March 26, 2013

Legislative committee urges review of rules on ambiguous business names

Move prompted by Waterville couple's struggle with Bangor car dealership that adopted similar name

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

AUGUSTA — A Waterville couple's concern about how the state approves business names led a legislative committee to vote Tuesday to require the Department of the Secretary of State to examine its practices.

click image to enlarge

Shannon and Jason Hodgdon stand outsdie their B2B Car Service garage on Washington Street in Waterville in January. The Hodgdons changed the name of their business from Bumper to Bumper to B2B Auto Sales and Service, because of complaints against a company in Bangor named Bumper 2 Bumper.

Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Jason and Shannon Hodgdon asked Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, for help last year after they got complaints from customers who thought they were a Bangor business with a nearly identical name.

In 2004, the Hodgdons opened a car repair business in a garage next to their home on Washington Street in Waterville and called it Bumper to Bumper Repair. 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, the former Bangor Car Care started calling itself Bumper2Bumper and advertised on the radio, inviting customers to visit them on Washington Street in Bangor. That made it hard for customers to know it was a different company, the Hodgdons said. They began to field dozens of calls from customers unhappy with the service they received from the former Bangor car business, which has earned an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Since then, the Bangor company has changed its name to My Maine Ride Inc., but the incident prompted Beck to sponsor a bill to require 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.

Rather than adopt the bill, members of the Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to call for the secretary of state to form a working group to study the process for approving business names and report back to the Legislature next year. Beck said the group will look for ways to "avoid deceptively similar names" and other issues.

"It's even better than I imagined," he said. "We'll be taking a holistic approach."

Shannon Hodgdon said she's pleased with the amended bill.

"It does an injustice to all small businesses that are the heartbeat of the Maine economy when the secretary of state says, 'Well, it's a similar name, but only slightly, so it's OK,'" she said. "This will prevent this sort of thing from happening."

Hodgdon said that although the Bangor business has changed its name, his business still gets calls from customers unhappy with the service they received from the former Bangor Car Care.

"We're now cleaning up the aftermath," she said. "There's still that level of confusion for the customer."

The bill, as amended, will go forward to the full Legislature for consideration.

Susan Cover — 621-5643
scover@mainetoday.com

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