What’s in a Company Name?
Raymond Earl was forced to spend $15,000 to completely rebrand his company after letting his website URL lapse.
If you Google the term “smart systems” there are nearly a dozen integration companies from all across the world that show up. There are also a handful of software development firms, a few website design firms, a couple of project management/IT companies and one gambling website.
It’s that gambling website that a few years ago was the primary source of consternation for Raymond Earl, who had been operating his own custom integration company under the name SmartSystems in Atascadero, Calif., since 1984. Just as Earl was planning to freshen up his brand, his website URL was snagged. What followed was an unplanned odyssey that cost $15,000 to change his company identity, including logo development, business cards, contracts, direct mail and vehicle skins, along with the website, of course.
But despite the cost and the challenges, in the end the re-branding actually reinvigorated the entire company and led to even more success.
Losing the URL
Back in 2009, Earl had been contemplating a name change for his company based on all the other Google “noise” surrounding the name. It had been the corporate name since 1996.
“There were too many of ‘us,’” he recalls in reference to the SmartSystems name. Earl says his oft-used company name even became a point of confusion with vendors when he was ordering products. “We got others’ invoices and I assume they got ours.”
With that as a backdrop, along with a sense that the “look” of the company logo, brochures, etc., needed updating and had become dated, Earl came to the conclusion in 2009 that a company name change was in order. That’s when the you-know-what hit the fan.
“I had been doing some preliminary research and had come up with some graphic ideas but had been too busy to take the next steps. That changed when our website URL expired and instantly someone snapped it up and put up a gambling page. The problem was we couldn’t find who they were. Our domain registrar was useless and I had no choice but to implement an immediate change to the new name and contact everyone,” he says.
Ironically, about six months later, Earl was contacted by the URL squatter asking if he wanted to buy it back for “an absurd sum, but by then I was no longer interested,” he adds.
Thus, Raymond Earl Design (RED) was born. The acronym was ideal for the new company name because it expressed the individuality of a small business run by an entrepreneur. The name also suggests to customers that they are likely to get highly personal customer service because the owner’s name is emblazoned on everything.
Raymond Earl Design (RED)
Location: Atascadero, Calif.
Principal: Raymond Earl, president
Years in Business: 29
Number of Employees: 5
Specialty: Multi-Room A/V, Home Theater
Top 5 Brands: Savant, Totem, RTI, Crestron, Lutron
FYI: It’s a tough business and getting tougher all the time. You better know your tech stuff, be a good manager and customer focused as well as having the capital to finance your jobs and business.
A Laundry List of Changes
But where do you start when you have to change your entire brand identity? Think about the daunting task of starting from scratch on a new logo, business cards, trucks, signage, yellow page ad, brochures, website, showroom, etc., while running your business all at the same time.
Fortunately, RED does not have a showroom. Earl has been there and done that, and found with his last showroom that it became nothing more than an office, storage and tech facility.
For the rebranding, the website was the first priority and proved to be the biggest cost. And the change did not go smoothly.
“The biggest cost was a new website to go along with the new name,” admits Earl. “We put up the old website temporarily with an explanation, but obviously were working overtime to get a new site up and going. I began working on a website with one of the companies that specializes in A/V but it was obvious that they were incapable of delivering what they promised on the schedule we agreed on. Once the contract was signed they quickly put up one of their standard template home pages and there the work stopped. Further, they did not have an exit clause in their contract, only ‘satisfaction guaranteed.’ It was one of the top two worst companies I’ve dealt with in the business.”
Earl hired a separate web designer and in about 30 days the new website was up, and then perfected over the next few months.
Besides the website, the rebranding was relatively inexpensive … just business cards and vehicle logos.
“I decided not to print a new brochure right away, just direct people to the new website. The next item was advertising and I immediately started doing TV commercials to familiarize people with the new name. Everyone knows me so when I appeared in the commercial they made the connection. I immediately started getting positive feedback through calls, emails and personal contact,” he says.
Earl also sent out direct mail and emails to his existing customer list. In the communication, he openly told them the story of what happened with the website URL squatter, which resulted in a boatload of sympathy. Very little, if any, “damage control” was necessary.
“Everyone was understanding and positive … everyone. Unfortunately, most people have been taken advantage of at one time or another and remember the feelings. Everyone feels these unscrupulous people should be publicly flogged at the minimum,” he says.
Other than the website, Earl says the biggest challenge was switching over all the peripheral, non-marketing-related materials, like contracts and other documents.
“I think I’m still redoing manufacturers’ paperwork. The banking and other business paperwork was really a job unto itself for a long time,” he adds.
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at email@example.com
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