Today I’m posting a guest entry from a frequent contributor to our site, Mike Cerny. Mike and his wife Amy started FitCouture.com featuring stylish women’s fitness and yoga clothing in 2003. Initially, their goal was to create a company successful enough to allow Amy to buy herself a top of the line hobbyist sewing machine. Mike took some photos of Amy’s designs and put together a web page. Sales came in the very first day and three years later, Mike and Amy are still trying to catch their breath. While Amy oversees the creative aspects of the business (design, patternmaking and photography), Mike is responsible for sales & marketing, production management, and day to day operations. 95% of Fit Couture’s sales are direct to the consumer via FitCouture.com, making it a pure-play Internet designer-entreprenuer.
As with many DEs, Mike’s background is not sewn products. His career was in high technology startups, holding positions from programmer to CEO in several VC based companies. Likewise, Amy got into sewing later in life. She became inspired to teach herself to sew after having joined a gym and becoming dissatisfied with the availability of attractive fitness apparel. She is a landscape architect.
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing has an excellent section about picking appropriate names for your sewn-products business. Kathleen does an excellent job of helping readers understand the considerations of names and gives good advice about what to avoid in a name. However, since the book was published, the Internet has changed the landscape in such that domain name considerations must be taken into account when choosing names.
Regardless of whether you plan on selling your products direct from your website, I strongly recommend that you build a solid informational website about your company. Accordingly, your company name should be optimized for the web. Many entrepreneurs find that the most difficult part of naming their company is finding a name that someone else on the web hasn’t already taken.
Several years ago, speculators started realizing that a surprising number of people find their way around the Internet by just typing words into their browser bar. Take 1000 parents that have all decided to use the Internet to find blue jeans for their daughter and a significant number will just type “girlsjeans.com” directly into their browser’s address bar. Do that and you’ll reach a page filled with targeted advertisements for companies that sell girls jeans. The owner of the page makes money every time someone clicks one of those advertisements. Add that up over the thousands of domains they own and the millions of clicks they receive, and you are talking about serious money.
While that’s well and good for domain speculators, it creates a huge problem for new businesses. Speculators have purchased nearly every two word combination of words that make sense together and a surprisingly number of three word combination. Try it, think of two words that make sense together and type them + .com into your browser’s address bar. You’ll be shocked at how many of them have websites attached.
In addition to simply being available, a domain name must be easy to spell and easy to remember. Not everyone is as good a speller as you, and once your site is up and running, you will discover the many ways that your seemingly easy-to-spell words have been butchered.
“Easy to remember” means two things:
- If you are in the US, you must have a .COM suffix. Do not waste your money with a .NET, .INFO, .BIZ, or .ORG name as your primary company name. Customers do not remember those extensions as well as they remember .COM. If your desired .COM name is not available, move on to another name.
- Shorter is better, and should not include extraneous information. Let’s assume that your name is Amy and you want your company to be called “amywear.com.” Much to your dismay, you discover that a speculator has snapped up your domain name already. You may be tempted to just add “inc” or “company” or some other suffix to the name. Do not give in to this temptation. Too many people will forget that you are AmyWearInc.com or AmyWearCompany.com. Many people looking for your site will find the speculator’s site instead and you will lose out on some of the traffic you should have received and be forced to pay to receive the rest.
Once you’ve gone through the exhaustive and exhausting process of finding a name that satisfies your desire to have something catchy, marketable, available, spell-able, available, and easy to remember, you still aren’t done.
The first thing you want to do is register the domain name, even if you are a long way away from being ready to launch a site on it. If you don’t register it, you will often find it unavailable when you finally get around to it. Domain name registrations are inexpensive: $6 to $10 a year. Even if you aren’t 100% sure you want that domain name, you are better off registering it just in case. There are instances when you should avoid spending money ahead of need, but this isn’t one of them.
The second thing you need to do is determine whether the .NET and .ORG suffixes are available for your domain name. If they are, it’s usually a good idea to buy those up as well. When your site is up and running, you will be sending any traffic which hits those sites to your main .COM site. Even though you have picked a name which is easy to spell, you will want to write down all of the misspelling possibilities that you can think of. You should consider buying the most-likely misspellings as well. If you don’t, domain speculators will.
If after going through this process, you decide you can’t live without a domain name that someone else owns, all is not lost. Most domains owned by speculators are available for sale if the price is right. Oftentimes, you can find a link on the site itself directing you how to inquire about purchasing the domain. If not, there are sites on the Internet where already-registered domain names are bought and sold. The largest of these is Sedo.com. Expect to pay a lot for anything you find appealing. I’ve been talking to someone recently that’s looking for a name for a new apparel business. The desired name is for sale, for $2900. Personally, I would advise against spending that much money up front, but everyone has to make their own decisions on the importance of cash in the bank versus owning their desired name for a website.
Let’s look at a case study of an actual company and an actual domain name. Fit Couture is the company that my wife and I founded three years ago to design, manufacture and sell fitness clothing to women via a website. (Diligent students of Kathleen’s book will no doubt gasp at our choice of the word “couture” but rest assured that while Kathleen is not a huge fan of our use of the term, she understands why we chose it and accepts that it was not completely irrational. That does not mean that she thinks you should use the word in your company or brand name, because you should not.)
Fit Couture meets many of the criteria I laid out, but not others. It has two significant drawbacks. First, it unnecessarily limits our scope. A major market for us is women looking for stylish fitness and workout clothing. Our name resonates with them for that purpose. However, an important and growing market for us is yoga and Pilates students looking for stylish clothing. Even though many of our designs are wonderfully appropriate for those activities, the name of the company doesn’t resonate as strongly with that market as it could.
The second major drawback is that “couture” is an unfamiliar word to many people and therefore subject to a lot of spelling and pronunciation creativity. The spelling we tried to take care of by buying up lots of variants of the domain name (e.g. fitcoture.com. fitcoutoure.com) and automatically directing people from the misspellings to the correct site. I haven’t measured specific ROI, but the domains cost me roughtly $6/year, a very cost effective solution toward directing traffic intended for our site. I’ve seen a fair amount of traffic running through them over time. Maybe as much as 1%, which over the course of a year adds up to enough revenue to make it an easy choice.
Google helps us out by doing an excellent job of correcting spelling mistakes and helping customers find what they seeking. Type “fit coture” into Google and see what it returns. Pretty smart, yes? The pronunciation is of more concern to us – when a customer calls us on the phone and has no idea how to pronounce “couture” it tells me that it is a word they aren’t familiar with. Some of the meaning of the brand name is lost if a potential customer isn’t familiar with one of the words.
But, for the rest of the requirements, it does fairly well. It’s short and easy to remember and overall we’ve been pleased with the name. If we had the advantage of hindsight in the past, we might have chosen differently, but the drawbacks aren’t sufficient to cause us to rename or re-brand.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article from Mike. If so, it is possible he may consider posting more frequently so do let us know in comments. In the meantime, if you have additional questions, specifically regarding DEs and ecommerce, Mike invites you to email him. Thanks Mike!