What’s in a name? Several legal battles and a £70,000 bill

NCC designs and manufactures a range of products made exclusively from organic, naturally-coloured cotton. Founded by Conneely in 2005, first year sales have just hit £600,000, with £150,000 profit. And Conneely expects sales to top £4m within two years.

However, the company was nearly scuppered within the first few months of launch. The brand name "Natural Colour Cotton" is a generic term. Much like “fresh air” or “healthy living”. During the registration process, Conneely had to fork out £70,000 in legal fees and registration costs to contest objections to trademarking the name.

Conneely mortgaged his family home to the tune of £300,000 to get the business off the ground, but such heavy outgoings on legal expenses weren’t in the business plan. "There’s a three-month objection period," explains Conneely. "And every time someone sends a letter and you have to send three back, it costs you £4,000 to cover the lawyers’ fees."

Most objections came from companies with similar trademarks. Natural Colour Curtains, for example. But, ironically, none were actually using the unique naturally coloured cotton fabrics. The virgin market is just starting to bear fruit.

This is precisely why it was so important to Conneely to have a comprehensive brand name. One that expressed the unique quality of the cotton but was also accessible to everyone. “Ecological Untreated Organic Gossypium” just wouldn’t have done it.

"When I started, there were only these swampy tree huggers and earth mothers and an image of eco-textiles created by them," says Conneely. "I wanted to take eco-sustainability and make it attractive to the masses. The "chocolate box" approach. That way, there’s no ceiling on growth."

Indeed, the natural colour cotton market is set to blossom. Conneely is predicting sales of £50m within five years.

Read the full article in the March issue of Real Business magazine.Links:www.naturalcolourcotton.com

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