3 On Your Side

Small family business says it's intimidated by AutoZone

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(Source: 3TV) (Source: 3TV)
(3 ON YOUR SIDE) -

Just off of Highway 69 in Prescott Valley, you'll find a little family-run business called CycleZone Motorsports and Marine.

It's one of the few places in the area where people can have their motorcycles, ATVs, and even boats worked on or repaired.

"Well, I think customers can come to us because we have developed a real good reputation," Lenna Hamm said. "We're in a small town, so we work really hard."

She and her husband, William, say running CycleZone Motorsports and Marine has been the American dream come true.

But that dream is about to come to an abrupt halt, and it all has to do with envelope marked urgent that contained an alarming letter.

"So, I open it up, and I start reading it and my mouth fell to the floor," Hamm said. "I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing."

The two-page letter was from AutoZone's corporate headquarters and indicated the automotive company was not very pleased with CycleZone Motorsports and Marine and its owners.

The reason? AutoZone says the couple is using the word "zone" in its name. The company claims the Hamms can't do that.

"Do you think that's right?" I asked. 

"No, of course not" Hamm replied.

In the letter, AutoZone accuses this mom-and-pop business of trademark infringement. It claims consumers could confuse this family shop of being affiliated with AutoZone.

As a result, the letter demands that the Hamms change the name of their business, so it does not contain the word "zone."

AutoZone also wants the Hamms to give up all of their website domain names and hand them over.

"This is how we pay our bills," William Hamm said. "This is how we raise our kids. We are a ma-and-pa shop. They're attacking us. That's how I feel."

William Hamm said changing his business name could harm his company financially. With a new name, he said it would look like his company is under new ownership. The worst-case scenario, changing his company name could ruin him altogether and force him out.

Phoenix attorney Peter Greenfeld specializes in trademark and franchise law.

He doesn't represent Lenna and William Hamm but told 3 On Your Side that the couple is fighting an expensive, uphill battle by trying to fight a Fortune 500 company

In other words, he said it's nearly impossible for a small business to take on a corporate giant, explaining that the one with the deepest pockets, usually wins.  

"I see this all the time in my practice.," Greenfeld said. "Folks come in because they received a cease-and-desist letter, and they may have a strong defense and strong rights.  But, it's very expensive.  And at the end of the day, it's just too expensive to litigate."

3 On Your Side contacted AutoZone's corporate office and asked if the automotive retailer would reconsider its stance.  After all, the Hamms say they are not in any way trying to ride the coattails of AutoZone by confusing consumers.

"AutoZone owns the Zone Marks in the automotive and power sports markets and we vigorously defend those trademarks," an AutoZone spokesman wrote in an email to 3 On Your Side.

Lenna and William Hamm say the whole ordeal stinks. They feel like they're being bullied by a corporate giant.

"We're in Prescott Valley, Arizona.  Why is AutoZone even messing with us right now?" Hamm asked in frustration.

Copyright 2015 3TV (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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