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Companies Find Renaming Game Chancy, Costly : Image: Several O.C. firms have recently altered their logos out of necessity or as a marketing strategy.

March 31, 1994|SUSAN CHRISTIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Grey Orange County did it for the same reason that a teen-ager might pierce her ear or dye his hair purple: to declare independence from its parent.

HomeClub did it because it was no longer a club. Fluorocarbon wanted to do it to disassociate itself from the pollutant with a similar name. And Carpets R Us made the switch after Toys R Us sued for trademark infringement.

Either out of necessity or as a marketing strategy, a corporation occasionally changes its name. Just three months into this year, several Orange County businesses have already rewritten their logos. Grey Advertising in Huntington Beach has become G2 Advertising. Heavenly Slender Sweets in Anaheim replaced the last third of its name with the more general "Food" after expanding its line of low-fat snacks.

And just this morning CMS Enhancements Inc., a computer component distributor in Irvine, officially switched its name to AmeriQuest Technologies Inc.--reflecting its plan to conquer its American competitors. When the market opened, company shares began trading under a new ticker symbol on the New York Stock Exchange--AQS.

Name changes can be costly, though. HomeBase Inc. in Irvine said it spent $3.4 million two years ago to sound more inclusive. "It was quite an investment--changing our signage and everything from the letterhead to business cards," said Carol Elfstrom, spokeswoman for the chain of home improvement stores.

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But it was a change that had to happen, she said. In 1991, HomeClub stopped selling discount cards to its members. "It was confusing to customers that we called ourselves a club when we had no members," Elfstrom said.

The name change itself, however, was equally confusing to customers until they got used to it. "We put a lot of effort into promoting our new name," Elfstrom said.

Given the hurdles and expense, name changes should not be executed on a whim, said Jack Potter, president of Irvine-based J. Brooks Potter Marketing, which specializes in marketing research for companies seeking image enhancement.

"Changing a name willy-nilly is dangerous," he said. "Your name is your source of identity; it throws people off if you tinker with it."

Sometimes a name change cannot be avoided--such as when Carpets R Us gave into the legal demands of Toys R Us and switched its name to Carpets 4 U. The Anaheim carpet warehouse had used its original logo for nine years before the toy store giant complained in 1992.

"We lost maybe 15% of our clientele," said Linda Lamb, vice president of Carpets 4 U. "People who can no longer find Carpets R Us in the phone book assume we went out of business."

The change cost the company an additional $10,000 in new signs and stationery. And the new name isn't even one Lamb particularly likes, she said: "We just wanted something as similar to our old name as possible to make the transition easier; but if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn't have chosen 'Carpets 4 U.' "

G2 Advertising executives, on the other hand, take delight in the Huntington Beach agency's new moniker. Until January, the firm was named after its parent--Grey Advertising in New York City. Let's face it--Grey Orange County sounded funny. What's a grey orange?

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But the principal reason the local branch renamed itself was "to connote independence and modernity," said Ed Hannibal, creative director for G2 Advertising. Originally, the branch opened here strictly to serve one of Grey's biggest clients, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America in Cypress. The Orange County office now plans to expand its client base, so it wanted a name with "panache," Hannibal said.

"It's a fresh beginning, a new face," he said. "It was quite an undertaking to get everyone to agree on a name, but we all liked G2"--inspired by the name for U.S. military intelligence.

In Vitro International, which makes solutions to test cosmetics and other household products for toxicity, also changed its name to establish a separate identity.

Until two years ago, the Irvine company was named Ropak Laboratories in honor of its major investor and its distributor, Ropak Corp. in Fullerton. But when Ropak Lab bought the rights to market its product from Ropak Corp. and went public two years ago, the similar names were merely perplexing.

Ropak Corp., which makes shipping materials, is also a publicly held company--creating "confusion in the stock market," said William Curtis, corporate secretary for In Vitro. "Also, 'In Vitro' better reflects what the company does."

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One of the more famous name changes for an Orange County company happened five years ago, when Fluorocarbon Inc.--unrelated to but burdened by negative publicity surrounding chlorofluorocarbons, the pollutants threatening the ozone layer--switched to Furon Co. The Laguna Niguel company, which makes industrial plastics, launched a worldwide contest in which it offered 100 shares of stock--now worth $1,675--to the person who hit upon the winning name.

More traditionally, companies use outside marketing firms to help discover the perfect new name. The main goal, said Potter, is to come up with something that stands out.

"A name should plug into people's imagination," he said. "It should separate you from the pack."

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