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Mandy Rennehan is founder and CEO of retail construction company Freshco
Mandy Rennehan is founder and CEO of retail construction company Freshco

Entrepreneurial Spirit

I was outraged when Sobey's rebranded its chain with the same name as my company Add to ...

I started my business, Freshco, in 1995, when I was 20 years old. I was a self-taught expert in construction, and I felt there was a gap in the retail construction and maintenance industry that I could fill in my hometown of Yarmouth, N.S. I named the business Freshco because I was young and different – a female fresh face in a male-dominated industry.

Over the years, I built it into a successful on-call retail maintenance provider with full coverage across Canada and the eastern U.S. We create and maintain beautiful retail spaces for clients such as Apple, Nike, The Gap, Lululemon, Anthropologie, Restoration Hardware, Banana Republic and many others.

In the spring of 2010, the office of my then-15-year-old company started getting bombarded by phone calls, complaints, e-mails and resumes. It turned out that the Stellarton, N.S.-based grocery chain Sobeys had rebranded their discount grocery chain Price Chopper as FreshCo.

I quickly discovered that in launching FreshCo, Sobeys not only now had virtually the same name as my company (the difference being the addition of a capital c), but their logo had similar colours and font. I was outraged. I called my lawyer and she said that because we were only federally incorporated across Canada, and not trademarked, I didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Devastated, I worried about the fate of my Freshco. We were getting a lot of traction with out name and I didn’t know what to do. My first thought was to change our name, but the management team and I agreed that it was impossible since our clientele of almost 20 years knew us as Freshco. We were too far in and my attitude was, “I was here first and this name was my idea.”

I kept thinking, “What if they knew I was a self-made original from the East Coast like them – would it have mattered?” To this day I still struggle with these questions.

I believe my saving grace has been the fact that the majority of our customers are Fortune 500 companies from the U.S., so they know nothing about FreshCo the grocery chain. Over the years I have spent thousands of dollars in time and legal fees sending letters to legal counsels all over Ontario telling them we are not the grocery store and their client didn’t slip in our parking lot or in our aisle. Frustrated by the whole situation, I decided to approach the problem with a creative solution and some comedic flare.

I teamed up with Ray Creative Agency and launched a national campaign in July 2015 called “FRESHCO, not the grocery store.” Refreshing the brand included a new website, animated videos, billboards and new signage on our commercial vehicles. We also created a new logo in navy blue and white with the “F” being a hammer and nail, so it could easily be distinguished by consumers based on the services we provided. My site crews also got a makeover – new Freshco-branded overalls, jackets and hats along with “Safety is Sexy” T-shirts.

It was a huge investment but it was important that the Freshco personality shine through in every aspect of our business. Although we still receive complaints about produce or customer service questions for FreshCo, the grocery store, we feel we’ve been able to hold onto our personality, which is what sets us apart from the competition.

Mandy Rennehan is founder and CEO of Oakville-Ont.-based retail construction company Freshco.

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