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Lansing State Journal

Monday, August 1, 2005

In MSU country, businesses expect to bank on alumni spirit by adopting team's Greek name

Spartan Pride

Spartan, Spartan everywhere

Here is a sampling of local businesses named after the ancient Greek warriors and the MSU mascot:

  • Spartan Asphalt Paving Co.
  • Spartan Barricading Inc.
  • Spartan Child Development Center
  • Spartan Dental Laboratories
  • Spartan Drywall LLC
  • Spartan Family Chiropractic Inc.
  • Spartan Glass & Mirror
  • Spartan Oriental Shoppe
  • Spartan Roofing Co.
  • Spartan Tire & Service of Lansing Inc.
  • Spartan-Yellow Cab

What's a Spartan?

  • Historical context: Spartans refer to people of the ancient Greek city of Sparta
  • Definition: Like or characteristic of the Spartans, who were famous for being warlike, brave, stoical, severe, frugal and disciplined; not luxurious or ornate; plain; austere

Source: Webster's New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition

School spirit is everywhere

The Lansing area isn't the only place where businesses share a name with the hometown school's mascot. Here's some other examples:

  • Ann Arbor, University of Michigan: Lou's Wolverine Transmission, Wolverine Photo, Wolverine Title Co., Wolverine Carpet & Furniture and Wolverine Party Shoppe
  • Mt. Pleasant, Central Michigan University: Chippewa Archery Shop, Chippewa Beverage Co., Chippewa Cab, Chippewa Lanes and Chippewa Motel
  • Columbus, Ohio, Ohio State University: Buckeye Auto Parts Inc., Buckeye Bath & Remodeling, Buckeye Boxes Inc., Buckeye Books and Buckeye Cellular

Sparty's protected

Just because a business calls itself Spartan doesn't mean it's really a Spartan. The university holds the trademark to Spartan, along with other words and graphics. It means a business must get permission to use them, plus pay a royalty. Here's a list of several MSU tradmarks registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Secretary of State:

  • The contemporary Spartan helmet
  • Sparty the mascot
  • The block "S"
  • Spartans
  • Go Green/Go White

While MSU enforces its trademarks, it's unlikely to go after local shops named Spartan unless the store tries to make itself look like part of the university. "We don't enforce the name Spartan everywhere because it's been in the public domain for so long, essentially," said Terry Livermore, manager of University Licensing Programs.

What does a local roofing company have in common with an Internet firm, a sports bar, a travel agency and a dental lab?

One word: Spartan.

Arguably, few words are more popular around Lansing. At least 50 local shops use the reference in their monikers, mostly to show allegiance to Michigan State University. But does it really help the business?

Local business owners say yes. They say it gives them instant identification with mid-Michigan and potential clients among MSU alumni.

Experts say no.

"I think as a general rule, it's not a good idea," said Andy Valvur, senior brand strategist at Igor, a San Francisco-based name and branding agency. Valvur's company has named products for clients like Gap and MTV.

"It depends on the product," said Dr. Bonnie Knutson, a marketing professor at MSU's Eli Broad College of Business. "What it does is position the brand as 'I am one of you.' It's trying for that emotional connection with the consumer."

Most businesses hope that's exactly what happens - that someone loves MSU so much, they want to patronize a fellow Spartan. And many Spartan business owners are die-hard fans just trying to show some pride.

Prime example: Go Green Glass. Ken Sudall doesn't really install green windshields. The former MSU basketball player and business grad - known for greeting people by saying "Go Green!" - just wants to tell the world how much he loves MSU.

"I really think you need to appeal to the sensitivities of your local people to support local businesses," said Sudall, whose Lansing store at 603 N. Waverly is decked out in MSU paraphernalia. "When I decided to step out (into business) on my own, Go Green was who I was."

Other say their name harkens to ancient Greece.

Kevin Hamilton's father started East Lansing's Spartan Travel, the area's largest travel agency, back in 1969. Hamilton said his father chose the name because in ancient Greece, when Spartans grew tired of war, they'd travel to an island to relax.

Hamilton has kept the Spartan name even though he's since merged with Passageways Travel. "It almost gives you a quick bond," he said about doing business with MSU alumni.

Then again, some use the local school's name just because it's obvious. And it doesn't just happen here.

Jim Griffith of Wolverine Machine & Instrument in Ann Arbor said his father named the shop, "and I don't know why he did - probably just because everything in Ann Arbor is named Wolverine."

Ditto for Lansing's Spartan Internet Consulting Corp.: "I went to MSU and being in the area, it's just kind of an obvious name to consider - that was really the thought process behind it," President Ryan Vartoogian said.

Which is exactly why it's a no-no, Valvur argues.

"For one thing, the name reaches a white noise level where people don't think about it or remember it," he said.

Spartan business fans aren't alone in their obsession, however. "You find that this is a regional phenomenon that is commonplace everywhere," Valvur said.

Mid-Michigan is simply Spartan Land.

It's why Rosario Criscuolo wanted to associate his Toyota dealership with Spartans - Michiganders would know it was near Lansing. "It was one of the best decisions I made," said Criscuolo, who owns - what else - Spartan Motor Mall.

All things being equal, some people do say they'd pick a Spartan business over another.

"It might make a little difference to me because I like when businesses focus on students," said MSU sophomore Sarah MacKimmie, 19.

Sudall agrees: "For example, I needed a roof for my house and my first call, looking through the phone book, was Spartan Roofing. They still had to be competitive, but my first instinct was to call another Spartan."

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