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What’s in a Name?
The Importance in Naming Your Company
By Alexis Rubinstein

If you “can’t judge a book by its cover,” then what about its title? When it comes to your coffee business, finding the right name can be more important than one would think.

Ensuring a business’ success requires making a series of difficult decisions and critical choices. What quality product will you present? How affordable will that product be? These are all questions that must be answered with much consideration; answers that can affect the fate of your company. None, however are more important than, “what should we call it?”

Before the customer can critique the décor, judge the vibe, sample the selections or pocket the change, they read the name. Whether it be on an advertisement, printed review or the awning as they walk by the shop, it is the name that makes the first impression. While companies like Starbucks have become synonymous with coffee, it is the creatively named coffee shops, with their interesting stories that prove, as Lon LaFlamme of Dillanos Coffee Roasters in Sumner, Washington said, “Everything is in a name.”

While coffee has been consumed for centuries, the boom of retail shops is a new trend, with more salons, coffee bars and coffee/tea food pairings springing up internationally. Because the career itself is so new, in most cases, the owners of these establishments hadn’t originally planned on embarking on the coffee shop path. Alan Butts, owner of Coffee Crossing in New Albany, Indiana, “had always thought (dreamed) of owning my own café,” he said. “Before making the decision to open our shop I was doing individual bible study at local coffee shops. I would go to different ones all over our area. One night after leading a group of high school students in a small group at church, I stopped by the new construction of a strip mall in a fast growing area of town. I got out of my car, stepped inside a half-built building on the site, said a little prayer and made the decision to open a café.” Butts knew that research would be key to his success. “I read all I could find on the internet, subscribed to trade magazines, joined the SCAA, attended conferences and hired a consultant,” he said. “I wanted everything we did to be done with excellence.” With Butts’ passion and the assistance of his wife and her accounting skills, their start-up company would have a stand-up future. “My wife Mary’s background in accounting allowed her to set up and maintain all of our back office operations. What I didn’t know is how many start-ups fail because they do not have the expertise in this area; we were certainly blessed by our backgrounds.”

Much like Alan Butts, Ken Chappell of Django Coffee in Lebanon, Missouri, was in an unrelated field when his undeniable desire to open a coffee shop could be ignored no longer. “While working for a software company as a network engineer, I traveled for four years,” Chappell reminisced. “Every time I would go to a new place, I would scour the phonebook and then seek out all the local coffee houses I could. I had envisioned opening a coffee house when I retired, but soon got tired of waiting for someone to open a good coffee place in our town, so I thought, ‘why not me?’” For those who are brave enough to venture into the coffee retail sector, keep up with the worldwide mega-chains and prove that good coffee does not have to be a trend or a luxury, there is no better reward than leaving the cubicle behind. Or, the cockpit behind in Doug Hudson’s case, owner of Sky Coffee in Jesup, Georgia. The self proclaimed “jack of all trades and master of none,” Hudson’s passion for coffee started as a caffeinated pick-me up on his long shifts as a paramedic firefighter, and developed on his travels as a commercial pilot. “Different coffee flavors transported me to someplace else. It reminded me of being in that particular location, whether it be Kona or sitting in front of the Louvre in Paris. It gave me the idea that coffee can take you back to a place and time from your past.” That love for the drink, along with the lack of high quality coffee at the hospital where Hudson’s wife practiced became the motivation behind starting his own business.

Fergus Walsh, managing director of Wicked Coffee Company in the UK has been in the food sector all his working life. “When I left to set up a consultancy we were also looking for something that marked us out as being different and that concentrated on a quality-orientated side of the foodservice sector,” said Walsh. At the time, coffee at work continued to be hot, brown, instant liquid delivered in a cheap plastic cup from a vending machine. We felt that we could take the quality from the highstreet and introduce it to the office sector using the newly launched Bean to Cup machines.”

Whether you have industry experience or are entertaining the idea of opening up a shop from “out of left field,” the decision of choosing a name could be daunting. Naming a company, especially a coffee shop, is not like deciding on a title for a song, where you can strum up the melody and write all the lyrics before adding a line to the top of the page. The name of your business is the jumping off point; it will help with aesthetics, product selection, music choices, packaging designs - virtually all other aspects of your company can become dependent on the name.

“Naming your retail coffee and/or tea retail business based on your personal passion can ignite a highly contagious enthusiasm for your brand and company culture,” explains LaFlamme, one of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal’s Brand Coaches, who leads a seminar titled Brewing a Hot Brand. “While sometimes just using your last name, assuming it isn’t hard to read or sounds strange like mine, can be just the fuel needed to ignite a contagious pride when your doors open. Better yet, I guide people to follow their personal passion to their name.”

Hudson gives much of the credit of the naming of Sky Coffee to Lon LaFlamme. “I first wanted to name the place Doug’s Mugs,” Hudson chuckles. “But Lon said to me, ‘there is a story about you and people want to hear it.’ So, Sky Coffee for my love of flying seemed like a natural choice.” For Hudson’s company, as with other successfully named and branded shops, Sky Coffee is more than the letters on the front door, it is the basis behind every cup of coffee the store produces. From logo colors of old WWII posters to a nostalgic aviation interior, Hudson has thrived in sharing his enthusiasm with each of his customers.

Django’s Coffee may have a less obvious story behind it, but a relevant one all the same. “Django Reinhardt was an aspiring young guitar player in the 1930s,” reveals Chappell. “At the age of 18 he was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with his first wife. They were very poor, and had to supplement their income by making imitation flowers out of celluloid and paper. Consequently, their home was full of this highly flammable material. Returning from a performance late one night, Django apparently knocked over a candle on his way to bed. While his family and neighbors were quick to pull him to safety, he received first and second degree burns and multiple serious injuries. His doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and intended to amputate one of his legs. Reinhardt refused to have the surgery and left the hospital after a short time, he was able to walk within a year with the aid of a cane.” Despite paralyzed fingers and the odds against him, Django relearned his craft in a completely new way. “I’ve always been a fan of Django’s music, and being an amateur musician myself, felt that Django’s triumph over adversity was a great parallel for our brand. Everything on the menu has a musical tie-in. Sweet Georgia Brown, Minor Swing, G Strong Sting; all are examples from our menu. Our logo incorporates the slogan, ‘Coffee to get you into the swing of things.’”

Django coffee is a prime example of how a name is the foundation for a theme and marketing angle, incorporating the musical association at every opportunity. “Some of the menu items are kind of subtle,” said Chappell, “if you’re not a music fan at all, it may take you a minute to figure it out, though most of our customers get it right away.” As for the design of the space; “We have a giant picture of Django on our wall with his story written across the bottom. It’s great to see people read it and then grasp the whole musical theme. We have always provided live music on the weekends too, which only helps to reinforce our branding. We have many items with our logo such as T-shirts and mugs.”

Ironically, just as LaFlamme had helped Doug Hudson’s company flourish into Sky Coffee, he also had his say in the naming of Django Coffee. “We had considered several names for our business, but we knew it had to be a whole theme, not just a name. Lon LaFlamme of the Brand Coaches actually encouraged us to use the Django’s theme due to our pre-existing involvement with music. Since we’ve opened, I’ve seen other stores come and go, but none of them have really seemed to have a ‘theme’ or a ‘brand.’ You could use this formula for all of them, ‘The Coffee blank,’ and fill it in with whatever you like; the coffee store, the coffee bar, the coffee place, whatever,” jokes Chappell.

After hiring a consultant who told him “espresso,” “java” or “coffee” should be in the name of the shop, Alan Butts had his first of many decisions to make. “Being in the Midwest, we were concerned that the word ‘espresso’ would scare away potential customers. And there is a local coffee franchise with the name ‘java’ in it already, so we decided to go with ‘coffee,’ explains Butts. “We discarded dozens of names including Starbutts Coffee, Albucks Coffee and Albutts Coffee. Those were of course a little tongue-and-cheek fun, but it came down to the final two names, ‘The Coffee Place’ or ‘The Coffee Crossing.’ We chose The Coffee Crossing for multiple reasons. 1. Many local roads, neighborhoods and area business centers have the name Crossing in them. 2. By definition a crossing is a place where people come together. We want our shop to be such a place. 3. We are Christians and felt truly inspired through prayer and circumstance that God and our faith were behind the business. Therefore, adding the suffix ‘ing’ to ‘Cross’ in a way turned a very important noun to us into a verb; Crossing equals cross, or in my mind, to always be mindful of what Jesus did for us,” said Butts.

Much like the musical theme of Django’s or even the foreign language-sized options of Starbucks, Butts reveals, “Many of our specialty drinks have the word crossing or cross in them. School Crossing- a very sweet vanilla late, Railroad Crossing-red raspberry mocha, Criss-Cross- white chocolate and chocolate mocha…even most of our seasonal drinks use the Crossing moniker; Santa Crossing- eggnog latte, Black Cat Crossing- Irish crème mocha. Another way our name has aided in branding is the picture of the ‘roads’ on our logo, which again has multiple meanings.”

If you cannot seek the expertise of a consultant, there is no need to be discouraged from coming up with your own successful name. For Walsh, the Wicked Coffee Company seemed to be the only sensible option. “The name came to me in a flash of inspiration,” he describes. “Literally, I woke up with it in my head. The word ‘wicked’ is identified with the young and is used to denote a ‘good thing.’” Unlike the other companies, Walsh had no intentions on themes or catchy marketing gimmicks. “The name doesn’t tie in directly, other than we aim to be different, which the name is. It has allowed us to create an image that is dynamic and new.” He continues, “Given we were launching a new business into a saturated market, we felt a good and noticeable name was important. However, we spent little time in considering the name as it came to us very early on in the planning. The name is important, because as in many cases, it is the first thing many potential customers see or search for.” While The Wicked Coffee Company may not have their name as a dominant aspect of the business, it is found throughout the company; from Wicked cafes and Wicked juice bars, to point of sale items such as posters and table menus, the Wicked Mountain Bike Racing Team and even the Wicked but Fair Fair Trade coffee brand, which is trademarked for European use.

The relevance in naming your retail shop can only be supported by the feedback of the customers, the loyalty of the community and the success of your business. If your shop was named with the intent of stimulating curiosity and intrigue, has that been accomplished? If your shop name was supposed to evoke a memory, a feeling or an emotion, has this been achieved? The only way to be sure is to study your customers; how often are you asked about your name? Or given commentary and compliments? All of these are signs that the name of your shop has been received and accepted.

Sky Coffee Company has now become a recognizable symbol of great coffee throughout the area and continues to expand its products and involvement within the local community. “We have branded every surface and put our logo at the forefront of everything,” says Hudson. “We also give many speeches at local high schools about doing what you’re passionate about. Teaching them about business, branding and feeling good about whatever it is they intend to do. We offer coffee tastings to educate our customers and promote thinking about coffee in a different way.” Most people do in fact inquire about the name, “Sky Coffee,” Hudson tells, “They want to know what it’s all about, and they think that it’s an airport coffee stand. But, the name gets conversation started and people talking.”

Customers of The Wicked Coffee Company know that they’re getting a new coffee shop experience based on the titles of the employees alone. “The managing director and I have the title ‘chief bean,’ whereas our financial director has the title, ‘bean counter,’ indicating a different and unique approach to coffee,” says Walsh. “Without a doubt the name of our company has helped us, especially in the youth markets, such as education. ”

Naming your shop after a famous individual is a very strategic choice. Aside from the loyal followers you will recruit based on your product, you are certain to attract (at least once, if for nothing more than curiosity) the fans of the famous namesake. “We have had several travelers stop in, strictly because they knew who Django Reinhardt was and they wanted to see what we were all about,” Chappell reveals. “In addition to our regular business of selling coffee, espresso, baked goods, etc., we try to be present at anything musical happening in our town. When the high school jazz band plays, we donate coffee. When benefits are happening, anything music related, we really try to be there. We would like for people to think of us anytime they see or hear music. Of course we have great coffee offerings, we are just looking for another way to get into people’s conscious thoughts.” As far as the difficulty of the word “Django,” it doesn’t seem to be a large problem for Chappell. “In our name, the ‘D’ is silent. Django rhymes with tango, but many people pronounce it ‘D-jango.’ They think up silly names like, Mr. Bo-jangos and dangos. We don’t really mind. As long as they know how to find us.” Overall the feedback Chappell has received on Django’s Coffee has been overwhelming positive, although staying true to Django’s persona has proven itself to be complicated. “On some of our logos we have a character that appears to be smoking…Django was a big smoker, so we felt the depiction was accurate. I have had probably six or seven people tell me that it was a bit provocative, but overall I don’t think it’s been an issue,” says Chappell.

With names that have a religious undertone, such as The Coffee Crossing, it is best approached as a dual functioning name that could be interpreted different ways and open to different perceptions. The Coffee Crossing achieves just that. “Most customers just see it as a name, related to the other local areas with ‘crossing’ in the title. But as the customers become regulars and get closer to our barista and to us, they begin to understand the deeper meanings in our name,” explains Butts. He also would classify the impact of the name on his company as a benefit, as it has helped familiarize the community with the shop. “However,” Butts continues, “I do sometimes get frustrated because a lot of people pluralize our name and often refer to us as ‘Coffee Crossings’ instead. Many of the local high school kids simply call us the ‘CC.’”

As a consumer, our opinions on a company name are almost subconscious; we instantly register the name, bring to the front any expectations the name evokes and judge if the concept lives up to those expectations. A shop owner must acknowledge this impact before deciding on their fate, as a poorly chosen name can confuse your clientele or get forgotten in the crowd. “It amazes me when start-ups have names that don’t even in the slightest have anything to do with their business or explain what they do,” Butts states. Experience alone has proven that a name choice must be relevant to your personal background as well as your professional future. Follow the advice of Lon LaFlamme: “Channel your personal passion into your name and theme of your business and even a weak economy won’t stop customers from wanting to regularly be near the warmth of your passion.”

Tea & Coffee - August, 2008
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