PEABODY — Since its founding 41 years ago, Christian Book Distributors has been known by its customers and employees as CBD for short.

Now, when an employee calls the company by the three-letter abbreviation, president and CEO Ray Hendrickson joked, it'll cost them a dollar. "We're trying to break our habits," he said.

The Peabody-based company announced this week that it has changed its name to Christianbook, and dropped the abbreviation, in an effort to avoid confusion with the cannabis product known as CBD.

The CBD, or cannabidiol, market has exploded in recent years, with products being sold in many forms, from oil to dietary supplements and creams, and as additions to drinks and food. Two stores specializing in CBD products, Kind Lab in Beverly and Cape Ann Botanicals in Ipswich and Newburyport, recently opened on the North Shore.

"When I'm driving my mom, who's 90 years old, down the street and she sees 'CBD sold here,' she's wondering what that is," Hendrickson said. "There's definitely brand confusion."

Nobody would ever confuse a company that sells Bibles and church supplies with one that sells products infused with a derivative from a cannabis plant. But Hendrickson said the shared CBD abbreviation has caused problems.

In the past, he said, a Google search for "CBD" would place his company at the top of the results page. Now, he said, "our 'CBD' is nowhere to be found in the search results."

"We just feel like the CBD phenomenon is going to continue to grow across the country," he said. "That's why we wanted to get out ahead of it."

Christian Book Distributors was started by Hendrickson and his brother as teenagers in 1978. Ray Hendrickson said the company had no graphics department or brand consultants, but began using the initials CBD as its logo at the top of its catalogs and listed its prices as "CBD prices."

Christian Book Distributors went on to become the world's largest seller of Christian products through its website and catalogs, according to the company, and employs more than 600 people at its offices on Summit Street in Peabody. It's one of the largest employers in the city.

The company decided last November to change its name, but to do so gradually. New catalogs no longer mentioned CBD or CBD prices. The initials were removed from products like the company's plastic Communion cups. The word "Distributors" was scrubbed from its logo and employees' email addresses.

Hendrickson said the company's website has been called christianbook.com since it was created in the '90s, so the shortened name made sense in that regard. Plus the word "distributors" had always led some people to believe the company was a wholesaler, not a company that sells directly to customers, he said.

Hendrickson said the company did not have to throw out any of its inventory due to the name change.

"We feel it was a subtle change," he said. "Being able to do it over time, it wasn't an expensive one to do."

Christianbooks is not the only company that has run up against the CBD problem. Last month, Coffee by Design of Portland, Maine, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against CBD Coffee of Utah, which uses cannabidiol in its products. Coffee by Design, which does not use CBD, trademarked their CBD logo in 2010 based on its company's initials, according to the lawsuit.

Hendrickson said Christian Book Distributors trademarked its logo in 1992, but the term CBD is not trademarkable. Another company selling Christian products could not use CBD, he said, but someone selling an entirely different product line can.

"That's the frustrating part of intellectual property law," he said.

Other than the name change, Hendrickson said, the company will continue business as usual, including keeping its tagline, "Everything Christian for Less."

"It's been a great name for us," he said of Christian Book Distributors. "But we just need to focus in on Christianbook, which we feel will be very identifiable to our business and our brand."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

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