm

Raymond Klaver‘s automotive machine shop has had four names during the course of its 45-year history.

The business was founded as Heads by Ray in the late 1960s. When Klaver moved the business to Alabama 30 years ago, he wanted a name that tied in to his new location and showcased all the services his shop offered, so changed the name to Southern Automotive Engineering.

“I didn’t want to have my name attached to the business any longer and when I left Michigan, I wanted something to try to relate to the area, so I went with Southern and dropped the Heads by Ray,” the owner of the Guntersville, Alabama, shop said. “Also, Heads by Ray kind of insinuate[d] that I did cylinder head work and didn’t do complete engines.”

From there, it changed to Southern Auto Marine and Engineering, and, finally, to its current name of Southern Marine and Automotive in 1990.

As the name changed, Klaver worked to keep the logos similar.

“I think the biggest challenge in my case was trying to keep the logo looking as close as possible so that when you had the logo out there, even with the name change, people would still focus on the logo and try to recognize it rather than read the name right away,” he said. “Just keeping the logo recognition I think was the biggest decision and hardest thing to do.”

Finding the right name to best represent his shop’s offerings wasn’t Klaver’s only motivation for changing the name.

In one instance, the name had to be changed because Alabama law states a business can use “engineering” in its name only if it has an engineer on staff, according to Klaver.

For a time, his uncle filled that role, but the name had to be changed when he left.

“I had three name changes down here and that was due to partner breakups and my uncle -¦ opt[ing] out of the company, so I lost the engineering portion of it,” he said. “That, just as far as I know, is an Alabama thing that you have to have a licensed engineer, there might be other states that require that so it might be something that if you’re going to put engineering in your name, you might want to check with the state and make sure they don’t have some kind of -¦ requirement.”

For each name change, Klaver worked with local, state and federal government agencies to properly update his licenses and IDs.

“The first time, we probably [took] a couple of weeks,” he said. “After that, it was a little bit easier, we got it done within a week or so because [we] knew where to go and who to contact.”

Klaver is done changing the name of his shop. His experience navigating through three name changes has taught him this is a decision that needs to be taken seriously.

“If you’re staying in the same location, I would really think it over and make sure that you’re not going to shoot yourself in the foot and have to start all over again,” he said. “Choose a new name wisely. Stay away from attaching your personal name to the business because if you ever decided to sell it, your name goes with it.”

A True Representation

Corbett’s Auto Restoration & Customs is about to go through the fifth name change in its 22-year history.

Unlike the past name changes, which saw words added to or taken from the Corbett’s Auto name, this time the shop’s owners are starting from scratch to come up with a name that best represents everything the shop does today.

“A lot of times we seem to get confused [by customers], like we’re a car lot or a general repair shop, because the company started out as just a general repair shop,” said Michael Faucher, who co-owns the Cherryville, North Carolina, shop with his wife. “[The name] just didn’t seem to engage the potential customer as to what we were doing.”

Faucher and his wife started thinking about changing the name of the shop, which was founded by her father, a year-and-a-half ago.

“Mainly, it was just a lot of brainstorming, trying to figure out…what would portray what we do and try[ing] to come up with something that is edgy but won’t seem dated five, 10 years in the future,” Faucher said of the process he and his wife have been through over the last year-and-a-half. “I wanted to try to have something that seems edgy and current but would stand the test of time and not date itself, and be short and simple and easily remembered.”

Faucher has found that name but isn’t ready to reveal it. He does anticipate multiple benefits once the new name is launched.

“Being identifiable with the service that we provide and moving away from the more generic [is a benefit],” he said. “The name now, because it gets shortened so often to just Corbett’s Auto, that seems very generic and that we just do the same thing as everyone else does. I want to differentiate us from other shops because the way we handle our customers, the way we go about performing a task on a car is nothing like anyone else, so I want everything to be different.”

Even though he’s ready to take on this new identity, Faucher still wants to embrace the history of his multigenerational family run business.

“I plan not to shy away from the old name but embrace that we were Corbett’s Auto and now [have] the new name and hope that will alleviate any problems from having the new name,” he said.

Faucher is currently working on a new logo to go along with the new name.

He’s going launch a new website (he already owns the domain for the new name) and Facebook page.

He’s also preparing for the paperwork he’ll have to do with various local, state and federal government agencies, though admits he’s not looking forward to it. Because of the time he and his wife took to pick this new name, Faucher is confident it will still work for the shop in 20 years. He advises other shops take their time in making this decision, too.

“I would just say take some time to figure out what it is you really do, what is important, and pick a name that embraces all of that,” he said.

A Unified Brand

Robert Traphagan added a speed shop to his marine business about five years ago and named the addition Midwest Hot Rods & Muscle Cars. He chose the straightforward name after attending an internet marketing seminar.

“It said, as far as search engines are concerned, if you had what you did as part of your name and a region, that would help as far as SEO goes, so that’s how I came up with it,” the owner of the Norfolk, Nebraska, shop said.

Now, Traphagan is considering finding one name for both businesses, which are run out of the same space and share staff.

“What I would like to do is to incorporate more of what I do [in the name] because I don’t do much with the muscle car side of it, [I] primarily deal with hot rods and the boat business, so it would be nice to have just one name,” he said. “I’d like to have something shorter, easier to remember, easier to type in as far as when [customers are] looking for stuff on the computer.”

Though the web wasn’t a consideration when he named his marine business 30 years ago, Traphagan did choose a name that’s simple, straightforward and easy to remember-”The Boat Shop.

“When I started this place, I just called it The Boat Shop because that’s what everybody said anyway, they’re just going to go down to the boat shop,” he said. “When I worked at other dealerships, when talking to people they would say, ‘I’m going to the boat shop,’ so I thought no matter what I named it, that’s what they’re going to call it anyway, so I just called it The Boat Shop. It seemed to work for me.”

Though Traphagan is certain he’ll change the name of his speed shop, he’s only 50 percent sure The Boat Shop’s name will change, too.

“I can see a lot [of drawbacks] because of the fact that once you’re established underneath that particular name and you’re associated with that name, any change would confuse customers,” he said. “They may think that I would not be here, [that] it might be somebody else. I’m pretty much the business, it’s built around me.”

Traphagan hasn’t selected a new name yet but does have parameters he’d like the name to fit into.

“When you think of branding, it’s usually associated with one, two or three words, rarely any longer than that,” he said. “I would need to tie in something with the marine dealership and with the hot rods, and I just really haven’t come up with anything that’s clever and unique and that I like.”

Based on the time he’s spent researching and considering a name change, Traphagan has advice for shops thinking about make the same move.

“I would tell anybody to think long and hard about it because it can be quite difficult and it can be costly to try to convert it over to a different name,” he said. “You would have to do it slowly and probably in your marketing and advertising use the previous name as well as the new name.”

Online Resource

The Small Business Administration published the article “How to Change Your Business Name-Legal and Regulatory Steps Explained” to share the proper legal steps to follow when changing the name of your shop.

The article, which includes links to the various government agencies you need to notify of your name change, can be found at www.sba.gov/community/blogs/how-change-your-business-name–“-legal-and-regulatory-steps-explained.