May 1, 2011

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Article

Undercooked Brand

My Dough Girl Starts Over from Scratch

Peri Kinder

May 1, 2011

Although her WWII pin-up girl cookie mascots look nothing like the tubby Pillsbury Dough Boy, Tami Cromar found herself embroiled in a trademark dispute with the Dough Boy-mascot owner General Mills. Her gourmet cookie shop, My Dough Girl, was deemed too similar to the Pillsbury name and General Mills’ attorneys insisted that Cromar change her bakery’s name—immediately. When news got out that Pillsbury was targeting a small bakery in Salt Lake City, support grew worldwide and fans wanted Cromar to put up a fight. But instead of launching a lengthy court battle, Cromar chose to let it go and begin the process of rebranding. “People hoped I would fight because they wanted me to represent the American public, but I was worried that it would deplete me physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially and pretty much destroy all that I am,” she says. Instead, Cromar turned her energy to rebranding her bakery while drawing strength from the wave of publicity. Strictly Business Cromar’s husband affectionately dubbed her his “Dough Girl,” and that’s how the name of My Dough Girl came about. She opened her bakery in December 2008, and within a few months, her gourmet cookies were being snatched up as quickly as she could bake them. After 18 months, Pillsbury stepped in and changed everything. The My Dough Girl trademark was in its final stages of acceptance and Cromar never saw the lawsuit coming. “We had been approved by the Department of Commerce, we had been approved by the USTPO and it was open for opposition. Nobody opposed it, and Pillsbury came in at the eleventh hour.” Cromar had to decide what was worth fighting for. Although she wasn’t planning on entering combat with Pillsbury, she immediately hired her own attorney. Then she decided what she was willing to relinquish. “Emotionally, I was very attached to the name,” Cromar says. “I didn’t want to let it go and my first instinct was to say, ‘Hey, that’s not fair!’ I realized life isn’t fair anyway—so what’s the big deal. As soon as I removed myself emotionally from the name and regarded it more as a business matter, I decided it really wasn’t going to be that bad.” The Mother of Invention The search for a new name began. My Dough Girl was a reference to WWII and each cookie was given a 1940s-era name. Cromar wanted to keep that nostalgic feel to whatever name she selected for her bakery. She considered naming her cookie shop Betty Bomber after her mother and a WWII aircraft. However, she decided it might be too close to the trademarked Betty Crocker, and Cromar feared she would end up in the same situation. She looked at several names and phrases from the WWII era and finally selected Ruby. Ruby gave the girl in Cromar’s original logo a name and a voice, which could be used on Facebook and blogs. Plus, she was already working with the color red and Ruby fit in perfectly. The name Snap was added because, “It felt like my personality. It felt a little sassy and I wanted that. I want a little bit of sass and fun and playfulness, and not taking ourselves too seriously.” So RubySnap was created and Cromar started the uphill battle to rebrand her business. No stranger to reinventing herself, Cromar was an investment banker during the 1980s, before choosing to become an architectural designer. She spent 15 years in that industry before turning to cookie making. She considers this latest setback to be a chance to change things up, make things better and come out ahead. When Cromar first opened My Dough Girl, she had $10,000 in her pocket, no loans or debts, and spent a lot of time building up the name and brand of her company. As she saved money, she would expand where she could and invest where it was smart—staying completely out of debt. The lawsuit would have been potentially devastating but because she chose to change instead of fight, Cromar still has no debt or loans on her business. “I didn’t know how I was going to come up with $50,000 to start over. But we’ve made it,” she says. “Somehow the Associated Press got the word out and as soon as they wrote about it, we had support all over the world.” As part of the settlement, Cromar chose to relinquish all of the URLs for My Dough Girl to Pillsbury. For a time, she was able to redirect people to the new RubySnap website, so she started the rebranding process as soon as she could. But it wasn’t just the website and signage that needed to be changed. All the accounting/vendor and utility relationships had to be adjusted; new printed menus had to be ordered along with business cards, packaging, letterhead and cookie sleeves. At the time of the lawsuit, Cromar had 150,000 My Dough Girl freezer bags and 75,000 cookie sleeves. Cromar admits that she began her business before the trademark approval process was complete. “[My trademark] was not 100 percent in the clear, but there weren’t any red flags,” Cromar says. “I had chased all of the legal avenues, I had done clearance searches. On paper it looked like it was 100 percent ours and there was no indication that we would be opposed. You never know.” Cromar took another risk when she started up RubySnap before the trademark process was complete, but she felt she had no choice. With trademark approval taking as long as one year, she felt she didn’t have that kind of time to sit back and do nothing. So she went forward with promoting RubySnap, applying for the name immediately, and received approval in six months. “We took a risk and prematurely changed our name before the trademark approval was final because we wanted to redirect people as quickly as possible,” she says. “But we had to take a gamble because we were forced into it and I didn’t want to shut down.” A Fresh Start Cromar wants her products to bring people happiness. Whether it’s the Vivianna cookie with mangoes and dark chocolate, or the Betty oatmeal cookie filled with apricots and cherries, she wants every treat at RubySnap to be an unforgettable taste sensation. Her positive attitude has gotten her through what could have been an overwhelming situation. A RubySnap cookie line launched with Whole Foods in Colorado in December 2010 and in Utah in March 2011. Cromar doesn’t look back on “what was” but keeps her gaze firmly focused on the future of her company and how she can continue to make it better. “[Re-branding] was an opportunity to brand stronger, and it was a chance to reinvent myself in a more refined way,” she says. “We cleaned up a lot of things and we didn’t let go of our vibe. We didn’t let go of what makes us who we are. “In the end, it actually did us a favor. It gave us huge amounts of free publicity that we would never have been able to afford. It really put us on the map and, in a way, I feel like I need to send [Pillsbury] a thank-you letter.”
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