Interview with Alexandra in Toy Magazine

Posted by Alexandra Watkins on July 30, 2008


Alexandra was recently featured in an interview in EdPlay magazine, which is the go-to resource for specialty toy, game, gift, and museum stores. We think toy store names should be fun, whimsical and cheeky, yet they are often the worst offenders and biggest Head Scratchers. Case in point: abraKIDabra, F.A.O. Schwartz, Toys “R” Us, and MrToys.com, pictured here, which is a classic example of a very dated retail store name. See what advice Alexandra spouted off in this informative article…

What’s the Name of That Store?

by Tina Manzer

The names of your store, website, special services and exclusive product are very important pieces of equipment in your marketing toolbox. Nowhere is that more evident than in the specialty toy industry, where names have to convey so much in so few words. To characterize your successful toy business or product accurately (and memorably), you must relate – in just a few words – that it’s fun, safe, whimsical, educational, colorful, skill-building, open-ended, trustworthy, high quality, favorite … you get the idea.

To get some advice on what makes a good name, we talked to Alexandra Watkins, founder of the naming company Eat My Words in San Francisco. She gave us her insight on the naming process, what makes a good name, and ways to test the name you come up with.

edplay: What are the components of a good company name in general? How about names for small independently owned toy stores?

Alexandra: The same basic principles of naming apply to everything. You want to be distinct from your competitors, be memorable, and make an emotional connection with your customers. An emotional connection that a toy store might want to make is to entertain, engage and make people smile. Speaking of smiling, we filter all of our names through the Eat My Words SMILE & SCRATCH Test, which is based on our philosophy that a name should make you smile, instead of scratch your head. Anyone can use this to evaluate her store name.

SMILE – qualities of a powerful name

Simple – one easy-to-understand concept
Meaningful – your customers instantly “get it”
Imagery – visually evocative, creates a mental picture
Legs – carries the brand, lends itself to wordplay
Emotional – empowers, entertains, engages, enlightens

SCRATCH it off the list if it has any of these deal-breakers:

Spelling-challenged – you have to tell people how to spell it
Copycat – similar to competitor’s names
Random – disconnected from the brand
Annoying – hidden meaning, forced
Tame – flat, uninspired, boring, non-emotional
Curse of Knowledge – only insiders get it
Hard-to-pronounce – not obvious, relies on punctuation

edplay: How should their toy stores’ names fit in with their branding, marketing, advertising and promotional efforts?

Alexandra: A great store name can drive all of these marketing functions. For instance, we named a chain of frozen yogurt stores Spoon Me. Before the store even opened, the sign outside said “Spooning Soon” instead of “Coming Soon.” On the front door, the sign says, “No shirt. No shoes. No spoon.” And since they are in Utah, their “Hours” sign says, “No spooning on Sunday.” Spoon Me has promotions like spooning contests and letting customers come up with new slogans for their bathroom wall, based on famous movie quotes (for instance, “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to spoon me.”). Spoon Me doesn’t need to do advertising because the name gets so much attention.

edplay: Could a business name make or break the business? Do you have any examples of a business that couldn’t get off the ground because of its name? Or one that was so good that the name on its own sold the product?

Alexandra: A great name can make a business and even make money for a store. Spoon Me is a classic example of how a store can monetize their name through merchandising. They have a steady revenue stream from merchandise with the Spoon Me name on it, including t-shirts, pajamas, baby clothes, bumper stickers and buttons. If Spoon Me had gone with their original name, Zenyo, it might not have “broken” the business, but the company would not be cashing in on the name through merchandise sales. I know that two frozen yogurt stores I saw this weekend, Yogurt Cup and SoGreen, don’t have a powerful enough name to sell even a t-shirt, let alone drive a marketing or promotional campaign. People do stop in Spoon Me stores just to buy the merchandise. That’s a powerful name.

edplay: Could changing the existing name of a store give it a shot in the arm by creat

ing more interest, generating sales, being more conducive to marketing? What if the name was inherited when the business was bought?

Alexandra: Unless your toy store name has a long legacy behind it, you can certainly change it. Business owners often have an inflated perspective of the equity in their name. A name change is a great excuse to do promotions and generate media attention. It’s like having an extreme makeover, and can definitely give any business additional marketing opportunities. There is a gourmet popcorn store called Popcorn 479. It’s totally flat. We would love to re-name it Pop Psychology. We would really play up the therapy theme and have gift tins like “Bi-Polar,” which would be half caramel/half cheese popcorn. And “Munchausen Syndrome” would be a fun name for a gift tin for anyone with a serious case of the munchies. I can’t think of anything you could do with a non-emotional and bland name like Popcorn 479. I guarantee that a name change for them would be an overnight success.

edplay: Do you have any advice for small independent businesses that are looking to come up with a name, change their name or make their identities stronger?

Alexandra: Take our SMILE & SCRATCH Test to see how your name does. If it doesn’t pass, try to come up with a name that lends itself to wordplay and has a rich vocabulary around it so you can extend the brand through marketing, merchandising and promotions.

edplay: What are some good ways to “test” a name?

Alexandra: Saying it out loud is a great test. Also make sure that if you have a website, your name doesn’t spell anything bad, like Cardiff Art Supply could be www.cardiffartsupply.com. Yikes!

To see some of some fun kid-friendly names like Dizzywood and Monkey Dunks, check out our portfolio.

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