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Jan 15, 2019

Under the counter - What’s in a name

A sideways look at the world of independent retailing

It all started when the remnants of Storm Gladys blew some more letters off the shop sign and my assistant Norman wouldn’t stop wittering on about the damage it would do to our corporate identity and merchandise strategy messaging.

“How can we meet the challenge of 21st century singe-point retailing, if we have an identification hiatus,” Norman said.

“Where do you get all this stuff from?” I said. “Everyone knows we’re Premier Sports and always have been. We still get the final demands delivered here, however many letters fall off.”

The problem was that I knew in my heart of hearts that he just might have a point. What with one thing and another, we probably had let our dynamic image slip a little and I had honestly been meaning to take the cricket pads out of the window ever since the start of the football season but then there were all those worries about Brexit, President Trump and Manchester United, and it slipped my mind.

By now Norman, whose neighbour lets him have the business sections out of his posh Sunday papers, was in full flow about corporate identity.

He said that a successful corporate image should reflect every aspect of what a business does, and that most companies should contemplate a basic identity facelift at least every ten years.

“I’ve been here a lot longer than that,” Norman said,” and letters were falling off the fascia board even then. We lost the P when England were beaten by Germany in the 1996 European Cup.”

Walking down the street to get the lunchtime pot noodles, I had a good look around - and had to admit that times were certainly changing where shop-names were concerned. The hairdresser’s on the corner is now “Hair Force One”, the chippie is “In Cod We Trust” and the Chinese takeaway has become “Wok Around The Clock.”

Even the junk shop next door run by old Mr Mortiboys, which had been “The Junk Shop” for as long as I could remember was now “Den of Antiquities” and the shed round the back full of old LP records had become “The Vinyl Resting Place”.

“You’ve got to move with the times, boy,” Mr Mortiboys said. “I was going to change it to ‘Junk and Disorderly’ but I thought ‘Den of Antiquities’ had more class. Time you changed that old sign of yours.”

He said he had to go and attend to a customer. “He wants to buy a pair of camouflage trousers. Trouble is, we can’t find them…”

Hairdressers certainly seem to be ahead of the game (so to speak) when it comes to a bright new image. On the short walk back to the shop I clocked up “The Lunatic Fringe” “British Hairways,” “Hair We Are”, ”Curl up and Dye” and “The Best Little Hairhouse in Town.”

They were closely followed by fish and chip shops - “A Salt and Battered,” “Good Buy, Mr Chips,”“The Frying Scotsman”, Battersea Cods’ Home” and “Codrophenia”.

Then there’s the “Sofa So Good"soft furnishings, “Pizza the Action"fast-food joint and “Sam ‘n’ Ella’s"cafe, not to mention the the “Balti Towers” Indian restaurant and “The Stork Exchange” second-hand babyclothes shop.

And what about the bakery called “Bun in the Oven”, the “Fish and Chirps” pet shop, the “Pane in the Glass” glaziers, the carpet cleaner’s “Bruce Springclean” and the “On a Roll” snack store? What indeed.

Nowadays it seems that you’ve got to make an impression even when you’re shut. Instead of “closed”, the local music shop now has “Gone to lunch. Bach at 1pm. Offenbach earlier”, while a nearby computer repairer has “Out for a quick byte.”

“Electrical Repair Shop - we fix anything” let the side down a bit with a note on the door reading:“Please knock. Doorbell broken”.

When I returned with the noodles, Norman had already made a list of possible new names like “Sporting Life”, “Be a Good Sport” and “Fit for Life”, none of which, to be honest, I could see bringing punters hammering on the door.

“There’s always ‘Balls R Us,’ or ‘The Athlete’s Foot’,” Norman said. “Yes, I thought you’d say that.”

Eventually we decided that maybe Premier Sports wasn’t such a bad name after all, and Norman has a mate who will put the letters back on the fascia in return for sponsoring his campaign for a knighthood for David Beckham.

Life is full of surprises. This morning Norman heard that his pal had given up his campaign in protest at Beckham getting off those speeding charges.

Apparently he’s got enough letters left over from a sign he did for “Ditcher Quick and Hyde, Divorce Lawyers,” to do “The Athlete’s Foot” for us for nothing.

It’s a big decision, but if Norman manages to pull off that deal for a box of South Korean trainers with tractionenhancing outsoles, it’s certainly worth some serious thought.

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