Passed on and passed down
Mills agrees self-titled businesses tend to take on a closer extension of oneself, and that if it ever came around to selling the business that “it would really be a big matter of finding the right person to take over. I know it is a lot harder to sell a business when you’ve named it after yourself.”
Selling the business, or passing it on, is always a matter of conversation for business owners. And it can be difficult if the namesake moves on from the business. However, Wellington independent specialty grocer Moore Wilson’s proves that a business can run for a whole century, passed down through generations, all while continuing on the historic name – with or without a namesake.
Julie Moore, managing director of Moore Wilson’s and the latest of the family line to pick up the role, says self-titling means your brand will always be associated with you personally, yet this can be positive for a historical brand that has a solid reputation, rather than a new brand finding its feet.
“When your name is on the door you are always representing the brand and the business 24/7, this I enjoy as I am very proud of the history and the business.”
Moore Wilson’s was created in 1918 by Julie’s great-grandfather Frederick Moore and an associate now known only as ‘Wilson’. Wilson left the business a year into trading, but despite their name gracing Moore Wilson’s signage for 100 years, Moore says there has never been any talk about changing it.
“I can’t really talk for Frederick Moore back in late 1918 when Wilson left the company. But in my lifetime, there has been no discussion of dropping the name ‘Wilson’ from our company name even though the business has always been run by the Moore family.”
Who the co-founder ‘Wilson’ was, and why he or she left the company, is now a mystery. “There was a Wilson, but pretty much only in the first year,” says Moore. “The name just stuck.”
The business is now often conveniently shortened to ‘Moore’s’ by its many loyal customers. Moore says no matter what a business is titled, its success will always come down to the effort put into the brand and how well it connects with the customer. Connection is important in both cases of the customer and also inner relationships, Julie says the family has a relaxed style of management, as each member has a different skill set that complements each other.
“The key to staying relevant to your customers, I think, is in the standards you set and the work you put into your business. Moore Wilson’s is a brand that our customers associate with quality, value, old fashioned personal service, and innovation.”
Moore is proud of the heritage that Moore Wilson’s offers, and it is a namesake that she is hoping to continue into the future. Her younger brother Nick, 43, also manages the flagship branch. Julie and her father Graeme, who held her position before her, say they never had a plan for succession, but realise how unusual it is to have a fourth-generation family run business.
“I certainly would like to continue to run the business as well as the three Moores before me. It certainly is unique for a 100-year-old company to have been owned and run by one family, and only having three managing directors before myself.”
The passing of a family titled business on to younger members is often expected, yet Jonathan Yates, owner of Nick and Sons Hardware in Invercargill says the expectations can sometimes be hard to move past, even if he was reluctant to continue on the family-named business in the first place.
“I didn’t ever see myself running the store, yet as dad got older and so did I it seemed like a viable option. It had been passed down to him and it just didn’t feel right selling it on just yet while I still had the capacity to run it.”
Yates’ grandfather Nick Yates opened the store in 1950, and since then has been owned by himself, and his father before him who passed in 2015.
“If I had been younger when dad passed, I probably would have sold the business... But having a bit freer time in early retirement there didn’t seem any rush to sell. Being the sole owner was never my intention, but sometimes that is just how things work out.”
Yates acknowledges that some customers did express disappointment when he announced potential plans to sell the store. As a large portion of their customer base is old family friends and loyal regulars, Yates says keeping those relationships going is what has kept the store going.
“I remember I had this one guy say, ‘It’s Nick and Sons, not Nick and someone’s.’ And that really struck a chord despite being very cheesy. I had worked in this store almost every weekend growing up and I didn’t want my grandfather’s name run into the ground if the new owners failed to keep it going.
Yates confirms that the self-titling of the store makes the legacy of his family seem stronger than if it had a generic name. But also makes it harder to let go. However, he acknowledges that the family name won’t be the hard part about selling the business when the time comes, but more so his reluctance to create an ecommerce site or advertise past word of mouth.
“I will be selling the business soon, I’m getting older and with no kids to pick up where I left off, it will just come to a natural end… It is a worry every day what the new owners will be like… It definitely will come down to finding the right person.”
Despite his worries, Yates has kept an optimistic outlook, expressing that the heritage will always be there even if the name is not. He says it’s important to keep old relationships going, even if new owners have a different way of doing things.
“It may even be better if the new owners renamed it, maybe it needs a fresh start… But for many decades now we’ve had a loyal customer base, and as long as the buyers build on those relationships and respect the heritage, they will be fine… I’m really looking forward to retiring with a bit more peace of mind that the store will be okay in different hands.”
With a namesake business, problems arise with success and failure. If the company is successful, selling it with your name on it can be difficult — and changing the name can create problems with how consumers identify with the brand.
Rachel Mills admits she is lucky as she has “zero plans to sell the business.” Tim Webber, on the other foot, says as a furniture brand his options are a bit more open if he decides to step out of the business.
“If I ever came to the point of selling TWD, I would very carefully consider who would be taking over ownership of the brand and would ensure that my reputation was consistently upheld. There is always the option for a rebrand, which I’ve seen successfully work with a number of overseas furniture brands.”
With self-titled business, all the great things a retailer has done to grow that business remain with them, however humans make mistakes, and slip ups in business can also remain connected to the owner’s name. Like most things in business, nothing comes without risk.
Naming your business after yourself can seem like the easiest way to go. It’s simple, its honest, and it connects the founder closely to what they want to see flourish. It can be a logical choice, but in all honesty, there is no right or wrong answer to self-titling a business. Owning a store, or a brand, weather self-titled or not, it comes down to creating something that consumers find compelling, and something that your customers can connect with past just the individual.
This story was inspired by Hemma Vara's article on The Register, 'Self-titled: Naming your shop after yourself.'
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 760 February/March 2019