Local firm seeks profit in sale of dot-com name

By one valuation, it could bring from $5,000 to $5 million

E-commerce

March 23, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

You can't put a price on wisdom, but you can put a price on wisdom.com: $475,000.

That's right, the Internet domain name "wisdom.com" was recently bought for nearly a half-million dollars. That doesn't include any business property or even a Web site -- just the name, six little letters ending with dot-com, that two-syllable pulse of our age.

If you think shelling out that kind of money for an online address is a little excessive, prepare to be amazed. The name "broadband.com" is on sale for $6 million, while "in.com" could be yours for $10 million.

Now an Owings Mills company is trying to cash in on a domain name. Avatech Solutions Inc., a maker of engineering and architectural software, happens to be in possession of the name "premier.com," and announced in a news release yesterday that the moniker is up for sale.

The potential market for such a strikingly generic domain name is quite large; in theory, any of the countless businesses and organizations around the country with "premier" in their name might view it as a simple, easy-to-remember address on the increasingly busy information highway.

To get a sense of the potential power of such a name, ask Greg Ringer, the owner of Premier Roofing, Vinyl Siding & Painting Inc. in Pflugerville, Texas. His company has a presence on the Internet at premiervinyl.com, but he pines for the elegant simplicity of premier.com.

"I've got different domain names, premiervinyl this, premier that," Ringer said. "I've always wanted www.premier.com. That would capture everything we do."

Ringer had inquired about the availability of premier.com, and planned to contact Avatech about placing a bid: "It's got to be something real reasonable. If it's one of those $2 million names, forget it, but I'd pay $1,000, $2,000 in a heartbeat."

And just how did a company called Avatech wind up nesting on this golden egg?

After all, Avatech doesn't even own its own name online -- avatech.com belongs to AVA Technology Inc. of North Billerica, Mass., while Avatech has to settle for avat.com.

"It wasn't foresighted. It was just lucky," said Ronald C. Diegelman, Avatech's president.

In 1993, when most Americans were still blissfully ignorant of the Internet, an Owings Mills software reseller called Premier Design Systems Inc. sought a domain name. The name the company really wanted was pds.com, but that was already taken. However, premier.com was available, and Premier Design Systems went with that. In June 1997, Premier Design Systems merged with Avatech, bringing its online address with it.

Diegelman said his company pondered ways to take advantage of the premier.com label, but decided to use the Avatech name for as many of its activities as possible. Consequently, premier.com ended up on the block.

So, how much will Avatech get for premier.com?

Diegelman said he's gotten bids of $15,000 and $20,000 and an "implied" offer of $50,000.

For an assessment of the name's value, one can use the "valuation model" on the Web site of GreatDomains.com Inc., of Universal City, Calif. It was GreatDomains.com that sold wisdom.com and seeks multimillion-dollar offers for broadband.com and in.com.

The GreatDomains.com model places the highest value on names that are short, have commercial potential, and end in .com rather than in the less businesslike .net. Under the rather broad and subjective valuation table, premier.com could go for as low as $5,000 or as high as $5 million.

Allen Adamson, the managing director of brand-consulting firm Landor Associates in New York, said a good domain name alone will not suffice.

"The question is not your choice of a name, but what will you be able to do with that address to build a brand, to build something that has some permanence to it and some value?" Adamson said.

A generic domain name can prevent a company from building a distinct identity. By contrast, a unique name like Amazon.com can help a business stand out and strongly establish its brand, said Adamson.

Brenda Yike, a project manager at Premier Web Designs in Alpharetta, Ga., is all too aware of the hazards of using a widely used word in a corporate name. She said her company would probably not be interested in buying premier.com.

"We have discovered that just in this building alone, there are three companies whose names begin with `premier,' "Yike said.

By the way, if you seek wisdom.com, you will find the "Daily Words of Wisdom" site, an online collection of sage quotations (an example: "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage" -- Anais Nin).

Those looking for love.com will turn up the America Online personal ads.

An effort to find god.com was met with an error box reading, "A connection with the server could not be established."

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