January 28, 2013

Bill aims to prevent businesses from using similar names

Bumper to Bumper Repair in Waterville claims it has suffered since a Bangor business changed its name to Bumper2Bumper.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

WATERVILLE — When it comes to naming a business, there's not much difference between "to" and "2."

click image to enlarge

Shannon and Jason Hodgdon stand outsdie their B2B Car Service garage on Washington Street in Waterville on Thursday. The Hodgdons said they had to change the name of their business from Bumper to Bumper to B2B Auto Sales and Service, because of complaints of poor business practices by another garage in Bangor, named Bumper2Bumper.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seaman

Just ask Jason and Shannon Hodgdon, of Waterville, who have appealed to their local state representative for a law change so other small businesses won't have to deal with the confusion that started when a Bangor business chose to use a name nearly identical to theirs.

It all started in 2004, when the Hodgdons opened a car repair business in a garage next to their home on Washington Street. They wanted a name that would set them apart and decided Bumper to Bumper Repair would do the trick.

"We can pretty much repair anything from bumper to bumper," Shannon Hodgdon said.

In 2005, they began selling used cars and their business continued to grow. They did little advertising, relying instead on word of mouth and a reputation for standing by their cars and their work.

"Our business has exploded solely on word of mouth," she said. "Our name and our reputation mean everything to us."

In 2008, they filled out the paperwork with the state to form a corporation called B2B Auto Sales Inc., doing business as Bumper to Bumper Repair.

Then about two years ago, customers started coming in saying they were hearing radio advertisements for the business. At first, Jason and Shannon were confused.

Then they got worried.

"I immediately contacted the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and said how can these people be advertising as if they were me?" she said.

A Bangor business, formerly Bangor Car Care, was now calling itself Bumper2Bumper. They invited customers to visit them on Washington Street in Bangor.

Jason and Shannon, located on Washington Street in Waterville, tried to convince the state not to let Bangor Car Care incorporate as Bumper2Bumper. Shannon called the Department of the Secretary of State, the governor's office, the attorney general and the state police inspector who regularly visits car dealers. But there was no state law to prevent it, so there are now two businesses within 60 miles of each other separated only by the difference of "to" versus "2."

The problem goes beyond creating confusion for customers.

Bumper2Bumper, located in Bangor, has earned an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau. The Massachusetts-based business bureau put out a press release in December 2011 warning consumers about Bumper2Bumper, citing 53 unanswered complaints. A check of the business bureau website on Friday showed the majority of customer complaints are related to problems with products or services.

Glenn Geiser, owner of Bumper2Bumper in Bangor, said those complaints are old and that his business does such a high volume of sales -- he said 200 cars a month -- that the complaints are but a fraction of his customer base.

And, as of Friday, Feb. 1, he is changing his name to My Maine Ride Inc. as part of a mediated settlement with a national company that calls itself Bumper to Bumper.

He said he understands the Hodgdons were upset.

"He had gotten calls from people," Geiser said of Jason Hodgdon. "It created some aggravation. As of next week, he's not going to have to worry about it."

Although they can't put a dollar figure on it, the Hodgdons believe they have been harmed because the state allowed another company in the same industry to have a very similar name. Jason Hodgdon said he spoke with a lawyer who told him it would cost thousands of dollars and years in court to fight for the name.

They decided to replace the sign outside the business with a new one that says "B2B" in hopes that that would end the confusion.

The Hodgdons also turned to state Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, for help. Beck is sponsoring L.D. 46, "An Act to Protect Maine Business Names," which requires the secretary of state to disregard "too," "two," "2," "II" and "ii" when deciding whether a business name is distinguishable from the names of other businesses.

Beck said he realizes it's too late to help the Hodgdons, but he's hoping to "prevent the problem in the future."

A public hearing on the bill will be held in the coming weeks before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

"It's been a big issue for me -- a super-big issue," Jason Hodgdon said recently as he stood in the repair garage. "I've taken a bath over it."

Susan Cover -- 621-5643
scover@mainetoday.com

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