From the day Mike Hall purchased the Hon-Doc auto-repair shop in 1993 he knew he had to walk a fine line.
Corporations work hard to protect their trademarks. So Hall was careful in how he presented his business. He did not use the name Honda, or pictures of Honda cars, or the "H" logo in his ads, on his building or on T-shirts for his employees. He did not start a website. He stressed to customers his shop is an alternative to dealer service.
He hoped Hon-Doc - which had been operating in Rock Hill since 1999 - was catchy enough to get customers, but not catch the attention of Honda.
Last week Honda America sent Hall a letter requesting he immediately change his business' name and end any advertising practices which create a false impression.
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The letter from a Honda attorney said the name of Hall's businesses was "confusingly similar to Honda." The name and advertising, according to the letter, was "trademark infringement and unfair competition under federal law."
His sponsorship ad for Carolina Broomball - think ice hockey with a small ball, no skates and a broom - had a picture of a Honda Accord and the words "Honda Specialists."
The ad was on a website that gets fewer than 200 hits a year, said Hall, a broomball player. He did not see the ad before it was posted.
The ad apparently caught the attention of Honda. On Aug. 20, he got a letter from Honda, ordering him to comply with its wishes within 10 days.
Such letters, while not a large part of Honda's trademark office, are to protect the automotive manufacturer's image and consumers, said company spokeswoman Sara Pines. The company is concerned that anything associated with Honda meets its standards.
Hall is resigned to accepting Honda's demands. He said it would be too costly to fight it and he has better things to do, such as repair cars. Hon-Doc's six repair bays on Flint Street are usually full. The shop repairs about 5,000 cars a year, grossing nearly $1 million, Hall said.
But he wants Honda to tell him "what is acceptable." The ad has already been removed from the website and another claim of deceptive advertising is not true, he said.
As for the business name, he would like to keep it.
"I like my name. I hate to lose it, but there's not much I can do," Hall said.
He has proposed changing the name to HD Imports but has not heard back from Honda. He has made numerous phone calls, sent several e-mails, but has not received an answer. He is frustrated.
He does want his customers to know that, regardless of the name, they will continue to get the same service and genuine Honda parts. Hall said he purchases 75 percent of his parts from Hendrick Honda in Pineville, N.C.
The remainder come from a national wholesaler which also sells Honda parts, Hall said.