Your name can literally make or break your business – and especially your franchise. Next to start-up capital, it’s probably the most valuable asset a start-up franchise can possess. So what’s the right way – and the wrong way – to find the right name?
When franchising was born, company names tended to be simple. The rules were pretty straightforward. You named the business after yourself. Think McDonald’s. Or you gave it some authority by putting a “Mr” in front of a descriptive name. Think Mr Rooter, the US plumbing franchise chain. Better still, you gave it a doctorate. As in Lawn Doctor. Or crowned it. A la Burger King. Easy.
The New iWave of Names
Unfortunately, or fortunately, these kinds of names grew so common that they became passé. So what if you’re Sir Dental Doctor? That’s when new twists came into vogue. Numbers, as in 7-Eleven. Clever letter shortcuts such as N-Hance and use of the cool letter Z (of course, New Zealand has always been ahead of the naming pack with both an N and a Z in the country’s English name). The success of Apple’s iPhone brought a spate of followers.
But soon, even these gems grew tired. So now the trends are excitement and clever plays on words. It doesn’t get more exciting than Fetch! Pet Care or 1-888-Wow-1Day! Painting. Or cleverer than Been There Dump That (Rubbish Removal) or Central Bark Dog Care (we laughed when we found a review of this business on the Yelp website at left).
Why the Best Names Often Stand for Nothing
The best names, of course, are those that become synonymous with your business or the products or services you sell, when you don’t buy a vacuum cleaner, you buy a Hoover, and you wouldn’t think of buying a smartphone because you won’t settle for less than an iPhone. But sometimes those names can be too restrictive, as Burger King has found when it has tried to expand into other types of fast foods. Burger King was a great name when they started out because it said what they sold and announced their leadership intentions, but McDonald’s, which could have been anything when they began, dropped “Burgers” from their name long ago and has cleverly applied the “Mc” prefix to all sorts of variations – McChicken and McCafe are just two examples. The only problem is that the “Mc” can also be used in a negative way by McDonald’s detractors, as in “McJobs”.
Why the Right Name is Critical for Franchises
The right name is important for any business, but that’s especially true for a franchise.
“For a franchise, a name is vital because it is a huge part of the intellectual property that the franchisees are buying into,” says Paola Norambuena, Chief of Verbal Identity at brand consultancy Interbrand in New York.
How important is the right name?
“Next to start-up capital, a great brand name is one of the most valuable assets a start-up franchise can possess,” claims Andrea Moe, president and owner of company-naming consultancy, Tungsten Branding.
The Big Change in the Way Franchises are Named
Thirty years ago, brand names were selected to convey what a company did, a family feeling, or trust and authority. The last thing they wanted to do was raise eyebrows or offend anybody.
Today, all that has changed. Names are still used to position the business in the market, but often in ways that would never have been dreamed of three decades ago. Hire A Hubby was one of the earlier examples in Australia and New Zealand, where the franchisor used the name to position the name squarely in the female market, which they innovatively and correctly determined was their key target market, and used pink shirts (they call the colour “magenta”) to give their male franchisees a stand-out yet non-threatening persona. Hell gave itself a real edge in the over-crowded pizza market in New Zealand not only with the names of its business and its products (“Lust”, “Wrath” and “Envy” pizzas, for instance) but with its whole demonic image, which appealed to its key younger, rebellious target market.
3 Great Franchise Names You’ve Never Heard Of
Canada’s Men in Kilts Window Washing franchise seems to be riding on the, er, skirts of Hire A Hubby’s success in Australasia. Legend has it that Scottish co-founder Nick Brand received a hand-sewn kilt from his wife at around the same time that the movie Men in Black came out, and an idea for a window-washing business with a twist was born. The franchise is now expanding across North America. One of their slogans is: “No peeking!”
In our opinion, the franchise name “Bin There Dump That” has it all – it explains what the company does at the same time as using a smart turn on a common phrase to create memorability.
College Hunks Hauling Junk may, like Bin There Dump That, be a bit long as a name, but like BTDT, it says exactly what they do and like Men in Kilts, targets the female market. Its website says that CHHJ “got its start in the summer of 2003 when a group of college buddies borrowed an old cargo van and began offering customers help with sorting, moving, recycling and disposing of unwanted items.” The following year the company won an entrepreneurship competition and in 2007, began franchising.
3 Terrible Franchise Names
We don't think something your three-year-old blurts out – no matter how funny it seems at the time – is necessarily a good name for your barbecue franchise. And we don’t tend to go for names that you need to explain: “Funny name … Serious BBQ!” OinkADoodleMoo is growing, but at last count only had six franchises since starting out in 2006.
It took us a while to decide whether Wholly Crap is a good name or a bad name. On the positive side, it is a twist on a common phrase – see Bin There Done That above – and says exactly what the franchise does. On the negative side, who would want to own a franchise with a name like that? And the logo really put us off.
Although DoodyCalls' branding is much more professional-looking, we struggled with its name, too. “Who did you end up buying a franchise from?” “Er, DoodyCall.” Nope, not us.
If we had any interest at all in going into the pet waste removal business, which we’re certain there’s a demand for, we think we’d prefer this name. We can almost see ourselves in a tux and bowtie.
Nue Blue Eriu is – or was – a beauty and therapy retailer with dreams of global franchise expansion. Rather than stocking famous brands such as Lancome, Clarins and Chanel, they replaced them in favour of Chantecaille, Shu Uemura and La Prairie, which are exclusive to the store. These are not brands we are familiar with, and while it is clear that the owners were trying to create a chic brand, it doesn't pay to try to be too clever or obscure. Obviously their customers thought so, as Neu Blue Ariu's two Dublin stores have closed.
We hope that “Fat Ho” wasn’t formed with the intention of building a franchise, but the name and everything about it was so awful we just had to include it in this list. It’s a case of taking offensiveness to the extreme in the hope of getting attention.
The Jury's Out On This One
We spotted the Bugger Cafe on our way to Coromandel, one of New Zealand's most picturesque getaway places. Yes, the name jumped out at us, as did the big red sign. We can remember being scolded by our mother for using words like "bugger", although to this day we have no idea what it means. The word came into seeming acceptable usage in this country after it was used in a TV commercial for Toyota. Not sure if it's right for a cafe franchise, though. What do you think?
6 of the Funniest Business Names
Just in case the last pictures gave you a bad taste in your mouth, we thought we’d end with some light relief.
Wizbangblog had a contest for funny business name and released the winners. Could these be good franchise names? Hmmm. Here are some of the funniest ones:
- a florist “Floral And Hardy” (there really is Floral and Hardy Garden Centre in the United Kingdom!)
- a deli named “Cheeses Of Nazareth” (there used to be a cheese shop with this name in Nazareth County, USA, which despite having an inspired name, has now closed)
- a high-tech deli named “CTRL ALT DELI” (a delicatessen with this name has popped up – to no one’s surprise, given it’s a name only a computer geek could love) at the Rochester Institute of Technology)
- a fried chicken stand in Corpus Christi called “Corpus Crispy” (this could only work in one place in the world so would have limited franchise-ability)
- a dental lab company called “DK Dental Labs” (who knew dentists had a sense of humour?)
- a door-accessory shop called “Knobs And Knockers” (there’s one of these in Auckland, New Zealand, but no sign of a franchise yet)
Are you struggling to find a name for your new franchise? Or to come up with branding that does your franchise justice? With more than 25 years in marketing, we can help.
Contact us now for a chat and a free initial consultation.
Article by Robin La Pere, No Ordinary Business and Franchise Consultants
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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