What’s in a name? Chattanooga brands are emotional, and changing them is a big challenge


Want to draw attention to your brand? Try to change it.

“One of the last bastions of trust really exists in brands,” says Kody Dahl, creative director of Whiteboard, a Chattanooga-based creative agency. “When a brand changes, a space in which a consumer feels safe changes.”

And it’s a particularly difficult process when a local brand with a dedicated audience needs to shift gears. Just ask Amanda Nelson Varnell, Marketing and Culinary Director of Alchemy Spice Company, who recently joined the nearly 20-year-old company as part of a brand refresh.

Varnell had been using Alchemy spices in her catering business for almost a decade when new owners Henry and John Oehmig hired her. The brothers shared their plans to shorten and simplify Alchemy’s original product names (think Fat Elvis becomes Memphis Dry Rub and Sgt. Pepper becomes Herbed Pepper), and Varnell had opinions.

“I was very worried when they told me they were changing all the names,” Varnell says. “I got an external processor and I said, ‘You guys screwed up. “”

They’re laughing about it now, and the artisanal spice company has tripled its sales since the Oehmigs took over, but navigating brand changes is serious business, says Henry Oehmig.

“It’s a jump, but business is a jump, and you’re trying to take smart bets and risks,” says Oehmig, who bought Alchemy Spice Company in 2019.

The new owners have quadrupled foodservice sales, brought Alchemy to the shelves at 51 Publix stores in Tennessee, and added a new digital platform that increases product visibility in new locations across the country.

“We wanted to take this small business and this market-centric product line and try to position it in something with a broader appeal and reinforce the premium nature of it,” Oehmig said. “Change is always difficult, but we’ve had positive responses overall.”

For Barry White, CEO of the Chattanooga Tourism Company, the rebranding he tackled and his team was much larger than their organization. They renamed the city.

“Our initiative was to discover the essence of the Chattanooga brand and who we are as a community,” says White, who has been in his role since early 2018. “The organizational change came naturally as a result of this.”

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Brands are emotional, and changing them is a big challenge

Refreshing the Chattanooga brand has been an extensive process that has solicited feedback from thousands of visitors, potential visitors and residents, White said. Throughout the process, the character of the city as a place where ‘we are extremely proud of where we live, but we are down to earth people and we will take care of you while you are. here ”came out loud and clear, he adds.

“Our product is Chattanooga,” White says. “Whenever we’re outside of this marketing community, we’re Chattanooga.”

But his organization’s name change in 2020 to Chattanooga Tourism Company was long overdue after 55 years of existence as the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, he adds.

“The CVB nickname has been around for quite a while, and trying to explain that we work for an office isn’t very friendly,” White says. “It sounded like a lot of bureaucracy.”

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Head of Marketing Bill Chase at Bellhop on November 1st.

For Bellhop, the company that was known until early this year as Bellhops, the rebranding was more than just a letter at the end of the company name, said Bill Chase, chief marketing officer. .

Over the past decade, as Bellhop has grown from a labor-intensive business based solely on dormitory moves to a national full-service moving and storage company, it had to change its style for the better. reflect how the business has grown with its customers. , said Chase.

“The name Bellhops sounded like you were only hiring a few people to come to your place rather than buying an entire service,” he says. “The change allows us to add more services, and Bellhop becomes more of a destination.”

Removing a letter from a name might seem trivial, but that letter has many implications, says Chase. There’s a new website domain to buy, new t-shirts to order, new signage to install, trucks to repack, e-signatures to update. And people are changing their ways, which can be the biggest obstacle of all, he adds.

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Photograph contributed by Bellhop / The original logo of the company now known as Bellhop dates back to when it was started almost ten years ago as a dorm mover.

“We have thousands of old Bellhops T-shirts in the field, and we had to send new ones to everyone on the platform, but some of them like the old ones,” he says. “We’re like, please donate the old one or wear it to the gym.”

Even brand pros have to remember to forget the old name, says Sarah Marshall, senior brand manager at Bellhop.

“I think it definitely took me a few months after we shortened it,” she says. “It’s embarrassing at first.”

The best reason to go through the complex process of rebranding, or even just refreshing a brand, is to follow the evolution of a company’s history, says Eric Brown, founder of Whiteboard.

“It’s more than a logo, more than a typography,” he says. “The appropriate time to rebrand is when the truth is not fully realized.”

The most publicized and unfortunate example of what hit recently was Facebook’s rebranding to Meta in November, Brown said.

“Facebook has had problems,” he says. “All my friends, and for the first time my parents, are wondering, ‘What do we do? What did we subscribe to?’ Then Facebook decided to change its name. “

But typically, the reasons for rebranding are less about damage limitation and more about reflecting changes that are just part of doing business, Dahl explains.

“It’s about telling the truest truth about your business to the right people,” he says. “You change when you don’t accurately describe who you are and what you do, or when you tell your story to the wrong audience. “

For Food City CEO Steve Smith, the challenge was to introduce a new brand to a market where an old local brand had been going through tough times, he says.

Family-owned and founded in Chattanooga in 1908, Red Food Stores was sold to French retailer Promodes in 1980, then to Dutch grocery giant Ahold in 1995. Ahold then rebranded Red Food Stores as Bi-Lo. In 2015, Food City, a Virginia-based family business, purchased all 29 Bi-Lo supermarkets in the Chattanooga area.

“It was more complicated than getting in and picking up some Bi-Lo stores,” Smith said. “You had a company with a very rich history with the Red Food organization that dates back decades in the history of Chattanooga. For 20 years, they have rebounded from property to property which has not always invested much in it. We knew what we were getting in, we knew we had to rebuild. “


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CB Schmelter Staff Photo / Food City President and CEO Steve Smith speaking to The Times Free Press at the new Food City on Highway 41 in Ringgold, GA in 2019. Food City bought supermarkets Bi-Lo existing in the Chattanooga area in 2015, and focused on telling their own brand story in a market with a lot of history. “You had a company with a very rich history with the Red Food organization that dates back decades in the history of Chattanooga,” Smith said.

The purchase was an opportunity to introduce a new brand and build confidence, but it took a lot of work, says Smith.

“You want your customers to trust you and your associates to trust you as well,” he says. “We had to convince the associates when we got to Chattanooga.”

Food City executives have worked to achieve this by investing in stores and their employees, as well as building new stores across the region, including in East Ridge and South Broad Street, Smith said. But there are still many people who remember Red Food, he adds.

“We always hear Red Food,” says Smith.

Ultimately, changing brands means signing up for heavy chores and maybe tough reviews, Dahl explains.

“The change factor itself, no matter how much you change, no matter how good the reasons for the change are, you have to have an appetite for discomfort in the public eye,” he says. “You have to have a good reason for rebranding, and a good reason from your audience’s perspective. “

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Freeda S. Scott