Price Chopper’s Name Game

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\"RRAlthough it doesn’t happen often, one of the most momentous decisions a company’s board and top executives can make is to change the customer-facing name of the company.

Sometimes, such a change can go well, for example when Macy’s changed the disparate department-store banners it had acquired over time to the Macy’s name itself. Now only Bloomingdale’s remains as a separate banner. There was some initial consumer pushback, especially concerning changing the name of Marshall Field’s in Chicago, but that settled down and now Macy’s enjoys the benefit of being able to stage company-wide, national promotions and advertising campaigns.

In the supermarket space, several companies have changed store banners for various reasons; some went well, some didn’t. Years ago, Food Town changed to Food Lion, which went well. The name change of Lucky supermarkets to Albertson’s went less well.

After 40 years, there’s a name change in the offing for Price Chopper supermarkets in upstate New York and New England that seems to be premised on some especially dubious reasoning.

Price Chopper is a regional chain of about 130 supermarkets operated by Golub Corp., a family owned company based in Schenectady, New York. The company was founded in 1932, and the markets operated as Public Service Market then Central Market before the Price Chopper moniker.

Golub intends to abandon the Price Chopper banner in favor of calling its supermarkets “Market 32.” This is a very strange change. Sure, it echoes previous Market names used by Golub and to the year of its founding, but what supermarket shopper under 80 years old recalls that or really cares about it?

Moreover, unlike the name change Macy’s undertook, the Market 32 name has no equity and is virtually unknown to consumers. Price Chopper, if a bit dated, at least has the advantage of suggesting low prices. Market 32 suggests…nothing.

In another transitional move that may backfire, stores will be bannered “Market 32 by Price Chopper” for a time before the Price Chopper name vanishes. This may confuse everyone and even suggest to shoppers that there was something wrong with the Price Chopper name.

Jerry Golub, Golub’s CEO, has said the name change is intended to reflect a shift from selling basic product toward increasing the offer of prepared-meal solutions. How Market 32 suggests this is anyone’s guess. Tactically, the idea sounds like a way to chase Wegman’s success in foodservice offerings. But changing the name to transform its marketing mix is a bit extreme.

Maybe reverting to the Central Market banner would have been a better idea. But in a strange twist, Golub no longer owns that name. For many years it has belonged to H-E-B, the supermarket operator in Texas.

The Price Chopper name change won’t be cheap. Gloub intends to spend some $300 million over a period of years to effectuate the change. In addition to changing store signs and upgrading some locations, there are costs involved in changing uniforms, technology, loyalty cards and especially product, by bulking up fresh prepared and revamping store brands.

If the name change proves to be a bad idea, it won’t be the first time a customer-facing aspect of this company went awry. For many years, Price Chopper’s logo featured a Morgan silver dollar with a slice of it chopped out by an axe. The coin’s main period of minting ended in 1904, so apart from numismatics, virtually no living shopper could grasp its literal meaning. Insult to injury, the face of a woman was on the chopped side of the coin. Price Chopper was obliged to change the logo a while back for obvious reasons.

There’s a parallel here to Walgreen’s recent abandonment of its mortar-and-pestle logo when research showed that younger shoppers had no idea what it depicted, let alone how it might relate to a pharmacy.

The recent experiences of Macy’s, Walgreen’s and now Price Chopper show how serious changing the name or logo of a company can be. Rebranding is risky business. Just as each of us has a name at the core of our individual sense of identity, so brands have names as the basis of their visual and verbal identities. Names project the personality of the brand; they inform the quality and integrity of what they represent. And to be successful, they need to be relevant, pronounceable, memorable, and free of negative connotations. With so much riding on a brand’s success in the marketplace, the decision whether to change the company name is not insignificant. An effective name change should use the power of words to give the company and brands competitive advantage; ideally, target audiences should associate the new name with the strategic positioning objectives of the product or service, and at the same time lend the brand the desired amount of differentiation in its competitive space. The jury is out on the decision to brand Price Chopper, Market 32.



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