Sunday, September 05, 1999

ENTREPRENEURS


Uniformity's name so good it loses sales

BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jennifer Crawford knows how it feels to lose sales. It happens about every other year about this time to her business Uniformity.

        A former buyer for Lazarus, Miss Crawford founded Uniformity in April 1994 in Hyde Park when the department store chain dropped its uniform department that provided clothing for schools and choirs.

        Unfortunately for Miss Crawford, the name of her company, which she registered with the Ohio secretary of state is a good one. Too good, in fact.

        It is predictable that inevitably at back-to-school time, a company will slap an advertising topper above a clothing rack, print up some banners for the front window and crank out fliers that advertises Uniformity clothing line.

        Children's Place is the latest company to use the name. “A customer came in earlier this year, and told me that they bought their shirts from Children's Place — that they were glad I was selling Uniformity there,” she said.

        Because she wasn't selling Uniformity products at Children's Place, Miss Crawford headed out to Kenwood Towne Centre to get a look at her competitor.

        “I had a nice girl hand me a buy-one-get-one free coupon that had my company's name on it,” she said.

        “There were two huge posters the width of the storefront window, six or eight rack toppers and a big pushing and shoving picture (of children) and the name of my company. I felt like, oh no, here we go again.”

        Previously, Dillard's Inc. — in its former incarnation as McAlpin's — had adopted the name for a clothing line, and Miss Crawford had to do battle with that department store.

        Use the name anywhere but in Ohio, she told them. By the time she persuaded the store to ditch the campaign, the prime buying season for school uniforms had ended.

        “I knew for a fact that I lost sales. Sure, I was angry, but what am I going to do?” she said. “Small businesses are always the ones to get run over. Don't get me started on that.”

        Eventually, the company paid her damages, an amount she would not divulge. “Most of it went to the lawyer anyhow,” she said.

        Steve Balasiano, general counsel for the Children's Place, based in Secaucus, N.J., said he talked with Miss Crawford in July but was awaiting a letter with more details.

        Until he gets the letter, he is not going to do a thing.

        “I get a lot of calls about a lot of different issues. I don't know what's reality and what's a crank call,” he said.

        The company controls 260 stores in the United States and has annual revenues of $300 million. He said 10 stores are in Ohio.

        Miss Crawford said the back-to-school selling season has kept her too busy to draft a letter to Mr. Balasiano and her former lawyer told her to find somebody else.

        Eventually, the company will know she is alive and that her company has a name, she promised.

        “They will get the cease-and-desist letter,” she said. “And as for finding a lawyer to take my case, I'll find somebody.”

        John Eckberg covers small-business news for the Enquirer. Have a small-business question, concern or quandary? Call him at 768-8386 or e-mail him at jeckberg@enquirer.com, and he will find the expert with the answers.

       



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