What's in a Name?
"Now this is the story all about how, my life got flipped turned upside down..." Not quite, but the Fresh Prince theme song will grab anyone's attention...Now that I have you, let's talk about me for a minute. My name is Brandon Dufour, I grew up in Bethlehem CT, went to a small boarding school called The Gunnery, spent 7 years in New York City working on songs, then moved back to Connecticut to start a driving school. Almost 7 years later, I married the most beautiful woman on television that blessed me with a now 6 month old rockstar son, and I still spend my work days running this little driving school in Watertown. It is important for you to know, from the start, that my life is great. I wake up happy, I go to bed happier, and I work hard to make sure that everything that happens in between leaves the whole world a better place because of my efforts. There will be times in the next few minutes where I sound whiny, and I don't mean to, but as one of my favorite college professors told me "just be authentic, the readers will always appreciate an honest pen." This is my authentic, transparent, and honest story of why All-Star Driver is becoming The Next Street.
In February of 2009, we started All-Star Driver knowing a little bit about business and absolutely nothing about driver's ed. Nothing. We didn't know about the industry, our customers, or the 30 new employees we had just acquired from the failing company we were taking over. We knew nothing. But, we had found some success in some other businesses using a very simple philosophy: Treat your customers and employees well, and deliver a high quality product, and the business will take care of itself.
So, we did. My aunt Leslie, my uncle Richard, my father John, and I, agreed to set out on this course and see what happened. 6 years later, our little driving school has grown to be the biggest (and of course, best) in Connecticut. Now boasting over 80 of the best employees and holding classes in over 70 different locations, the question was quickly becoming...now what? In 6 years, our business grew over 400%, creating new jobs and opportunities all over the State of Connecticut. With this success, why did I still have this anxious feeling? Why was I still losing sleep at night?
2015 proved to be one of the most challenging years in my professional career. The Notorious B.I.G. was not kidding when he penned the now famous "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems." Around every corner was a new challenge...each one harder than the previous, each one sucking the positive energy out of me. It had stopped being fun and started being exhausting.
In the middle of October, my family boarded a plane to Florida for some much needed R&R. We had a newborn, and work had become so draining that I didn't feel like I was able to even enjoy my son. We land in Florida, I open my e-mail and receive a scan of a certified letter from a driving school in Michigan. Simply put, we didn't own the trademark to All-Star Driver, they did, and they had for years prior to us starting the company.
At first, I was angry. Red faced, fly to Ann Arbor and tell these people in person what I thought of their letter and their company angry. I basked in that for a few days, and then became sad. Deep depression, don't want to get out of bed sad. We built this brand from nothing to something special in the last 6 years, and now it was being ripped out from underneath us.
But then, after weeks on the phone with attorneys and some time trying to negotiate keeping our name with the company in Michigan, I realized that I had two choices:
1.) Give up. Shut it down or sell it and move on.
2.) Use this as the thing to motivate me to grow to the next level.
And I'm no quitter. So here we go.
We announced this week that we are changing our name from All-Star Driver to The Next Street. And though our team is staying the same, and our ownership is staying the same, this name change is so much more than a new logo on the door. My whole team looked at All-Star Driver and said, how can we do this better? If we are going to change our name, let's use it as an opportunity to create a perfect brand. Let's make the company that we all want to work for and the company that we all want to be a customer of. Let's dig deep into our hearts and minds and not just give our website a face lift, but lay the foundation of a company that can become a global power in the education marketplace one day.
So, we did that. The Next Street is the outcome of a group of passionate business leaders getting together and realizing what our real special sauce is. The truth is, anyone can teach you how to drive. All-Star Driver, and all of our competitors and peers around the country, boast the best curriculum and the best teachers and that you will be the best driver because you chose us, or them. At the end of the day, it is two pedals, a wheel and 3 mirrors, surrounded by some metal. Truthfully, anyone can teach you how to drive. Our curriculum is wonderful, but people aren't choosing us for our curriculum, or our cars, or our classrooms. You choose us for our people. You choose us for our human beings that don't just teach you how to drive, they make learning to drive an experience. And that experience is our focus at The Next Street. We'll continue to teach you how to drive, of course. But anyone can teach you how to drive. No one can do it like we do.
What have I learned along the way? A few things:
1.) Nothing in this world is granted, everything is earned. No matter how smart you are, or charming, no matter how many positive attributes you have in your being, the output is directly related to the work you put in. I lost sight of that, rested on my laurels, and when your eye is off the ball, the challenges keep growing. I mentioned 2015 was challenging, but everything that happened this year was caused by me not working on the right things, and not being the leader that my staff deserves. Lesson learned, to them I'm sorry, and promise to give my best every day to create more opportunities, not less.
2.) Within every major threat is an opportunity. The letter from All-Star Driver Education in Michigan at first felt like a threat, but today, I feel as though I owe them a thank you. This was the thing I needed to re-energize me, and it was what my team needed to be motivated again. That said, if they intend to open as All-Star Driver Education in Connecticut, you can be assured I will personally make sure there is a Next Street right next door, and that it will always be the better option. All-Star Driver will never be successful in Connecticut again.
3.) If you are starting a business, do a trademark search on your name before you start your corporation. Changing it later is hard, and expensive.
4.) This blog made me sort through my Biggie collection to find my old "Life After Death" CD out of it's case, and I just remembered how great that record is. That said, transitioning from Jazz Christmas on Pandora to Life After Death is not recommended.
5.) Life is hard. 90% of every day is basically the same, but then there is this 5% that is out of control awesome and another 5% that is really, really shitty. I find that people run from the shitty 5%, but I've learned that when you can embrace the bad; when you can truly let yourself experience it, feel it, bask in it...it can fuel you. And that fuel can make the top 5% feel even awesome-er. In order to truly know the great, you have to let the bad in.
The announcement of a name change is just a first step. I'm proud to introduce you all to The Next Street, but more excited for everyone to experience the story that we build around this new name. This concludes our story of the All-Star Driver name change. I can promise, the sequel will be better than the original.