Choosing a Business Name

Catchy? Unique? Descriptive? At the front of the alphabet? Company owners discuss the value of a good business monicker. February 17, 2006

Is choosing a name for your business that important? Will one name bring in more business than another? Is a quirky name better than just using your name for the business? What about standing out above the competition? If anyone has ideas or thoughts on choosing a name, please discuss them.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor G:
Your business name may be the first thing a customer experiences, perhaps long before meeting you. It serves as the foundation of your business and should be solid, as it supports your marketing. It is also the thing least likely to change about your business. Ask yourself what impressions customers will get from hearing it. Will they understand what you do? How big you are? Pick a name that leaves room for growth. XYZ Woodworking rather than XYZ Custom Shutters. If you are well known and have a good reputation, you can use your own name; otherwise, try to pick one that people will remember. Pick a name that will be the same as your website and register it even if you donít plan a website just yet. Also Ė pick a name thatís easy to say and easy to spell. Youíll be saying it often and donít want to trip your tongue.

From contributor T:
Pick a name that is easy to find in a phone book, says what you do, and can be used in a website. Putting your own surname in the title is probably okay if you want to emphasize yourself in the title. "Billybob's Better Cabinets" is great as long as Bill is around, but it might cause a handicap for the next owner. My company is called ACME & SON. It seems to cover all the bases.

From contributor G:
Anybody who's ever watched a Road Runner cartoon knows the Acme Co. Great free advertising idea there.

From contributor B:
I think the company name is very important. A few years ago I had a company named Smith Home Improvement Technicians. My business card had the motto "You're in good hands when you hire S.H.*.T. for brains." The business never really took off for some reason...

From contributor R:
A-Grade Cabinets put me on top in the yellow pages. Problem is, the nuts call me first.

From contributor U:
Most shops around here simply use their name and get all the business they need. Bill's Custom Cabinets, Steve's Cabinet Shop, etc. I chose to be a bit light-hearted and wanted something nobody could forget. My last name is Butler and my business is called The Bulter Did It! The name gets positive comments every day. But it hasn't made me any more successful than anyone else. It may be that things are different in these rural areas. But around here, it doesn't matter what you're called or even how well you build cabinets, it's how much you charge. That's why most all of my work is by referral. I win less than 10% of what I bid on.

Whatever you choose to name it, the public has to see that name more than any others. Yard signs, vehicle lettering, continued ads, ads on restaurant menus, football schedules, etc. Appear to be everywhere all the time and folks will think you're busy, busy, busy. If you're busy, you must be good... It also helps keep the cheapie shoppers away because folks assume you're a full-blown, legit shop and therefore higher than Tom's Cabinet Shop. As a general rule - nothing is 100% in selling.

From contributor W:
Naming a business is the first critical step in building a brand. And branding is the real result of good marketing, even at the micro-business level. No, you don't have to be Proctor and Gamble to build a great brand. Because, for a business like yours, the whole company is what you're branding... not a specific product.

Typically, there are three ways to name a company. The first and most obvious is to name it for the founder/owner. It is the easiest, requires the least thought, and typically does the least for you. Tough to build any sort of brand identity around JimBob's Really Spiffy Cabinets.

The second is to name the company after the product or service. Still an easy choice, but (again) not especially effective. AAA Cabinets and Millwork will put up high in the yellow pages, but isn't going to stick in someone's mind for long.

The final method is the best one, and the hardest. It's coming up with a conceptual name for the business that is memorable, unique and which doesn't limit what you can do in 5 years when you outgrow what you're doing now. (If you're going to do custom millwork or furniture, you don't want the word "cabinet" in the name.)

Several things can make doing that easier. First, think about how you can turn the name into something graphic. For example, The Great Oak Craftsmen or The Sequoia Studio both lend themselves to a tree graphic. Those are both unlikely to be confused with someone else in your area, too, which is the value of a unique name. And both begin to be much more memorable than those of most of your competitors.

Second, recognize that building brand identity (what marketers call brand equity) builds the value of your business without tying it solely to you. If you've aspirations to build a business that you can actually sell when you're ready for whatever's next, the greater the brand equity, the more valuable the business and the more likely it is that you can sell it for more than the value of tools and inventory. If the name Great Oak Craftsmen (and the nifty Great Oak logo/symbol inside the drawers and doors of each of your finished products/projects) carries a real cache' in your area (as opposed to the same quality of product from JimBob who was forgotten 3 years after the delivery/installation), it will translate into continuing referrals and queries for you, a preference for your "branded" work (as opposed to JimBob's high quality but nameless work) and a market presence ("share of mind" in marketing speak) that has real value.

Third, don't be fearful of something unusual. Avoid the terms "Quality" and "Discount" like the plague. Research shows that neither is memorable, both are very widely used, and customers confuse the two. Seriously. Customers who got bids from Quality Cabinets often can't remember whether that was the company name, or whether it was Discount Cabinets. Avoid the term "Wood" if you can, too, for the same reason.

Fourth, recognize that you want to strike an emotional chord with your customers if you can. Good marketers are good story-tellers. And that's true even if the story is just implied by the name. If the name resonates with you, if it gives you a sense of warmth, authenticity, substance, or flair, you're on the right track.

From contributor M:
I started with my last name and the name of the previous woodlot owners (which just happens to be my wife's maiden name). The old Southwell farm was well known in our community. My last name happens to be Wood, so it became a little difficult to omit the word "wood" if I wished to use my last name. Before I registered the name locally, I played with the sound of it and threw it out in the community for a while. South Wood Ranch Furniture, since we call the homestead Southwood Ranch. But we live in the Northeast, not the southwest, so it never quite fit with our surroundings. However, I make rustic log furniture, and I include southwest designs in my files, though it is not the only type I manufacture. Cut to the chase; I dropped the Ranch and insisted on "log" because it is a furniture style that is not limited to a specific product, and simply called it South Wood Log Furniture. Easy, fairly memorable, and has the added benefit that as it (the product) is marketed locally, the competition remains some distance off with an outrageous lead time. Right product, right place and time, I guess.

From contributor H:
My take on it is that you need to decide which you want to be first - a marketer or a craftsman. Or a craftsmen and a marketer. Do you want to keep it small and keep it all? Or go all out and spend all your time in the office managing the business and almost no time in the shop?

If you want to be a craftsman and make a decent living, don't be afraid to put your name on your business or your work. It shows you have pride and confidence in who and what you are and do.

If you want to make more than a decent living, then get in the trenches with the marketing MBAs and set up a production shop. The risks are higher, investors/banks/lease companies to pay, pricey high tech machinery, payroll taxes, but so are the rewards.

There is a place in between the two scenarios I described. That's where I and many others are. The mid-sized shops. The shops with less than 5-10 employees. Many have their family name, town name, or area name tied to their business somehow. Some really big
companies do, too! The phonebook proves it. Examples are Dow Jones, Procter & Gamble, Ford, Olds, Edison, Bell, Dupont.

It is the quality of your product that provides longevity to your business. It is your best advertising. Some folks can market and sell water to a drowning man, but they can only do it once. He's not going to come back for another drink.:)

From contributor J:
When I started, I used my last name - Laycock Custom Trim & Furniture - but when I incorporated, I wanted something that didn't depend on me in case I ever sold the business. I was always service oriented, so I went with Woodworking Services, Inc. Then, I started retailing and wholesaling hardwood lumber, but realized nobody would go to Woodworking Services, Inc to get some lumber. I had just moved into an old school for my shop, then filled it with lumber, so Old School Lumber Co, Inc. became the new name, with "Hardwood lumber sales and woodworking services" as a tag line. I use a handscrew clamp with boards as my logo and a sign for the shop. The name fits the "old school" way of doing things, and projects a mental picture of quality and care, which most of my customers appreciate. I've seen some shops have a poorly chosen name and then struggle to get work, even though they build nice cabinets. That may not be the only reason, but it would be a big hurdle to overcome.

From contributor N:
One thing to consider... By including your name in your business name, you are committing to marketing yourself. This can be a very good thing, as far as developing your personal reputation, and charting your career path/growth. I have talked to two other business owners in craft-related fields, both who wish that they had included their name in their business name.

It can also be a bad thing, because, as mentioned earlier, it could inhibit the future liquidity of your enterprise. Although there are plenty of last-name companies who have done okay for themselves. Carrier, Reznor, Ford, Oldsmobile are a few that come to mind. Overall I think the benefits outweigh the negatives. Unless your name is Lipshitz. I hope I haven't offended any Lipshitzes with this comment.

From contributor L:
I think it's hard to go wrong with your own name as the name of the business - the bigger question is what else to include. When I started out, I copied Thomas Moser and called my business Paul Downs Cabinetmakers - which is fine, but I have used many, many hours since explaining to people that we don't actually make cabinets. My experience has been that naming the business after the owner doesn't impact on its worth - value in business is measured by a lot of other factors besides the name. Since you are presumably building your business on the notion of craftsmanship, I would avoid tacky names (Kwality Kustom Kabinets, or others of that ilk), and personally I don't care for cutesy names. (Like the guy named Charles who calls his shop Wood Chuck, etc.) But it's going to be between you and your clients, and I would guess that tolerance for different names varies greatly with location. One other option would be to name the shop after its location (Berkeley Mills, North Bennett Street School). I think that plain, straightforward, sensible names project an image of down-to-earth craftsmanship better than more creative names.

From contributor W:
Contributor P's feedback is good, and doesn't surprise me. I'm certain he has spent hours having to explain that he doesn't build cabinets. And he's right that plain straightforward names will convey a sense of down to earth craftsmanship. The question is more fundamental, though. Is "down to earth craftsmanship" what you want to convey? How you answer that should depend less on your opinion than it does on what would draw your potential customer to you rather than to your competitor.

If you assume (as I did) that you're going to do first quality work and that your competitor will also do the same (both of you producing work whose quality is at least high enough to meet or exceed what the customer can differentiate between), then the exercise is how do you convey those qualities about your firm that will draw a customer to call you rather than the other guy? A little homework will tell you.

Whatever your particular product, spend a few hours talking to people who fit the profile of your optimal customer. Ask them to describe the kind of firm that would appeal to them. And listen for the adjectives. That will give you clues not only about what to name the company, but also the messages that you need to send when talking to potential customers or trying to attract them through whatever advertising or sales promotion you do.

One final thought: If you are going to name the company for yourself, then go whole hog and build the brand identity around yourself. Consider using a cartoon or caricature of yourself (arms crossed, smiling, leaning against the workbench kind of thing) as your logo. Focus attention on you. You're trying to build a preference not for good or great work, but for *your* work. When the value of your work is the standard against which others are measured (however your preferred customer market defines value), you're succeeding in building brand equity. That's clearly what contributor P has done.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the great insight and responses. It has definitely helped me to begin thinking in the right direction. I hope I can return the favor sometime soon.

From contributor A:
When I chose the name for my company three years ago, I did so with only two things in mind:
1. That it would communicate what I do
2. Most important, that it would be easy to remember and type out for a website.
Thus. Came: