In any line of business, first impressions are very important. So, for contractors, before they ever show up at a door step, what’s the first thing a customer usually sees? The company name. A great name can make or break a company, and that’s why having a great business name is absolutely crucial.

From A to Z

“I’ve gone in and looked for contractors to do work around my house, and as long as somewhere in their name they tell me what they do or what their specialty is, I’m OK,” said HVAC consultant Frank Besednjak. “But when there’s just a plain name, that doesn’t tell me anything, I move on to another company. They could be a shoe store, a roofer, an engineer, or a doctor, I don’t know. And that’s confusing to a lot of people. The general public is not psychic. A company’s name needs to offer a customer a general idea of the work they’re doing.”

With the Yellow Pages fading quickly into irrelevance, a name like AAA Heating & Cooling — which was likely chosen to gain a top spot in the contractor listing — is nowhere near as worthwhile as it once was.

Clever and Catchy

Aside from a clever name, many executives recognize that several factors, including numerous positive online reviews and a website keyed for search engine optimization, drive business in today’s market.

Rodney Jessen, owner of Out Today Plumbing, Heating & Electrical, Bellevue, Wash., came up with his name four years ago after his marketing manager told him it tested high in focus groups. Prior, it had been the name of his website that hosted several different businesses.

“All of us have to put money in marketing,” Jessen said. “It used to be the Yellow Pages, but now it’s the Internet (pay per click), TV, and maybe radio. That’s the hammer. The more money you put into marketing, the bigger your hammer is.

“But the name, or the message, is the nail. If you have some bland last name, like mine, ‘Jessen Home Service,’ they would equate that to driving a big wooden peg through a board. But if you had some really tight message that was stuck in people’s brains, they would equate that to hitting a board with a very sharp nail. With Out Today, I feel like I have a very sharp nail.”

A Family Tradition

For Steve Moon, owner of Moon Air Inc., Elkton, Md., when it came to naming his business back in the late 1980s, he just pulled out his wallet. “I made the same mistake as most people make: I looked at my driver’s license,” he said.

Now, that’s not to say Moon regrets his business’s name. But that’s mostly because he has the advantage of having a short and easily branded moniker. “I’m fortunate because a name like Moon is unique, and that’s why I haven’t changed it,” he said. “With Moon, our unique selling positions are, ‘Out of this world service, down to earth prices.’ So we’re putting a big play on the space thing.”

Naming a business using the family name is quite a divisive topic among contractors.

Greg Crumpton, owner of AirTight, Charlotte, N.C., said putting a family name on a business generally makes it unremarkable. He prefers a non-name branded company.

“Maybe vanity comes in there somewhere for some people,” Crumpton said. “It just didn’t work for us, and it’s not something we really even considered. But, on the flip side, I worked for a very well known, successful, highly thought of family company and it worked for them. So I think it’s just more personal taste than anything.”

That sentiment was echoed by Jessen, who said he learned from seminars that naming a business after a last name, unless it’s something unique, means very little.

Moon doesn’t think having a family-based name is a negative, but admits it’s not as productive as a “snappy name.”

“I hate them to death, but One Hour Air, that says it all,” Moon said. “You can have your air in one hour. At least when they opened up, that was their premise. But people want a call to action, and if your name already solves their fears, then you’re a step ahead of everyone else.”

Remember Me?

Having a name that speaks to exactly what a company does is of the utmost importance, Besednjak said. Besednjak recounted a story about how he once visited a surgeon, Dr. Deadman. Besednjak said, walking into Deadman’s office, his confidence was at an all time low.

A family name is OK if it accurately portrays what a company does, but common sense always seems to prevail. “If it’s a family name that might be tied to something like a guy who was arrested 10 years ago for burying people in his basement, I wouldn’t use it, because that’s all people will remember,” Besednjak said. “If your family name is not known in any way negative, and your family is not involved politically, it’s probably OK. If it’s a name like Besednjak, forget it. It’s just too complicated. It should be something easy to say and read, and should have no link to any criminal activity.”

A name is a very powerful marketing link and can very easily pull in or push away customers. Jessen, for instance, said other people saw more value in his company’s name, Out Today, than he did initially. And he said he’s still trying to fully grasp how much his company’s name means.

When he first launched the company, he molded an extensive television advertising campaign around not having a creep in your house, instead of building on what the Out Today name represents. He admitted that the ads may have missed the mark.

“I think it took about four years for Out Today to gain traction. I think if I truly knew what Out Today meant to the consumer, and had I built the correct TV commercials in the beginning when I had the extra couple hundred grand to spend, Out Today would be even farther down the road. Not understanding what my name meant to the customers was a big error on my part.”

The key, though, to a successful name, whether it’s a family name, a snappy name, or something completely off the wall, is to make it memorable. “I think having name recognition, even if it is generic, is so important,” Crumpton said. “That’s why we thought AirTight worked well because it was unique. People know me as Greg at AirTight. It’s not Greg Crumpton. It’s always associated with AirTight. I think that’s vitally important.”

Publication date: 4/8/2013