Caterers' choice puts them first in phone book--and sets a standard

ABSOLUTELY PERFECT NAME

September 24, 1990|By Ellen L. James

To find the name for the new catering and party firm he co-founded a year ago, Tom Kimmitt drew upon his background as an ad salesman for Chesapeake & Potomac Yellow Pages.

Mr. Kimmitt and his business partner, Julie Dow, selected Absolutely Perfect Catering Co., realizing it would enter at the top of the catering category alphabetically in the phone book.

Human nature being what it is, a prospective catering client is most likely to tire of calling before he gets to the bottom of a Yellow Pages category, Mr. Kimmitt says. And he says many clients find their caterers through the phone directory.

Absolutely Perfect also met other important naming criteria that the firm's partners established before the business was born last October.

"An important criterion was image," says Ms. Dow, who worked as a Martin Marietta Corp. financial analyst before entering into the entrepreneurial venture.

"We didn't want to be known as a bottom-of-the-line caterer that serves food in an ugly stainless steel chafing dish on a plain white tablecloth. We wanted to be known as elegant, first-class caterers," says Ms. Dow, noting that the company's average charge for an event is $25 a plate and that it emphasizes elaborate table displays and other extras.

Besides giving the company the image it sought, the name has proved unusual enough to be memorable, Ms. Dow says. "It's catchy and has a nice flow to it. It's become a novelty item to a lot of people."

The firm has played off the name for its telephone answering machine message, T-shirts, stationery and other identifiers. And while it has been the source of many good-humored jokes on the part of clients and suppliers, the partners believe the novelty won't wear off any time soon.

The name has been an important factor in the company's financial progress, which has exceeded the partners' expectations, Ms. Dow says. For 1990, the company, which employs as many as 30 assistants on an intermittent, part-time basis, expects to register over $125,000 in sales.

The firm allocates $8,000 to $10,000 a year on advertising. And because more than half of its ad budget goes for listings in telephone books, it places great emphasis on how it comes across in phone directories.

"It's so important to have a name that gives you a niche in the market," says Mr. Kimmitt. "A lot of people wouldn't remember your name if it didn't stand out. A good name gives you the image you want to portray."

Given its name, which sets a high standard, Ms. Dow says, it's especially critical that the company exercise quality control.

Rather than buying produce in bulk, the partners spend several hours each week at a retail produce store in Columbia, hand-picking fruits and vegetables. They use fresh flowers solely, no silks. And they use special care in hiring those who staff parties, among them financial planners and professional salespeople.

"Every last detail is planned out," says Ms. Dow, who allows that the name Absolutely Perfect imposes a heavy burden.

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