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What's In A Name Dept.

4/20/2009 07:29:00 AM

Systemax, the company that operates Tiger Direct’s online and brick-and-mortar stores — which last year cut a deal to acquire the brand, trademarks and e-commerce business of CompUSA, as well as 16 former CompUSA storefronts — is on the prowl again.

When Circuit City announced the intention to auction off its brand, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who said, "Why?"

Maybe people in the industry are too close to the situation, but many have to think that the Circuit City name would be far too damaged to make it a worthwhile investment for anyone. But Circuit’s going out of business sale was, by all accounts, successful, so who knows?

There is a tradition in consumer electronics of reviving old brands with strong name recognition, but it’s usually on the product side.

TTE sells RCA-branded TVs and Audiovox has RCA for other products, as well as Terk, Jensen and plenty more. The Westinghouse brand has been successfully used for TVs also. Fights continue as to who really owns the Polaroid brand. Jasco markets a successful line of GE accessories, and plans call for the GE brand to be brought back to the TV business by GE/General Displays Technologies, which is owned by the conglomerate and TV maker Tatung. There are plenty of other examples.

But then there’s the case of Crazy Eddie.

You remember Crazy Eddie ("Our prices are insane!"), the infamous New York area retailer which closed 20 years ago amid violations of federal security laws, lawsuits, escapes overseas by the accused and other sordid events?

We received a call a few weeks after International CES from an unidentified man who said he represented a company that bought the Crazy Eddie brand.

I thought it was a crank call but I listened. He said they were planning to sell licensed products; the new owners think that Crazy Eddie’s low-price reputation will draw customers, and I heard (and not for the first time either) that Danny DeVito is involved in a possible feature film about Crazy Eddie that may (or may not) happen. I recommended he call our senior editor Alan Wolf, who covers retail, but nothing ever came of it.

A crank call? Boy, was I wrong.

Go to BrandWeek.com and read Chuck Stogel’s story that he posted last week on Crazy Eddie, which gives a full rundown on the Web site (www.pricesareinsane.com), plans for up to 50 stores with the first one opening in the fourth quarter, and discussions with manufacturers to license the Crazy Eddie brand for all types of CE products. The movie is mentioned as a possible PR plus.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m wrong, but I tend to agree with Sam Antar, cousin of Crazy Eddie founder Eddie Antar, who was held under house arrest for his work at the chain.

Stogel uses a quote from the Asbury Park Press attributed to Sam about a Crazy Eddie comeback: "We committed massive fraud that hurt thousands of investors, cost hundreds of millions of dollars in economic damage. These guys want to revive the name. It’s like reviving Enron. If someone five years down the road said, ‘I started this firm called Bernie Madoff Securities,’ would you put your money there?"

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