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David versus Goliath: Vodka maker orders Everett salon to change its name

Absolut Vodka has ordered Everett's Absolut Hair to change its name - or face legal action. (Absolut Vodka image)

When Jessee Skittrall bought Absolut Hair and Makeup in Everett, the business had been going strong for 15 years. So you can imagine his shock when he got a letter from lawyers for Absolut Vodka telling him he has to change the name.

“Basically, it was a very large document that said Absolut Vodka owns the name outright, they have exclusivity on it and the famousness of it,” Jessee told the Ron and Don Show.

It’s the classic David versus Goliath. And Jessee can’t believe the French company that owns Absolut Vodka would bother picking a fight.

“It just seems stupid to come out of the middle of nowhere. And why us? Seriously. It’s not like you can get some vodka at our place. It’s not like you’re going to buy some there and we’re infringing on their rights.”

The world’s third largest alcohol brand would beg to differ. The company told Jessee the salon’s name and logo is too close to the vodka maker and a violation of its trademark.

“I bought it [the salon] four years ago. It was recognized, so I didn’t feel any need to change it. There hadn’t been a problem, so there wasn’t an issue,” he said.

It’s partially his own fault. Jessee has worked hard on search engine optimization for the salon’s website, so that whenever someone types Absolut in Google, his company would show up near the top of the listings. Unfortunately, Absolut Vodka’s lawyers found him too.

Now, he has no choice but to change.

“We’re kind of backed into a corner. We don’t have the finances to actually hire a lawyer,” he said. And the lawyers he’s talked too have told him it’s a no-win case.

Some people have suggested just adding the letter ‘e’ to Absolut. But even that would cost him.

“I estimate the cost to be about $20,000 by the time we change our website, which we put very large amounts of money into,” along with all the printed materials, signage, and even his own branded line of hair care products. Not to mention all the hours he’ll have to spend making all the changes. But he’s not going to let it ruin him.

“Oh hell no. I’m going to survive this to the best of my abilities.”

The vodka company has given a period of time to make the change – although he says the lawyers haven’t told him exactly how long the grace period will last. He’s thinking of having a contest to let customers come up with a new name. Needless to say, he won’t be giving Absolut to the winner.

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