Q. We are thinking of changing the name of our garden maintenance firm to reflect the fact that we are hoping to attract more landscape work. The present name indicates that we only carry out mowing and hedging contracts. Are there any names we should avoid?
A. Changing the name of any firm can prove expensive in terms of money and the loss of public recognition, at least in the short term. I understand that you have been operating for more than four years and have a number of regular clients whom you service throughout the year. There should be no problems encountered with those customers, as a simple letter explaining your decision and the reasoning behind it should not cause any concern. Indeed, you may even attract additional projects from those same customers who did not appreciate the scope of your talents.
The renamed business should be considered a new enterprise, although you will probably be using the same "establishment" of bankers, accountants, offices, base/yard etc, but with new signage and public face. It is, however, extremely important that you choose a name that accurately reflects your services and offer to the marketplace in which you wish to attract new business.
You are changing the name for a specific marketing campaign, albeit a permanent foundation for your new organisation. Landscaping is a very much wider field of operation than purely garden maintenance and many successful firms become specialists in one or more types of work. For this reason it is vital to choose a name that you feel very comfortable with. You may like to carry out some in-house research with your employees, family and friends, and involve them in deciding the new name.
You may find the pronunciation of a certain name or phrase is difficult to announce on the telephone. If you are tongue-tied or incoherent when answering calls, you have probably made the wrong choice. Take your time over the exercise and you will be well rewarded. Care should be taken to avoid giving the impression that you will limit the services you intend to offer, such as "Water Gardens" or "Paving and Walling". Equally important is avoiding an offer that oversells your ability and causes disappointment when you decline certain projects as being beyond your skills base.
It is often advisable not to appear too general or too large a business in your choice of name by including the name of a large city or region when in fact you only wish to attract customers from a much narrower base. I know of several fairly small firms with a county or region in their title and despite their size they do not suffer any disillusioned customers because they are prepared to cover those areas.
Straplines and subtext
Very often, a strapline or subtext may be used - for example, a South West regional title with a strapline announcing "serving the Bristol area" would prove an attractive lure to invite potential clients in that area in a way that indicates that the company is large and competent enough to service a larger area than simply "Bristol". The distinct impression will of a solid and reliable firm, able to cope with whatever landscape project clients wish to have constructed.
If you already have a suitable name - one that does not necessarily tie you down to mowing or hedge cutting - then why not add the word "Landscapes" or "Landscaping" to your title? Or "and Landscapes", for example? I appreciate that in your particular case this is not possible and it illustrates the point I made earlier regarding your choice of name.
Imagine that at some time in the future, you may wish to sell your business. Try to think as a prospective purchaser. What name do you think you could sell? Irrespective of the success of the firm, what name would attract a buyer who would want to continue using the name? That is the benchmark by which you should decide your new title.
There are quite a few firms around the country who share the same name. I can think of several "Town & Country", "Evergreen", "Four Seasons" and "All Season"-type names. While they may be completely acceptable, these sorts of names are not going to prove as attractive as a unique and appropriate company title.
Avoid attempts to compete with another firm whose owners have strong feelings about exclusivity. I can think of a few companies that have taken great umbrage and spent a fortune on legal fees in an attempt to prevent new businesses from calling themselves anything that even vaguely sounds like their own brand name.
It is not only firms such as Goodwood, Harrods or Rolls Royce that have successfully fought off "near name"-type businesses but others who have launched expensive law suits against start-up or small companies that have tried to describe their work and expertise in suitable language and words in a genuine and sensible manner only to find themselves involved in heavy costs and problems with established outfits.
To this end, carefully check by all means possible and ensure that your chosen new business title does not clash with any other, even in sound - such as "Archedeck Timber" and "Arkadeck Timber" or "Hardwood" and "Hard Wood". Thus, before you change your company name, make careful checks to avoid any unnecessary problems.
Alan Sargent is an independent gardens consultant at the School of Garden Management
- See www.tsogm.org
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