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Voyageur's Best Features of 2003

It's Over

It's over...
 
... and the 'Minnesota Wild' name is really on the ice
 
by Cynthia Brekke  |  June 24, 2003
 

Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This may be true, however, in the realm of trademarks, marketing and franchising, a name is everything. So, when a hockey team came to Minnesota, and the owners decided to name it ‘Minnesota Wild’, the battle over ‘what’s in a name’ commenced.

The holder of the trademark on this name was a small company in McGregor, Minn., which retailed wine, honey, wild rice, and many other items made from ingredients found in the wild of Minnesota. Hence, the name: Minnesota Wild. Jay Erckenbrack and Lori Gordon, creators of this ‘name’ and franchise, fought for the right to keep it. The McGregor-based company, created in 1990, shouldn’t have had to fight. After all, they held the trademark on the name... right? But, as Jay put it, “Take everything you think you know about trademarks and throw it out the window.”

For five years, Jay and Lori have been tangled in a legal juggernaut, a virtual tug-of-war, trying to keep what was, rightfully, theirs. The fight was tiring and costly, but it’s over. Details of the settlement are not being disclosed, but Jay is relieved to put it all behind them and move forward.

“It’s been almost five years to the day,” Jay said. “It was a negotiated, out-of-court agreement. By court order, all the information is sealed. So, now, for the first time in five years, we’re putting improvements on the building, planning new things, and bringing in new products.” No more litigation, hearings and fighting. It’s over. “It becomes an all-consuming thing, where you’re busy doing stuff related to that, instead of focusing on building your business,” Jay continued. “But, it’s over, and we are moving on.”

The new name chosen for the business is ‘Minnestalgia’. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms must approve the new wine labels, and the design was submitted to the BATF two or three months ago. As yet, they have not responded. “We can’t do anything on the wine side until they bless the labels,” Jay said. Once they do, that triggers all the rest of the timing on the agreed settlement. Jay and Lori are changing some things over now, even though they don’t have to, just because they want to move on. “In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to start changing the signs, answering the phone ‘Minnestalgia’... that’s going to take some adjustment.”

While many things will change, some things will stay the same. The four-color food and wine labels will be exactly as they are now, except the name, ‘Minnestalgia’ will replace ‘Minnesota Wild’. The theory is to keep them easily recognizable to those who are accustomed to the current labels. “Minnestalgia is only two spaces less than ‘Minnesota Wild’,” Jay said. “Then, the tag line where it says ‘In the tradition of the great north woods’, the new one is ‘Memories from Minnesota’s north woods’. That’ll be on every bottle and jar.”

Jay and Lori will continue to sell the items which hold the ‘Minnesota Wild’ name, much of which will be collectible, now that the molds will be broken. Once these items are sold out, however, they’re gone.

How is the name change being received? “We’ve run the new name past our bigger customers... they seem pleased with it. I don’t think it will affect us. We kept the Minnesota ties, and the story’s going to stay the same. It’s still the ‘trip to Grandma’s’, which has been the story we’ve always tried to tell.”

There’s already items on the shelves with the ‘Minnestalgia’ name on it. “The new labels for the food business are ordered now. We’ve got the pancake mix, the first t-shirts are in... so what we’re doing is selling off Minnesota Wild stuff and we’ve got some pretty good sales going on.”

Remodeling has taken place in both sides of the shop. The products side has expanded, making more room to showcase and display merchandise, while the winery will sport a new area for visitors to sit down and have a glass of wine. Each side now has it’s own offices, with Lori handling the food and merchandise, while Jay runs the winery, and each has it’s own phone line. “There are days when we could go from back-to-back phone calls, with two, totally different discussions, different price lists, separate rules and regulations. Now we can divide it up a little.”

How has this affected them, personally? It’s the end of an era, of course... a close of a chapter. But there’s a flipside to this coin. “We’re 13 years into this,” Jay explained, “and it’s actually giving us a chance to take a look at where we are, and where we want to go. We started off with one-pound bags of wild rice the first year. The next year we added maple syrup and honey. Thirteen years later, we’ve got 86 food products. We’re taking that list and paring it down to 46.” In other words, some items are being discontinued. “Still, we know what brought us to the dance... that’s the lake wild rice and the chokecherry jellies and syrups. Those will always be the featured products.”

“But, now, for the first time in years, we’re looking at new things, to bring in the best of the best. Things that may not have made sense under ‘Minnesota Wild’, now, all of the sudden make sense with ‘Minnestalgia’. We can draw on all the ethnic heritage on the Iron Range and all of Northern Minnesota,” Jay explained. “We’re not limited just to fruits and things. In some ways, it’s given us more latitude to look at things that interest us. All of the sudden it’s fun again for the first time in a long time.”

Was it worth it to fight for the ‘Minnesota Wild’ name? Jay put it this way: “I don’t think we had a choice to fight it. On general principal, it was the only choice we had. Would I do it again? Yeah. Would I like to do it again... NO. Am I retiring tomorrow? NO. Had a day off in a month and a half? NO. Any questions?”

This article first appeared in the June 24, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.