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As recently as November 2016, the company voted “Baltimore’s Best Gym” — Merritt Clubs — was known by a slightly different name.
Donyel Cerceo, the club’s marketing director, said Merritt Clubs, previously known as Merritt Athletic Clubs until the rebranding effort, made changes to their logo and name in an attempt to better align the company’s brand with its internal core values.
“When you say the words, ‘athletic clubs,’ the connation people have is, ‘Oh you already have to be in shape, you have to be an athlete to belong to that club,’ and that’s not the case for us,” Cerceo explained. “We are really more like a community center and we have something for every member — so the important thing about your branding is to make sure it reflects who you are as an organization.”
Cerceo emphasized the reality that rebranding is much more than a simple logo change, as well. “It’s the messaging you put out, it’s across your website, it’s across your messages on social media, it’s your staff — your staff has to believe in your branding and your culture has to reflect the brand that you put out to the public,” she said.
Though Cerceo was adamant that the process became much more than simply about the logo, she said the company’s signage is what sparked the need for a change for her. She had not been a fan of the company’s logo, which featured simple but bold lettering reading “Merritt Athletic,” and called it “dated.”
So, the company reached out to Graphik, a branding agency located in nearby Northern Virginia, and had a conversation that quickly surpassed that which solely surrounded the logo. “The agency took it from there and did research and found out that when they talked to people in the community about what ‘athletic’ meant to them, it’s much different than what we really are,” she said.
As Merritt Clubs celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, Cerceo explained the rebranding project snowballed to include the company’s other brands — which include real estate and construction entities.
“You have to be 100 percent ready,” said Cerceo. “You have to think of why you’re rebranding, what are you trying to achieve? You have to have your goals laid out, because it’s an expense.”
Cerceo said for Merritt Clubs, though, the thought of the process as an expense quickly turned to being viewed as a long-term investment. “By the rebranding we’ve gotten so much positive feedback from our members, from the outside public, from prospects that walk in our door that never even considered us before because we were an athletic club,” she said. “They didn’t really think that they belonged, and now the club sends such a different message and we’re getting people who never would’ve even walked through our doors.”
Brent Gallagher, the owner and a performance coach at Avenu Fitness, also acknowledged the financial burden rebranding can be, but said if it’s in your budget, bringing in outside professionals to assist in the process is a must.
“Financially if you have the ability to connect with a professional group, go for it,” said Gallagher. “Not a marketing company, but a branding company — people who can come in and help you build self-awareness.”
Gallagher said when he founded Avenu Fitness in 2006, he started with a name that resonated mainly with locals, West U Fitness, after the area where the facility was located. His plan was to change the name soon after.
It took more than nine years for that change to come, but as Gallagher’s brand grew, he knew it was necessary. “We were growing beyond the immediate community we were serving and it kept being one of those things where we had outside people coming in, and as I started to speak more in the industry, there was a lot of hang up on our name,” he explained. “We wanted something that was going to reflect the path that we were taking and give us a better identity.”
Gallagher enlisted the help of branding firm Circle Fifty, and much like the process Merritt Clubs experienced, rebranding the former West U into Avenu Fitness entailed much more than a name change.
“Sometimes leaders are so much in the trenches that we forget what it’s like to be a newcomer to our facility,” he said Gallagher. “When there’s an outside perspective, and someone who’s kind of taking the lead and literally steering you through telling your story, it helps.”
Gallagher warned that in order for a rebrand of your business to be successful, it is critical to be able to clearly define your brand. “We lead very confidently with self-awareness because we know who we are, we’re comfortable with who we are, and we’re also comfortable with who we are not,” he said.