The Case of the Same Name
A conversation with a favorite customer reveals a new nearby competitor ... with an almost identical name.
By Nancy Hassel
Ten years ago, Kate bought a well-known pet boutique in a bustling seaside village in Connecticut. When she purchased the business, she was completely green to retail, the pet industry and running a shop — but it was a lifelong dream that finally came true. Kate's store Wagz is now even more successful since she took over and she hosts many events for pet parents throughout the year.
On a beautiful fall day in the Northeast, Kate was prepping for her next event when one of her best customers came into the store.
"Good morning, Stephanie, how are you today?" Kate said, happy to see her.
"Hi Kate, I am doing well — looking forward to your event next week. Are you all set?" Stephanie said while browsing through the quaint boutique looking at some new dog toy arrivals.
"We are getting there! It's really one of my favorite events, our Paws Fall Festival really draws a big crowd, as you know," Kate said enthusiastically. "Are you looking for anything special today?"
Stephanie walked up to the counter with a large bag of dog food, treats and a toy.
"I think this will do until next week," Stephanie said, smiling.
Kate rang up Stephanie's sale and insisted on carrying the bag of dog food to her car.
"I hope Milo likes his new toy," Kate said.
"Oh yes, I am sure he will — hey I almost forgot to ask you," Stephanie said. "Did you open another location in Port Town?"
"Um, no — why do you ask?" Kate asked, kind of baffled — as Port Town was only about 10 minutes away.
"Oh, I thought I saw a grand opening sign with 'Wagz' on the sign the other day while driving through," Stephanie said. "Maybe I saw wrong ... I was surprised you wouldn't have mentioned it — I am in here so much."
Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.
"Hmm, that's interesting, but no we're not opening anything anywhere else at the moment. This store keeps me quite busy. Well, have a great rest of your day, and see you next week!" Kate tried to keep her happy demeanor and at the same time could not get into the store fast enough to see if she could find out more information.
Kate immediately took to Facebook to see if she could see any store listing with the same name. And right away, she found its Facebook page, but the spelling of the store was different Wags with an "s," not a "z" like hers, but still the same name. She felt her face get flushed and just could not believe what she was looking at.
The store didn't have a website yet, so Kate could not see who owned the store. To make matters worse, its grand opening was the same weekend as her big fall festival.
"Why would anyone do this?" Kate thought. "The same name, so close by, the same weekend? How could they do this?"
Kate stared at her phone thinking that her business name was copyrighted and knew she would now have to contact the lawyer her shop's previous owner used.
Since the store was not open yet, all Kate could do was drive by later that evening. Kate passed and then went back and parked across the street from the shop, she took pictures of the store. The name on the sign was Wags Pet Boutique. Kate's store was named Wagz Pet Boutique & Barkery.
"Come on!" Kate said out loud to herself in the car, now upset and trying to figure out what she should do next.
The next day, she looked through all her paperwork and found the copyright lawyer's number and called. After she explained everything, he said, "Kate I am sorry to inform you that your business name was never copyrighted. The previous owner wanted to, but never followed through with it."
Stunned, Kate asked, "So now what am I going to do?"
THE BIG QUESTIONS:Does Kate have a leg to stand on when it comes to exclusivity of the name of her business?
How should Kate handle this in the most cost-effective way?
How will Kate respond to additional customers asking her about a new location that is not hers?