Hi everyone and welcome to Tuesday Tips. This is going to be the Branding and Identity section in our "How To Start A Reselling Business" series.

Oh, before we start: if you're new to our blog, you might want to read the earlier post about Planning first. You might also want to read the two intro posts: Should I Start A Reselling Business? Part 1 and Part 2.

I had a week off to think about this installation in our series, and I came to the conclusion that it would be rather irresponsible to present this section as "authoritative" in any way. Two reasons for this: I'm not a designer or branding expert, and there are just so many different ways to go about figuring out branding/identity.

So for today's post, I'm just going to throw out a few of my own opinions and ideas on the whole branding/identity (crisis) thing. Please - if you're a designer or have taken classes, etc, I KNOW you know more about this than I do. In fact, I'd love if you would leave a comment about what YOU feel are the important points for branding a Reselling business... but, uh, please be nice. =)

OK, first up is a simple question:

Is a business "name" really neccessary?

The answer to this, for our purposes, is NO. Remember, we aren't talking about a brick and mortar business here. You are most likely going to be selling things online, through a third party service such as Ebay or Etsy. Even if you're going the "antique booth" route, you don't necessarily need to have any name - you can let the merch speak for itself (and in fact, the last time I went to an antique mall, I counted only 5 booths out of 50 who had any sort of official "name" posted).

There are tons of folks reselling on Ebay who use nothing but their username as their identity - and they're doing fantastically well. (Well, some of them might have a "name" they've chosen, and might even use it on their Ebay store.) It may even help out to use "joeshmoe" as your ebay handle, because if you have a fancy, descriptive name it might pigeon-hole you into selling only a certain type of merch. We personally have this problem occasionally - a buyer who comes to our main store is often expecting to look at modern, midcentury items. Putting newer items or older antiques can compromise the overall look of our shop.

All of this said - I would always vote for having a name. There's just a lot more you can do with a reselling business as far as promotion, word-of-mouth, branding and social networking go if you have SOME sort of name. It doesn't even have to be legally set in stone (we'll get to those aspects in another post), but it can really help you focus your reselling activities.

Well, if you don't think you need to have a name for your business, then you can pretty much skip this entire post. But I would still think about at least focusing on the overall genre of what you're going to sell. And I guess that falls into "branding". So maybe stick around for just #1 and #2 of the following starting points to branding and identity for a reselling business:

1. Narrow your reselling focus.
2. Consider your potential buyers.
3. Research/pick some names based on #1, #2.
4. Buy a domain name, if desired.
5. Work on a logo.

You've probably already given some thought to the type of items you might resell. That'll be helpful when trying to find your shop's identity. Are you going to try to sell vintage clothes? Electronics from the 50s? Ceramics from Canada? Glass from Scandinavia? Newer housewares?

You'll also want to think about what kind of people you'd like to attract. Are they mostly 40-60 year old ladies who like milk glass? Is it guys who like antique toolshed whatchamacallits? How about higher end investors who're looking for bargains on midcentury artwork?

These first two points will help you create an identity for your shop, and will also guide your name picking (if you should choose to pick a name for your business). If you're going to pick a name, I really think it should be associated with what you're selling and the type of buyers you're looking to attract.

Well, it doesn't HAVE to be related. But it's a good place to start. Maybe you just want a weird, unique name for the biz. That's fine too, and might even be better. So, on the subject of name picking - that's something really personal (think about how hard it was to name your children, LOL). I'm not going to try and suggest anything.

However, I'll give a few naming guidelines in case you have no idea where to start:

• Simple is better.
• Shorter is better.
• Unique is better.
• Memorable is better.
• Easy to pronounce is better.

Again, you might just be the exception to the rule - however, my gut tells me that IN GENERAL these are some good guidelines. What I usually do is just sit down with paper and pen (in front of the TV, perhaps) and just write down as many different ideas and words you can think of that might be potential business names. Write down ALL of them - even how stupid, trite or lame they may sound. One dumb name might trigger a brainstorm that leads to a really amazing name. You may want to ask for name ideas from the significant other, the kids, the dogs... you get the idea. I would spend a few days doing this.

Once you've done that - I'd try and narrow down the choices. Go back through and cross out the obviously bad ones. Circle the ones with promise. Make a star next to your favorite circled ones, and rank them in order of preference.

Next - I would start to do some online research to see what names are already in use. What you do NOT want to do is type in "mynewvintagestorename.com" ANYWHERE.

Don't do that... here's why. You might not even be looking to get a domain, but it's worth it to know why this is important. Domain names are a big business. Back in the day when there weren't too many people who were registering domains, unsavory people looking to make a quick buck figured out they could just register bunches of common words as domains AND THEN HOLD THEM HOSTAGE. This is called Domain Squatting, and we feel it's an absolutely reprehensible practice - even though it's completely legal and tons of people do it today. OK, I'll get off the soap box now...

So, basically - you don't want any sort of record out there that you're interested in a name. When you look for "vintagestorename.com" in a search engine (or god forbid, at a domain name registrar), the record that you looked for it may stick around. Squatter folks or other registrars may get access to that record, run it through some algorithms to decide whether the name may be valuable, and BUY it right from under you. Trust me - this DOES happen.

If that happened, I guess it wouldn't be the end of the world. But what I would do instead is search for the actual name you're looking for in google or whatever search engine, just to see if there's a lot of similar businesses in that field. For instance - if you're considering "Sue's Vintage Tablecloths" then check out that term, and also check out "Vintage Tablecloths" and other related terms. Just don't type in "suesvintagetablecloths.com".

Are there a lot of similar names listed in the search results? You can probably pare the list down further if there are a lot of larger businesses that are already up and running with similar names.

I haven't actually talked about whether or not you NEED to get a domain name. I might save most of this for the "Tech" portion of this series, but in general here's my thought: if there's ANY possible chance that you might be running a blog, self-hosted online store, or other website component of your online business, then just buy the related domain name(s) anyhow. It's usually only about $10 for a year. If you don't end up using it, you're out ten bucks. I've done it where I've bought 3 or 4 just to make sure, and just used one in the end.

Buying a related domain does NOT (as far as I know) protect you if someone later claims a trademark on the name. But you're probably out of luck anyhow if that's the case.

Anyhow, what I usually do is narrow it down to a few possible names, and then just go try buy the domains starting with your favorite one. Remember: just because the one you pick is not available, it doesn't mean you can't add any number of different suffixes, prefixes or phrases to it in order to get the domain name you want. But I would still try and keep it short if you can.

So assuming you've gotten your name and domain, the next thing I would do is try and think about your logo. Again, there is that question of: Do I NEED a logo? And again, the answer is NO. But I would lean toward one anyhow.

The main reason is that it can really help with your branding. It helps get your name out there. It gives you something to put on business cards and other materials. It'll help with icons for social networking - yep, you don't have to be that "anonymous" shadow anymore, LOL.

Next, you're probably going to want to know how to design your logo. Sorry, I can't help there. Ideally, we could have 3 whole separate posts just on that - but this is not the place for it. I can only tell you that, you don't absolutely need one, but it's highly recommended for the points I mentioned. Well, here are a few general ideas for you to think about:

• Make sure it's readable.
• Make sure you also get the logo in Vector format.
• Use your logo everywhere you can.

These points are equally valid whether you end up designing it yourself, or if you pay someone to design it. You spent all this time coming up with your business's name - now make sure that name is readable in the logo. Sounds like a given - but, you know how it goes. =)

Somewhat less obvious is to make sure the final design is in vector format. What I mean is that the logo really should be in a format that is scalable and resizable. (Hint: a .bmp, .jpg, .gif, or .png file is NOT a vector file. In most cases, those are bitmap files that cannot be scaled up in size without degradation.) If you wanted to make a 5 foot by 5 foot sign with your logo on it to hang on the wall of your antique booth, and the logo you designed in photoshop is only 300 by 300 pixels at 72 dpi, that might not look very good.

Again... I'm not going to get too far into the technical aspect. Just know that if you're asking someone to design it for you, you want to have the original file in vector format that they're working from. They can export normal graphics from it for you as well, but always get the original vector file in case you need it later. If you decide that you absolutely have to make the logo yourself, and you're not using Illustrator - well then, my advice is to make the original file as BIG as possible and then scale it down for use on the web as needed.

Finally, once you get your logo it makes sense to use it everywhere you can. I mean, don't spam people with it. But you should put it on your website, use it in your ebay auctions and etsy profile, use it in social network icons, watermark your pictures with it, put it on business cards and your stationery.

Whew, sorry that was more long-winded than I intended. Again, please remember that this is just a jumping off point for thinking about branding a business. I've probably made every designer reading this out there cringe with inaccuracies, but I just know this method of thinking about branding and logos has worked for us. There's probably also other websites that'll cover it in better detail, but I hope this is a good starting point.

I hope to take a stab next Tuesday at the "Legal and Taxes" portion of How To Start A Reselling Business. I was sort of dreading trying to write that section, but I know that it's probably one of the areas that other Resellers are most interested in. It'll also be timely, as we're currently working on our taxes right now. OK, see you all next week!

Previous posts in our Tuesday Tips ReSeller Series:

[2/1/2011] How To Start A Reselling Business: Planning
[1/25/2011] Should I Start A Reselling Business? Part 2
[1/18/2011] Should I Start A Reselling Business? Part 1

Responses:
  1. DogsMom Says:

    Very good points. I have a real beginner question, and not even on the main topic.
    domain names – I understand the buying idea, but from whom are you buying them and how did they get possession of the domain name to begin with?

  2. A La Modern Says:

    @dogsmom – Sure, I’ll try to address that as best I know. The domain names at the start don’t really belong to anyone. So when you are registering a domain, it’s like going to city hall to get a business license for “Aunty Ems Excellent Eggs” or something. No one owned that name before, but in order to use it, you have to claim it and then pay the city you’re doing business in for it yearly.

    For domain names, city hall is ICANN. However, it gets confusing because they aren’t usually who you deal with to buy a domain name. They accredit diffrent 3rd party companies called “Registrars” who faciliate the buying/selling of domain names. See this list of registrars. Some popular domain registars are GoDaddy.com, Network Solutions, etc. These companies are all providing the service of registering domains and make money off of commission, or by selling add-on products like webhosting.

    So with domain “squatters”, what they are doing is looking through search results, or just trying to come up with a name that might be popular. Then they register them (sometimes hundreds at a time), in the hope that they can sell them for more in the future – to people like us who are looking for a domain name. They often pick trending topics and make domains out of those words.

    They’re called squatters, because it’s like they take up residence in an empty house. In general, we never buy from a domain squatter. Just on the principle, it pisses me off =) .

  3. vintagescapes Says:

    I appreciate this segment because I just spent time designing a logo and finally picked a name that I might use. Not 100% sure that it’s going to stick yet, but since I’ve designed a logo for it is a kind of commitment.
    As a side note I love the simplicity of your name and font plus I think all of your designed backgrounds are fun as well.
    As far as domains go, I’ve been searching around and cant decide on a host… suggestions?

  4. A La Modern Says:

    @vintagescapes – thank you for the kind words! We’re lucky that Linda is a graphic designer, so we had the logo covered =)

    As far as hosting goes – I want to be clear and say that there’s a difference between getting a domain name and getting hosting. For those interested, I’ll try cover all of this in an upcoming episode on the tech side of reselling. Most companies do both – but it’s entirely possible to get a domain name at one place, and the hosting at another place. We actually do this. Our domain was registered through GoDaddy.com and our hosting is from Dreamhost.

    We’ve been using Dreamhost for… 12 years? They’re not perfect,but fairly reliable. Godaddy we use only for domains because they’re cheap – I wouldn’t recommend their hosting though. One thing to keep in mind – many hosting companies will include one domain registration in the cost of hosting… so there’s no need to get a domain separately if you only need one. We have several domains, so we had to buy them.

    (Full disclosure: the links above are affiliate links, so if you buy something through them, we get a little commission)

  5. Van Says:

    Excellent, detailed tips! I’m definitely going to use the naming and logo guidelines you listed since I haven’t really picked a name for my antique booth. That’s up in the air now. Like you suggested, sometimes your merchandise speaks for itself. Mine seems to do that without extra branding- but I won’t know if it increases sales unless I try it!

  6. A La Modern Says:

    Thanks Van – we’re still thinking about trying the antique booth thing one of these days too. I’m curious if it helps at all to put a name up in a booth or not… personally, as an antique shopper at a mall, it doesn’t matter as much to me. But I know if I see a booth with lots of stuff we like (midcentury, or scandi stuff), and I see a name or biz cards avail, I’m likely to go check out the online component if they have one in addition to the booth itself.

  7. Happyflowerhead Says:

    Just wanted to say thank you again for posting this – I have been agonizing over my soon-to-be etsy shop name for about a month now so your subject choice was helpful for me. One of the issues with etsy is that all names that have ever been used to buy or sell on the site are unavailable for others to use, regardless of whether or not the buyer/seller is active. If you are opening a re-selling store and want to be somewhat specific (you make this point above – that a name can help people know what you are selling, but can also limit what makes “sense” in your shop) your options are limited. What I describe applies to etsy, but a lot of great domain names are taken too. I certainly struggled to figure out a name that worked/I liked/wasn’t taken already and I’m still not certain I’ll use it!