SCOTT, Pa. -- After 15 years, Pizza Outlet is changing its name officially to Vocelli Pizza.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the 100-plus unit chain's 25 Northern Virginia-area stores made the change in February 2002, but the remaining stores, located primarily in Pennsylvania, will get the new moniker by Sept. 8.

A lot of hand wringing proceeded the founders' decision to oust Pizza Outlet as its brand name. When company President Varol Ablak founded the chain in 1988, he believed "Pizza Outlet" somehow conveyed freshness. Outsiders warned him, however, that it depicted a manufactured image.

"What do you mean? You don't like our name?" Ablak recalled saying to them.

And while the name appeared to work in Pennsylvania, negative store sales at its Virginia units convinced the company a new identity might help. They were right.

According to the report, the company claims sales in those units rose 44 percent since applying the new badge.

By and large, the company has not changed its product, though some menu items have been upgraded. Stores are being remodeled with cream-colored tiles, green countertops and piped-in Italian music. Previously, store color schemes centered on maroon and white.

What does Vocelli mean? Nothing, actually. But the company hopes the Italian ring to its pronunciation -- "voh-sellee" -- will translate to better sales.

Currently, the name change means added investment for the company. The re-branding campaign, which includes new store signs, redesigned pizza boxes and uniforms, not to mention a new marketing campaign to boot, is likely to cost Vocelli $1 million, the report said.

It also faces the risk of losing customers, who may not understand the need to change the name.

"They've invested a lot in building brand equity around here," Jerry Thompson, director of the Ketchum public relations office in Pittsburgh, told the Post-Gazette. "Anything that introduces a perception of change and uncertainty has potential to upset that."

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