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The Plant with No Name

Howard Scott |

CHICAGO — The other day, I drove by a drycleaner and did a double-take. Its sign—a big one—said, “Dry Cleaners.” That’s it—no name. No prefix. No slogan.
I did a u-turn and drove into the parking lot. The place had a freestanding building; it was presentable; it was on a busy road. Inside, there was a tidy plant floor and a counter. Nothing was amiss. The racks were mostly full.
A man came to the counter. I asked him the name of his establishment. In broken English, he said it was “Dry Cleaners”—that’s it. There’s no need for a name, he said: “Is clear.”
I asked him how long he had been here, and he said five years. When he saw I didn’t have any clothes to give him, he turned and walked into the back of the plant. I turned and walked out.
His comment, “Is clear,” reverberated in my mind. I believe in substance over show as much as anybody does; I’m not a fan of hype. But why would a business not have a name? Why would he not make his operation distinctive? Is there an advantage to such simplicity—stating a function and nothing else?
After further reflection, I decided it was lazy to leave the business nameless. Furthermore, it shows a lack of pride in the operation. And finally, it conveys the idea that it is a temporary establishment. It is just not a good strategy.
Sometimes, clarity is not all that clear. Even if “Dry Cleaners” says it all, it is not clear. The customer wants his drycleaner to have a moniker, just like every other business he deals with.
When called on the phone, the owner says, “It’s the place on Route 3 with the big blue sign that says  “Dry Cleaners.” Wouldn’t it be better if the owner could say something like, “Go to Empire Cleaners, a mile down on Route 3.” It’s clearer and easier to follow.
Let’s say someone tells a neighbor that there’s a great drycleaner on Route 3. The neighbor asks what the business name is, and the first person says, “I don’t know, but there’s a huge sign that says ‘Dry Cleaners.’”
The woman gathers up her clothes and heads down Route 3. She sees a plant with a big sign that says, “Town Dry Cleaners.” Thinking it’s the place her friend recommended, she drops her clothes off at Town Dry Cleaners.
When she gets her order back (assuming the quality is decent), she will thank her friend for the recommendation and continue to take her clothes to Town Dry Cleaners. That’s one (maybe regular) customer lost for “Dry Cleaners,” because it didn’t have a name.
You can’t market a service without a moniker—or at least not very well. Any ads saying “Dry Cleaners” will look generic and unprofessional. The merchant isn’t even trying to sell his services, depending only on nearby homeowners and drive-bys. That doesn’t seem very success-driven.
Every drycleaner should take pride in his enterprise. You can take pride in creating a viable enterprise called “Dry Cleaners,” but wouldn’t you have much more pride in creating an enterprise called “Value Dry Cleaners,” “My Favorite Dry Cleaners” or “Cleanest Dry Cleaners?”
I once owned a business called American Scott. How did I come up with the name? Easy: It was my last name and I dreamed that it would be a national company one day.
I was a 24-year-old kid, fresh out of school. When I sold it 12 years later, the new owner kept the name; he said he liked its rhythm. I don’t know how much the name contributed to its success, but I know I always feel a secret pride when an American Scott truck goes by with my name on it.
Calling every drycleaner “Dry Cleaners” would be just as weird as calling everyone by their last name—it may be accurate, but it isn’t the norm. Having a business named only for its function is a mistake.
For these reasons, not giving your business a proper name is bad practice. Perhaps Shakespeare said it best: “Give a thing a local habitation and a name.” Just “Dry Cleaners” will not do.
 

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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