A first-in-phone-book business
name is just an AAAA-OK idea
it comes to phone listings, the As have it.
Or do they?
In the business world, many entrepreneurs are
convinced there's virtue to taking an "A-game" approach to naming
Who gets first billing in the business listings,
they reason, AAAA-1 Plumbers Co. or Young Plumbing Co.? And who
will most likely get a call from a frantic customer dealing with
a gushing pipe?
of the book isn't always best
Isn't it common sense that AAA Limousine Service will catch
the attention of Yellow Page shoppers, at least way before Zsa Zsa's
Limo & Transport?
Not necessarily so, experts say.
"I think it's basically an urban myth type of
thing," says Nancy Swaysey, a listings specialist for Pacific Bell
Directory in San Francisco. "We've never been able to determine
that it provides any advantage at all, no matter how many 'A's you
put in your name."
So directory publishers don't charge any more
for "A" businesses than other listings, she says.
Companies who pay for business-class phone service
receive a free one-line listing in the Yellow Pages, according to
Swaysey. Those with conventional phone service can pay up to $70
annually to be listed.
For companies that take out display advertising,
the smallest ads can cost $400 to $700 annually, she says.
and placement matter
The real directory eye-catchers have nothing to do with alphabet,
but with placement, presentation, color and, yes, size, Swaysey
"Size does matter, at least in the Yellow Pages,"
she says. "The display ads will always come first in every category,
long before AAA Pest Control or some other company with A at the
beginning of its name."
But advocates remain unswayed.
They argue that many customers scouring the
Yellow Pages or business white pages naturally focus on companies
earliest in the alphabet.
And that often leads to a "cha-ching" of the
cash register for the "A-team," they say.
to be first
There are many true believers in the "A" approach. Indeed, check
the business listings of any metropolitan area and you'll find page
after page of A-companies.
A-Plus Action Products Inc., A-Aaction Locksmiths,
AAA Mortgage Co. and A Aardvark Glass Co. -- to name a few.
Some can get completely carried away with the
Consider AAAA Trucks & Van Salvage Co.,
A AAA Tri County Movers and AAAAAAA Ability Attorney Referral Service.
Far more companies take an A-name than any other
frequently used naming approach, such as the use of American or
Unlike school report cards, however, having
too many As in your business name can be a bad thing.
many 'A's raise eyebrows
Many directory publishers routinely investigate the A-names
-- especially those with multiple As -- to see if they are indeed
the legal name of the business. If not, the bogus name is tossed
and barred from listing.
In one case in Seattle, a company's A-name in
the Yellow Pages triggered a lawsuit alleging false advertising
and fraud, Pacific Bell spokesman John Britton says.
"Consumers would always be wise to do more research
than just going with the first company they find in the listings,"
A-names also come under the watchful eye of
probably the best-known A-business -- the American Automobile Association,
a.k.a. Triple A.
"We monitor the use of the name AAA and our
logo," spokeswoman Cindy Sharpe of the Tampa AAA office says. "When
we see or hear of a business that might be infringing on our name
or logo, we send these to our national office for investigation."
Certainly, there is occasional confusion, she
"We receive calls periodically from people who
think we are associated with a business that has AAA in its name,"
she says. "One woman who was terminated from her job called us to
vent because the employer who fired her was AAA Parking. She thought
we were affiliated. There was also a driving school in South Florida
that used the name AAA and this caused some confusion."
In at least one case, even the "real" AAA' found itself under
scrutiny by a directory publisher, Sharpe says. Several years ago,
a directory publisher in Tennessee required AAA to show documents
verifying its legal name before it could be listed.
Most companies using the A-name approach are
in the service or retail sectors, They're rarely found in the high-tech
industry, says Gordon Hogan, a business development manager for
the Central Florida Innovation Corp., an Orlando-based business
incubator firm that works with technology companies.
Out of hundreds of inquiries and business plans
received by the firm, only two played the A-game: A-Plus Products
Inc. and A Very Private Eye Inc., Hogan says. Neither of them became
a client of the innovation group.
"Most of the companies we work with are into
manufacturing and they don't rely on the Yellow Pages to get their
customers," he says. "With tech companies, you're more likely to
see a lot of names beginning with the word 'advanced.' They like
to think that tells people they're on the cutting edge."
for any advantage
An overwhelming number of Yellow-Page advertisers -- about 95
percent -- are small business that are looking for any competitive
advantage they can find, says Swaysey of Pacific Bell. It is not
surprising some would be attracted to the A-name approach, she says.
"If there really was some advantage to it as
far as the Yellow Pages goes, we would have found it by now," she
says. "We study Yellow Page usage constantly, with focus groups,
surveys and other means. We've never been able to track anything
telling us it makes a difference."
Sprint Publishing has never felt a need to analyze
the A-listings, says spokeswoman Robin Gilbert. "We are aware that
this is a strategy used by some business owners, but it isn't something
we participate in and have had no reason to research it," she says.
At the bottom line, however, if the "A" fits,
wear it, small business officials say. You might, in fact, catch
that stray customer here and there who happens to like your phone
But let the namer beware.
"Our typical advice would be to choose a name
that reflects a unique business quality or niche," says Al Polfer,
director of the Small Business Development Center at the University
of Central Florida. "Simply putting AAA in front of a name doesn't
necessarily accomplish that. We also feel a name or advertisement
that suggests quality, certification or longevity would have more
value to someone making a business decision."
Rick Walter is a freelance
writer based in Florida
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-- Posted: June 23, 2000