You’ve just taken over an existing business, and you want to put your own stamp on it and get customers excited about something new. How far should you go when it comes to rebranding? Or should you make any changes at all?
The answer depends on the situation. First, you’ll need to get a sense of current public opinion of the establishment.
“Determine the ‘brand equity’ of the business acquired,” says marketing consultant Bill Fellows. “Does it have a strong reputation with repeat customers who have a preference for buying there? With this information, the new owner can determine if it is better to retain the current brand or take on the additional expense to rebrand and communicate that it is a new business.”
If the business is already popular and you don’t plan on changing its focus, there’s no need to mess with a good thing. If you want to personalize the business, don’t take its existing customers by surprise. Changes should be implemented gradually, beginning with necessary cosmetic improvements such as fixing broken fixtures and performing a thorough cleaning. “Then move toward something a bit more drastic, like a cosmetic change,” says Tom Gosche, a business broker. “Finally the person might change the name or logo to make it their own” after a period of several years.
However, if the previous establishment had a bad reputation or you’re planning to make drastic changes to the business model, you’ll want to make your mark immediately by changing the business’ name, fixtures, and other recognizable elements. But be warned: Your changes may not always be well-received in the beginning.
When Chris Dagger bought a diner and turned it into a coffee shop, he’d initially planned to keep the existing fixtures. “The furnishings were almost new, and nothing was wrong with them,” he said. “But we felt it was important that people didn’t associate us with the business that was here previously.”
To that end, Dagger overhauled the décor, repainted the walls, and changed the business’ name. Even so, some existing customers had trouble with the change. “I think a lot of them were offended,” he says.
Although Dagger lost some of the old customers, he was able to develop his own base over time, and is now planning to open a second location. “Again, we’re rebranding with our name, but this time we at least have some level of brand recognition,” he says. “Hopefully it will be easier the second time around.”