Company Naming: Advice for 1-800-Flowers

A Naming Critique on Network TV

Did you see the scathing name critique on network television?

The president of the world’s largest flower and gift chain had to silently endure mini lectures from front line staff as they pointed out some serious deficiencies with the company name.

The staff members see some big problems with, the company’s official title since it went public in 1999.

Undercover Boss

The dressing down came on the season finale of Undercover Boss, the new series CBS that premiered on the heels of this year’s Super Bowl broadcast.  In the show, a top executive leaves the corner office to pose as an entry level trainee to learn what’s really going on in the trenches of the business.

The star of the 1-800-Flowers episode was President Chris McCann, who is also the brother of the company’s founder and TV pitchman Jim McCann.

The Name Is “Outdated”

The first name critique came as Chris, in a bearded and bespectacled disguise, was learning how to make a pleasing arrangement of yellow lilies in a mug.  His tutor told him the name was “outdated.”  The remark prompted a pained expression.  I can imagine what went through his mind.

“Outdated?  How can you say the name is outdated?  The name has been crucial to our success.  It has been instrumental in consolidating the flower industry and making people comfortable to buy over the phone and the Internet.”

Although Chris might have been thinking this, he had to remain silent so not to blow his cover.

A More Scathing Assessment

A far more cutting name assessment came a few days later when Chris was assigned to a storefront location in an upscale Boston suburb.  Although the shop had been open for about a year, customer traffic was low.  The inquisitive trainee asked if the store was always so quiet.

Sending the Wrong Message

The store manager lamented it is very difficult to get people to realize that 1-800-Flowers is an actual flower shop and not just a telephone ordering service.  She said that people see the name on the side of the building and think the store is a call center.

She also divulged that the name sounds cheap and repulsive to the well-heeled clientele who live in the area.

“I wish you would change your name”

“I had a woman come in here one day and tell me ‘I wish you would change your name because I can’t buy anything here.  I really love your stuff, but I can’t send something out to my friends that says 1-800-Flowers.’”

Ouch!  That remark must have really hurt.  But it was right on the mark.  The frontline comments illustrate an important naming principle.

Names Set Expectations

Names set customer expectations.  When customers see a name they form opinions about the business’s scope of operations and the level of quality it provides.  Once those expectations are established, customers are reluctant and unlikely to accept ideas that are inconsistent with the name message they see over and over again.

Good for Online Orders, Bad for Retail is a great name for customers looking for a convenient way to order flowers.  But it is an ineffective retail store name.

1-800-Flowers doesn’t beckon mall visitors to come buy bodacious blossoms.  The name tells shoppers to go home and use the phone or go online.  The name also positions the company as a mid-market merchandiser not a high end boutique.

What Should 1-800-Flowers Do?

So should the company just change its name as the ritzy customer wished for?  Absolutely not.

The name is essential to the company’s success.  1-800-Flowers is extremely well known, easy to remember and responsible for a big percentage of the company’s $700+ million in annual revenue.

When someone gets a notion to order flowers over the phone or online, what’s the most likely company to come to mind?  1-800-Flowers.  That’s too valuable an advantage to surrender.

Time To Create a New Brand

It’s time for the company to segment its business.  It should stick with 1-800-Flowers for phone and online orders and create a new upmarket brand for its retail locations.

1-800-Flowers should follow the lead of the Japanese car manufacturers.  Back in the mid 1980s Toyota, Nissan and Honda rightly realized that their aspirations to serve the top end of the automotive food chain could not be achieved under their existing nameplates.  Wisely they developed entirely new brands and gave them their own locations.  The Lexus, Inifiniti and Acura names convey the aura of prestige that luxury car buyers desire.

Down Is Possible, Up Is Not

High end brands can successfully scale down to appeal to the mid market.  But lower end brands can’t scale up.

Mid market clientele are happy to stay in a Courtyard by Marriott or a Hilton Garden Inn.  But even if Walmart brought in ultra high quality merchandise, it would never win the allegiance of Neiman Marcus customers.

1-800-Flowers makes a great product.  The wealthy shopper loved the bouquets.  But nice flowers are not enough.  The company needs to add an extra element to what it sells in the retail environment.  The retail shops, especially those in chic surroundings, need a name with status and cachet.

1-800-Flowers already owns the mid market.  A new luxury brand will help it serve the top end.  The right name will drive traffic and sales in posh locales.  Adding a glamorous new brand to its portfolio will also increase the value of the company.

The TV Epilogue

At the end of the show, the various employees who worked with the undercover boss were summoned to corporate headquarters to learn the trainee actually runs the company.  The most surprised employee was the florist who earlier told the cameras she didn’t think Chris had what it took to make it in the flower business.

In one-on-one sessions in his office Chris told each worker how much he appreciated her efforts and about the steps he was taking to enact her improvement suggestions.

He arranged for an aspiring floral stylist to design a new spring product line.  He introduced an incentive plan for employees who exceed production targets.  He instructed the corporate marketing department to bolster promotional efforts for the suburban Boston store.

Pledge of Personal Support

The most moving conversation was with the diligent 19 year old assistant manager who was working to support his widowed mother and siblings.  He told the young man he had great potential and just might become the company’s youngest ever franchisee.  Chris also pledged $25 thousand of his personal money to help the budding florist with set up costs.

To his credit Chris acted swiftly to fix the problems he could handle right away.  The one issue he didn’t mention was the name problem.  And rightly so.  Naming is too important a matter to make a snap decision under the glare of TV lights.  It’s best to take some time to think and call for outside assistance.

I’m Ready to Help

So Chris, if you’re reading this, I would be pleased to help guide you through the naming issues you’re facing.  I will welcome your call.  My number is 403.685.2100.  I look forward to seeing 1-800-Flowers on my call display.

(If you’re not Chris McCann and you need naming help, I will welcome your call too ;-)