When Susan Caldwell decided to start a business that offered cooking classes for young kids, she built the company as Lil’ Chef, a name she came up with in the middle of the night.
Caldwell was so focused on making her business happen – despite the many skeptics – that she fell in love with and started using the name before doing any meaningful due diligence, such as checking to see whether it was a taken trademark.
Nearly five years later, Lil’ Chef was offering classes, camps and birthday parties. Business was booming, and Caldwell started considering franchising the concept. That’s when she learned her gamble had backfired.
Lil’ Chef was a registered trademark of a New York company. If she wanted to move forward with expansion plans, she needed a new name. Once again, in the middle of the night, she thought of Flour Power. While the name was ideal, and an unclaimed trademark, Caldwell’s next challenge centered on making the transition to the new moniker while reassuring her customers that nothing had changed.
“It was scary to think about,” Caldwell said. “We had a lot of loyal customers.”
Establish a strategy
Business owners who decide to change their company name to expand or emphasize broader services should expect the transition to take at least two to six months, said Jeremy Sisk, president of Xperience4Higher, a Durham marketing firm.
After owners pick a new name and check whether it is registered trademark, they should identify goals behind the name change and craft a plan with strategies that seek to retain current customers while attracting new ones.
Over the first couple months of the campaign, owners should start relaying to customers that the name will change, but the service will be the same, Sisk said.
Explain the reason behind the change, but emphasize that the ownership, customer service and other keys aspects of the business will be the same, Sisk said.
Around month three, owners should start making online changes, such as updating domain names and taking actions to make sure that those searching for the old website on Google will be directed to the new site. Owners should also update online directory listings, along with all print and marketing materials, uniforms and trade show handouts.
Owners should consider planning a grand reopening or some sort of celebration with a special offer, Sisk said.
“Basically you are getting your current customer base to buy in,” he said.
The last step is to incorporate the new name into active advertising campaigns, Sisk said.
When Jody Lytton learned he would have to change the name of Chubby’s Tacos, he rolled out a contest about a year ago offering free tacos for a year if someone came up with a new moniker.
Lytton received 1,300 entries, but none really addressed the goals he wanted the new name to achieve – to steer away from the fat connotation and emphasize the company’s broader menu.
Lytton eventually came up with the name Guacamaya Fresh Mex. He’s started introducing the name in the store and on social media. He plans to make the final transition in coming months.
Inspired by People
About nine years ago, Caldwell was standing in a Food Lion checkout line. She picked up People magazine’s annual issue of people who had lost half their body weight. One woman’s picture grabbed her attention.
“Her “before” picture looked just like me then,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell, who weighed about 300 pounds, looked down at her basket filled with cookies, ice cream and cheese.
She bought the magazine, but left the rest behind. That magazine remained on her nightstand as she walked on her treadmill and started eating healthier foods. She joined a gym, became a certified personal trainer and lost about 140 pounds. In 2008, she herself was featured in People’s Half Their Size issue.
Others at her gym started asking her for advice – including a workout partner struggling with how to address a son’s obesity.
“What you have to do is find a better path for that child,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell started working with the young man and more requests followed. The mother of two started offering group workout classes for kids, incorporating lessons about eating and preparing healthy food.
“You could just see this sadness on their face,” if Caldwell didn’t have a food lesson planned, she said.
Caldwell started teaching cooking classes in her home. When she began to look for a commercial space, many expressed their doubts about the idea.
Her husband was “the only person who didn’t think I was completely crazy,” she said.
In 2009, Caldwell carved out a 1,200-square-foot area in her gym and pieced together Lil’ Chef, which included two ranges, a refrigerator, sink and dishwasher. The subleased space only required a one-year commitment – time Caldwell used to test her concept without putting her family’s budget at risk.
“We did incredibly well for our very first year,” she said.
The kitchen offered classes three times a week and hosted about five birthday parties on weekends. Caldwell added summer and track-out camps, along with etiquette classes and kids’ nights out.
In 2011, Lil’ Chef upgraded to a 2,700-square-foot space with two kitchens in Raleigh’s North Hills.
As revenues continued to increase, Caldwell decided to test the Lil’ Chef concept in Charlotte and explore franchising.
After Caldwell came up with the Flour Power name, she used the same font she used with Lil’ Chef and a slightly different version of its chef logo. Caldwell opened the Charlotte place location under the new name. Her Raleigh staff started wearing Flour Power name tags and T-shirts. Employees reminded guests that the name would change when it relocated.
Caldwell, who plans to open a third location in Falls River Town Center in Raleigh in April, said ensuring that the company’s customer service and customer experience remained consistent was key to the successful transition.
“Almost not even noticeable for some,” she said.
During Flour Power’s Friday lunch hour, the name change didn’t appear to have an impact on Sydney Waldon or the 12 other kids on their last day of a five-day camp.
Sydney, 8, and others, ages 6 to 11, were too busy learning the difference between pancakes and crepes; how to crack an egg; and how to cut a pineapple for kabobs that included strawberries, bananas and marshmallows.
Over the week, the group also made lava cakes, tamales, pizza and Sydney’s favorite – sugar cookies with pureed strawberries.
“I like making it because it was so squishy and really gushy and I got to spread it,” she said. “And I got to make two.”