October 19, 2018
What's in a name? For businesses across Long Island, building brand recognition and more.
Entrepreneurs are embracing names that cut through the clutter of an always-on digital world and speak directly to consumers.
They try to convey memorable quirkiness — and tongue-in-cheek humor. Jiffy Junk is a West Babylon junk-removal company; Fat Guy Media is an online marketing firm in Mineola; and Scoopy Doo Ltd. is a Locust Valley remover of unwanted deposits from canines and geese.
Jim Coniglione, owner of Scoopy Doo, said the company's name functions as a marketing tool.
“It’s definitely name recognition,” he said. “They see the trucks all over, and that name sticks in their head.”
Long Island's entrepreneurs are following a national trend. Gone are the days when the biggest companies in the nation had names like General Motors, International Business Machines, Standard Oil or United States Steel.
These days the most valuable companies on the planet have names like Apple, Amazon and Alphabet (the parent of Google).
Among newer companies, Snap, Square and Slack each has a market capitalization or private company valuation of more than $1 billion.
Branding experts and founders of some of the region's businesses say emotional resonance counts in the new name game.
"We've moved away from the cold, corporate-sounding names," said Steve Manning, founder of Igor, a Sausalito, California, branding agency that came up with names for the truTV network and the gogo inflight Wi-Fi service.
In the past, there was an effort to "sound global, large and important," he said. But these days, "we're talking about meanings and associations" that speak directly to the consumer.
One noteworthy Long Island rebranding campaign came in January 2016, when the North Shore-LIJ Health System — the largest private employer in New York State — was rebranded as Northwell Health, a name the New Hyde Park not-for-profit said pays homage its past ("north") while pointing to the goal of wellness instead of simply treating illnesses.
The health system said it spent "millions of dollars" in the rebranding process.
But unconventional renaming of a company can be risky.
Long Island Iced Tea Corp. changed its name to Long Blockchain Corp. in December 2017, during a sharp rise in the value of bitcoin, a virtual currency. The Farmingdale-based company changed its focus from ready-to-drink beverages to "blockchain" technology, which underlies virtual currencies.
But the change attracted unwanted attention. In April, the Nasdaq Stock Market delisted the stock after accusing it of trying to mislead investors.
Executives at the company did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Branding experts say the risk in going for an unusual name is often worth taking. A memorable name has a value that's impossible to calculate, Manning said: "If you have a name that they never forget, how much marketing money do you save?"
Below, Long Island entrepreneurs explain how they came up with memorable names for their companies.
SCOOPY DOO LTD.
Sometimes inspiration strikes when you least expect it.
Jim Coniglione, the owner of a Glen Cove tire shop, was at a barbecue in late 1999, when his friend's wife stepped into a pile of dog poop and started gagging.
It occurred to him then that people might pay to avoid such situations: "I said: 'Hey, we've got something here!" recalled Coniglione, 53.
When he started telling friends about his idea for a poop-removal service, opinion was divided.
"Half said it will never work; the other half said, If anybody's going to make money on dog poop, it's you," said Coniglione. Eighteen years later, I'm the king of poop."
Coniglione said the name, Scoopy Doo, came out of a brainstorming session on a friend's boat in the waters off Glen Cove.
By 2005, Coniglione was confident enough to sell his tire shop and cast his lot with the pooper scooper business he operates with his wife in Locust Valley.
Coniglione said the business covers all of Nassau County, Suffolk County east to about Smithtown and Queens west to about Bayside.
Coniglione said he is trying to extend the business by selling education kits on how to start a dog cleanup business to would-be entrepreneurs.
"The beautiful thing about the waste removal business is there are so many dogs," he said. "There are plenty of dog butts for everybody."
"Let's face it, you've got to have a good sense of humor to be in the dog poop business," he said. "On all our trucks it says, ‘We take a lot of crap from our customers.’ "
His clients also have a sense of humor, he said. " 'How's business? Picking up?' Do you know how many times we hear that?"
FAT GUY MEDIA
After Thomas Jacoberger started the IT company TCI Technologies in 2003, clients kept inquiring about online marketing and website design.
The name TCI "didn't work for marketing," said Jacoberger, who decided to start a subsidiary of TCI to handle the new business.
In 2012, Jacoberger and two colleagues began brainstorming names.
"It was three fat guys in a room," he said. "I was 290 [pounds] at the time. A lot of my friends see me as larger than life."
Jacoberger, 40, who said he weighs 250 now, said TCI and its Fat Guy Media subsidiary have 24 employees with offices in Mineola and Manhattan.
The Fat Guy Media name helps in marketing the company and attracting talent, Jacoberger said.
"I get resumes every day," he said. "You can't not think of it."
Aaron Foss was at his Port Jefferson home writing software for blocking illegal robocalls when he had his eureka moment.
It was April 2013, and Foss was competing in the Federal Trade Commission Robocall Challenge. That contest offered a $50,000 prize for the best anti-robocall product.
Foss was in the middle of coding when the name Nomorobo surfaced.
"It came to me in a flash," he said. "I stopped what I was doing. I saw the domain was available. I registered it for eight bucks. It was a flash of branding."
Foss split the top prize with one of the nearly 800 contestants. The other winner's product was called Robocall Filtering System and Device with Autonomous Blacklisting, Whitelisting, Graylisting and Caller ID Spoof Detection.
Nomorobo now is an app available in the Apple iOS and Google Android marketplaces. These days, Foss, 40, who works out of the LaunchPad Huntington co-working space and serves as an entrepreneur in residence at Hofstra University, said that Nomorobo's "short and catchy" name "was incredibly important." The Mount Sinai company has eight employees located across the country.
While Foss uses Nomorobo is the de facto name when he refers to his enterprise, he decided to take an old-school name, Telephone Science Corp., as the official title for checks and other documents.
"I wanted to sound official and big," he said.
After winning the FTC contest, Foss testified in June 2013 about how to stop robocalls before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on consumer protection.
To make sure the senators understood the name Nomorobo, Foss explained that it was a "little play on no more robocalls."
In response, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) assured Foss that the name was understandable, even to a U.S. senator: "I know the rest of the country thinks we're idiots, but we got that."
KEITH'S NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
Not every distinctive name turns into a winning business.
Keith Davis, the 55-year-old founder and operator of four Golden Pear Cafes in the Hamptons, found that out the hard way when he couldn't raise additional capital for his Keith's Nervous Breakdown line of premium cocktail mixes.
"It's very disappointing," he said. "I spent the last eight months trying to raise more investment capital. I needed a minimum of $300,000." He said he is winding down the business this year.
The name was hatched in 2015 after Davis missed a short putt on the 18th hole of the Southampton Golf Club. Davis headed to the bar and ordered a margarita with cranberry, pomegranate and lime juice. His friend came in an said, Davis "just had a nervous breakdown on the 18th hole."
Suddenly his drink became a "nervous breakdown margarita," and a business idea was born, Davis said.
Along with margaritas, Davis' company made rum punch and bloody mary mixes and was working on a cosmopolitan.
Davis said he had secured distribution in six supermarket chains and had raised about $900,000, but that sum was not enough.
"Everybody loved that brand," he said. "The emotional response was powerful. The brand was in sync with the category, lighthearted and whimsical. It's very sad."
In the end, Davis said, investors wanted to see a productive business before they would pony up.
"Quite honestly, it's who you know," he said. "You need to be friends with money."
JIFFY JUNK LLC
In 2004, Robert Palumbo had a painting and carpentry business.
A client in Bay Shore inherited a house that needed to be cleaned out.
"It was a big job," he recalled. "She said, 'How fast can you do it?' I said, 'In a jiffy.'"
Palumbo then shelved Jiffy Junk and pursued other business ventures, but he revisited the idea and trademarked the name in 2014.
Now Palumbo's West Babylon business has 10 employees on Long Island. Revenue is about $1 million annually, a sum that does not include a developing franchise business. Franchises have been sold in Westchester County, Austin, Texas, Wilmington, North Carolina, and Palm Beach County, Florida, he said.
"It's an emerging brand that's going national," he said.
Palumbo, 57, said that national rival 1-800-GOT-JUNK? made the business "respectable through proper branding."
But that company's success means that its franchises in desirable cities have been taken, he said. Prospective franchisees in those geographies have to seek an alternative — like Jiffy Junk.
"They're obviously No. 1 in the industry," Palumbo said. "We don't compete with them nationally, but locally we're giving them a run for their money."