How much does the name of your business matter?

Chris Catliff | BCBusiness
Rather than gradual change, Chris Catliff swung for the fences.

And how much should you sacrifice to score the title you really want?

In October 2013, Traci Myles and Melissa Harris got together to launch a new wedding planning company. Thinking about the entire process of wedding planning from blueprints to realization led them to what seemed the perfect name for their new business: The Wedding Architects. Off they went to Small Business BC to register the name—and then trouble. It turned out that using the word “architects” required permission from the Architectural Institute of B.C. “We waited for months,” Myles recalls, “contacting them every two weeks or so.”

Finally came the verdict: permission denied. AIBC believed that the name could lead to confusion. “As if people might think our company built wedding structures, like churches,” Myles says, “or maybe gazebos.”

Myles and Harris hired a lawyer to appeal the case to the AIBC. “We researched other businesses that use the word, like ‘landscape architects.’”

A letter of appeal was sent to the AIBC. Eventually the organization reversed itself. The Wedding Architects were free to start building their business. “If it had required a court case we wouldn’t have proceeded,” Myles says. “But for a couple thousand dollars it was well worth it.”

A name can also become a handicap for an established business. The North Shore Credit Union had been doing business under that name since 1941. But, by 2013, the company’s business and its business plan had shifted. “The name just didn’t match the business anymore,” says CEO Chris Catliff. “Seventy-four per cent of our business is not on the North Shore.”

Catharine Downes, assistant vice-president of marketing, says the public image of credit unions as small, community-based organizations had also become a handicap. “Our business model involves sophisticated wealth management and financial planning, highly personalized services with a boutique flavour,” she says. “That doesn’t fit credit unions in the public mind. The North Shore name was loved by locals, but it was a barrier for potential clients elsewhere.”

The idea for a rebranding was first discussed at least 10 years ago. Any new name would have to clear legal and regulatory hurdles, be trademark-able and available in a variety of domain names. The company held focus groups with clients and prospective clients—the second group being key. The list was narrowed to five names and another 10 focus groups were conducted. “Blue Shore Financial came out number one in every group,” Downes says.

Picking the name was just the beginning. Thousands of documents, legal agreements, stationery, brochures and signs needed changing, in addition to the company’s online presence. And a strategy was needed for how the change would take place—gradual or sudden? The company chose the latter. “We wanted to do it as cleanly as possible,” Downes says.

Which still required a lot of advance work. Employees were briefed, then in May 2013, clients were informed of the coming change and told why it was happening. “That way even if they don’t like the new name, at least they’ve been given an explanation.”

The actual change happened in September 2013. Downes says there’s been no customer confusion. “Anecdotally the response has been positive,” she says. Blue Shore—which last year had $3.1 billion in assets under administration—was a featured sponsor of the 2014 Sun Run and has advertised extensively to establish its new brand. Total cost of the rebranding is hard to estimate, Downes says, because some of the costs of replacing supplies (stationery, business cards, brochures) would have been incurred anyway. “But we can confirm the cost of the new name was at least several million dollars.”

Has the new name meant new business? “We don’t have numbers yet,” Downes says. But the company is growing. “We know it certainly hasn’t hurt.”