Naming the Business

Should you put your personal name in your company name? February 17, 2011

Is it normal to include your name in the name of your business? I notice it a lot in the construction industry but a friend told me not to ever do that. Also, what is an efficient size to build a one-man shop (besides the office or finished goods area)?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor L:
I don't think shops with names like Jimmy's Cabinets or Kyles' Kustom Kabinets sound very professional to me. Would you call a doctor's office that was listed in the phone book as Big Al's Medical Services?

Paul Smith Cabinetmaker, or A. H. Taylor Furniture Maker makes me think of a craftsman standing behind a workbench chiseling away at some dovetail drawers.

Your shop is your biggest and most expensive tool. Plan carefully. Build or buy as big as you can. My first shop was a 1 car garage, then a 3 car garage, next a 1500 sq ft building and now a 6700 sq ft. They all worked for the size jobs I did then, and when I was bursting at the seams with business, we upgraded. I enjoy my shop now, but I made the best memories in the smaller ones.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. When it comes to shop size, I just don't want a shop that is too big for me when it comes to being there by myself.

From contributor C:

Consider your long term business plan. (You do have one, right?) What is your exit strategy? Are you planning on passing the business down to your sons? Then, the family name *might* play into the decision.

"Fred's Cabinets" might have worked years ago (think Little House on the Prairie) in a small town where Fred was the only woodworker. Folks either went to Fred, built it themselves, or did without. Very few had the resources to shop around from other locales. In today's market, where transportation is no longer an issue, Fred would have lots of competition.

There are very, very few woodworkers that ever get to the level where their personal name is that recognizable. Norm Abram, Thomas Chippendale, Green and Green, Stickley, etc. come to mind. The rest of us need a better marketing strategy.

Or, do you plan on selling the business later on? Artisan Woodworks is going to be a lot easier to sell, and worth a lot more in sale value, than Paumen's Cabinetry.

Please look at your decision from a business perspective. What would a prospective customer think when they hear your company name? Forget any personal emotions. Remember, this is a business. This is not a glorious hobby where we get paid for what we are doing (sometimes).

From the original questioner:
I always planned on starting my own company. I have worked for a shop for 10 years and am now getting my business degree so that I will have a good handle on the business side of things as well as the every day shop process. I plan on carefully going over everything to get my business planned out well. I've worked around both sides of cabinetry from custom residential to commercial store fixtures. Thanks for the advice, and this is a great site!

From contributor G:
"...I just don't want a shop that is too big for me when it comes to being there by myself."

So you won't feel lonely? So that customers don't say "I won't buy from him because he has too big a shop"?

I have trouble getting my brain wrapped around that. Most everyone is wishing for more space. Now if the issue is how much can I afford to spend on rent, utilities and insurance, or even a tradeoff between location and value, I can understand. Perhaps a million square feet is too much, unless you plan an industrial manufacturing plant as a startout.

From contributor M:
I use my name in the name of my business. Customers seem to like talking to the guy whose name is in the name. For a small shop (less than 2 million a year) I think the name of your shop doesn't mean a lot. People are still going to associate the owner with the product. Most shops grossing under a million do not have a lot of sales people or a sophisticated marketing strategy. If you are a one man shop you will be the face of the shop. It is not likely you will get work based on a snazzy name. Your work will come from referrals and friends. You might as well use your name in the business because that is what people will call you anyway. For giant shops that market across the nation or world, the company name has to stand on its own.

For shop size. I had a 1,200 sqft industrial space that was big enough for me and one helper to do one project at a time. Mostly kitchens and libraries. I even had a large spray booth. But my machines were small and I kept the space flexible by using casters on some machines.

But I have seen one man shops with CNC and edgebanders that occupied 3,000 sqft. They did a lot of volume. I am assuming this is not your situation, or you would not be asking about this.

I would recommend you get the smallest space you can. Overhead is everything. If your business plan (I hope you made a good one) is shooting for less than 200K gross, then your overhead will make or break you. There is a lot more to a big shop than the rent. Everything is more expensive. I just finished out a 6,500 square foot shop. The electrical alone was 4,000 dollars for the materials, and I did it cheap. I think I wired my first shop for 500 bucks! A small shop needs one fan to cool it; a big shop needs exponentially more.

It is not a big deal for a small shop to relocate. The amount of money you save that first year or two will more than offset moving. I am assuming you don't have CNC, edgebanders and that sort of stuff. Keep it simple and work smart.

From contributor J:
How successful is your friend? I've gotten a lot of advice from friends. I'm at a point where I've learned to listen more closely to advice given by people who are more successful than I, than to those who just want to share their opinion!

This is a subject that is completely opinion based, as there is no right and wrong. My opinion is, use whatever name you think is right for you. My first job in a wood shop was in a shop named after the owner. His name is not one you would likely know, but his work can be found across the country. He started out in a basement shop not far from where I used to live. He is currently set up in a 100k sq. ft. state of the art building. I really don't think the name had a large influence on his success.

As for selling the business with your name on it, well how realistic is that anyway? I occasionally see guys retiring try to sell their businesses, but more often than not they end up being sold or auctioned off to supplement existing businesses instead. If you want to plan a good retirement, put away as much money in whatever type of retirement account you feel comfortable with. If you're counting on selling the shop as retirement, you're really gambling with your future.

As for size, there are too many variables here to say there's any one size that will be perfect. Most likely you'll have to do like many of us and grow your business. I'm currently cramped into a 2k sq. ft. space. This is my second shop and although it sounds good to say just get the biggest space available, you have to be able to afford it. I couldn't afford anything bigger when I moved in here. Again your business will dictate how much room you need and your ability to grow. As you grow and add employees to generate more income, you'll be able to (or need to) move up to a bigger space.

Having said that, I'll throw out a couple generalities. For furniture work I think you can get away with less space than cabinet work. You could probably get by with 1k sq. ft. or even a little less depending on the size work you want to be able to handle. For cabinets I think 2k is minimum. That's what I'm in currently and as you start adding bigger equipment, space shrinks rapidly. Think widebelt, edgebander, panel saws, etc. - all machines that eat up space and power quickly. And don't forget space to assemble bigger jobs. I'm currently trying to figure out how to fit a 16' long x 12' wide bar in my shop, and it's not going to be easy!

From contributor S:
I have owned a business with a name that did not have my personal name included, and my current business, in which I do use my name. There are advantages to both. The first generic name we had was The Shutter Shoppe of Quincy. I ended up getting sued for name infringement or something like that. I had taken the correct steps in obtaining the name, and won the case, but it still cost me some legal fees and a bunch of aggravation. I also, fairly often, had repeat customers telling me that they couldn't remember our name and would end up calling other companies that had "shutter something" in it, or an operator assisting them would search and find other companies that had shutter in the name.

I do not know how many failed to find me, so I changed our name so it included my name, so when we work with someone, they can better remember who we are. I like having my name on the business, and I think more and more people like the idea of dealing with someone personally versus a big business. But then we work a local market and would be considered a smaller business. What you decide has everything to do with your business and your approach.

From contributor Y:
I wonder what Henry Ford thought about names? As for shop sizes, I'm in my 5th shop and have added on to it 3 times. As a one man shop, having a limited space is an advantage - you spend less time walking. As you add employees, what you make will help determine space needs. The old saying that one's junk always exceeds one's space is so true. For our commercial work I've found that about 1200'/employee is a minimum. When we've had less than that, productivity starts to go down. If your line of work has schedule issues, you may need more storage space while a job is on temporary hold. Moving things doesn't add value, just cost.

From contributor S:
Contributor Y makes a good point about scheduling issues in relation to shop size. I can remember laying out one of our first shops with very limited space. After several months of going through different plans and finally getting everything set up, we were ready to go. Several jobs later, we had to hold a finished order because the house was not ready. Having a finished order squeezed into our shop and limited storage space just about brought us to a standstill production rate. We could hardly move or work without bumping into something. Also good advise about considering number of square feet versus number of employees. We find 12-1500 sf a good range for each worker. Below 1200 it seems confusion and having to constantly move parts and pieces needlessly becomes more common, and it's hard to keep a smooth flow.