When Dave Cintorino opened Spas East in 1986, he stocked four spas and a few accessories in a 1,200-square-foot showroom. Over time, the company grew to include three locations — the largest measuring 10,000 square feet — and a broad range of products, including everything from casual furniture and pool tables to bars and neon signs.

Though he spent 20 years building name recognition, Cintorino realized his company had outgrown not only its initial location but also its original name. Spas East had become much more than a spa store, so Cintorino took the risky move last year of re-naming his business Home Escapes.

“We needed a name that better describes what we do,” says Cintorino, owner of the Vienna, Va., company. “Spas East was too limited for the product offering I have. It was confusing for customers looking for patio furniture to call Spas East. Home Escapes is more encompassing of what we do, and also describes where I want to go with the company in terms of what we do for people.”

The $30,000 rebranding effort was timed to coincide with other shakeups at Spas East. While he changed the company’s name, Cintorino was buying out his retiring partner’s portion of the business, preparing to open a third location, and implementing a new computer system.

“It was natural timing,” Cintorino says. “I was going through quite a metamorphosis, and the name-change marked a transition — rebranding it with me as the sole owner.”

Making the change took much advance planning, from selecting just the right moniker to spreading the word to customers without confusing them. Here, Cintorino shares the story of his rebranding process.

Choosing a name

Despite his excitement about the new name, Cintorino took his time introducing Home Escapes. In fact, he spent a year quietly preparing before telling customers about the change.

The first few months were devoted to selecting the perfect name. After searching the Web for available domain names, he ran dozens of options past a focus group of friends and family until he found one that hit a nerve. Home Escapes is generic enough to include any product for the home, yet still engenders a clear vision of the relaxed lifestyle Cintorino wants to create for customers.

After settling on a name, Cintorino created a new logo and had it printed on everything from letterhead and business cards to nametags and signs. He also bought and designed www.homeescapes.com, and hired an outside marketing firm to help him with the announcement.

When he was ready to roll out the new name, Cintorino started internally. First, he told his employees about the change, and explained the reasons behind it. Getting their buy-in was important, he says, because a new name means a new mission, and front-line workers are the ambassadors who convey that message to customers.

“I made it really clear why we were doing it, and they all loved the name,” he says.

Making introductions

The bigger task was introducing Home Escapes to the community. Cintorino started with a letter announcing the new name to his current customers. Next, the marketing firm worked on publicity, including ads in newspapers and on cable TV, and announcements to local chambers of commerce.

And, because the re-branding was timed to the opening of a new location and the start of a new season, the marketing firm also hosted a Grand Opening celebration that introduced customers to the new name and space.

“We tried to do as much of a build-up to launch the name as possible for as little as possible,” Cintorino says. “Getting some marketing assistance was helpful. It would have been hard for me to do all of that and all of the change at the same time. [Our marketing expert] had the expertise and contacts.”

The transition was not flawless. Cintorino quickly realized he didn’t do enough to prepare his current customers for the switch. Those who missed the single mailing about the change were confused, and some thought the company had been sold to new owners.

“One thing I misjudged was the recognition of the Spas East name,” Cintorino says. “I should have started mailings to my customers the minute I knew I was changing my name. If I could do it again, I would step up the campaign considerably, starting the process six months earlier and doing twice as many mailings. I think that would have caused less confusion and helped the buzz that much more.”

Getting to know you

To avoid marginalizing his current customers, Cintorino decided to slow the transition process by using both the Spas East and Home Escapes logos for six months. During that time, he sent three direct mail pieces with both names to customers.

“I just didn’t want to disenfranchise the people who had been shopping with us for 20 years,” he says. “It’s important to embrace the old name and let people know the new name is one and the same.”

Despite the difficulties, Cintorino doesn’t regret rebranding. He’s certain a new name and broader mission statement are exactly what he needs to take his company to the next level. In fact, he’s already creating a wish list of new products he hopes to add to his inventory, including home-theater seating, decks and pool supplies. He even dreams of franchising.

“My mission statement states that we want to sell products that help people escape to their own home,” Cintorino says. “Now that I’m better branded, I have a name that I can run with and add home products of any kind.”

Unfortunately, it may be a while before Cintorino fully realizes the benefits of rebranding. His plans for additional growth have been dashed by the slumping economy.

While he can’t judge the full extent of its success just yet, there is evidence the name change is having a positive effect.

When the new Home Escapes location opened in June, people came in because the name was intriguing, Cintorino says. If it was still Spas East, however, they might have avoided it, assuming it was “just another hot tub store.”

“This put a little strain on me financially, but I’m ready to go when we come out of this slump, and that’s a good feeling,” Cintorino says. “It was more for long-term strategic planning than just for a quick pop. It will probably take another couple of years for people to really know the name, but once we’re there, I think it will be great.”