Coping with Copycats
If you walk in creative circles online, by now you will likely have heard of, and been outraged by stories of independent artists, designers and makers being stomped on by large corporations. Intellectual property has been stolen or ripped off, the big company makes a tonne of money on the back of the little guy's idea, and the little guy has very little chance of recourse.
However, what if the shoe is on the other foot? What if David copies *Goliath? You’ve seen a design or product which has become popular, you think “I could make that”. Could you? Should you? Where’s the harm?
This topic has been in my mind for a while now.
It seems that almost every month for the past year I have been alerted to the fact that a new “company” is making and selling products very similar/identical to mine. In this (fairly lengthy) article I’ll lay out some of the thoughts that lead to the decision to break my silence.
My main objective for this post is therapy. I need to stop wasting time worrying about the implications of copycat products, cease feeling depressed and allow my mind the freedom to pursue more creative thoughts.
The following points will be addressed:
- The story behind the product.
- What’s the difference between our product and replicas.
- How copycat products impact on my business and that of those who rely on my business.
- Why this brand will no longer sell this product.
- The essence of our brand and what the future holds.
- Points to note.
Harris Tweed Embroidery Hoop Clocks: Why? When? How?
My partner Jane Hunter is a textile artist primarily utilising Harris Tweed as her preferred medium. Jane uses an embroidery hoop to stabilise the cloth during the production process. Harris Tweed itself is an inspiring textile with an amazing history and a vast colour palette. In February 2013 I took a few pieces of tweed, placed them in embroidery hoops and hung them on the wall adding a splash of colour to our decor. The circular shape and size, not dissimilar to our kitchen clock, lead me to wonder if I could put hands on the cloth to create a colourful and quirky timepiece. After finding a way to stabilise the clock movement using a piece of cardboard behind the cloth, the first iteration of our clock was born.
Our best-selling Macleod Tartan Harris Tweed Clock.
The difference. Designing a retail ready product.
As is usually the way in the early days of a small business, interest came from family and friends who appreciated this quirky item. So then came about the research and development stage:
- Had anyone ever made a clock from an embroidery hoop before? Yes.
- Had anyone made a clock out of Harris Tweed or tartan before? Yes, but in a completely different method and design.
- Had anyone combined the two? No.
- Had anyone designed a method for professionally finishing the rear of the clock without leaving visible raw edges of cloth? No.
- Had anyone made a product of this nature on a commercial basis? No.
- Did anyone really believe that a clock of this type had the potential to be a retail-worthy product? Only us.
- If we find a way to make a commercially viable Harris Tweed Hoop Clock will we be treading on anyone’s toes or impacting on anyone else’s business. No.
Extensive product research and competitor analysis completed to satisfaction and ethics intact we set about designing an achievable, sustainable and professional method of production and delivery. Consumer research came in the form of online sales, social media testing and attending craft fairs throughout 2013.
In 2014 we launched the product into the retail market at Scotland’s Trade Fair. The response was overwhelming and astounding. For the whole of 2014 I had to juggle full time employment with marketing, admin and making hundreds of clocks by hand. We had invested huge amounts of time and energy in refining the clock, sourcing the components from the most local suppliers available, designing and investing in a bespoke product packaging solution from a local manufacturer with assistance from the local authority.
- We are recognised by and registered with the Harris Tweed Authority as manufacturers of finished goods.
- One of the mills, Harris Tweed Hebrides, has stocked our clocks on their shelves.
- Our clocks were Highly Commended by a panel of judges in Best Product Awards at Scotland’s Trade Fair.
- Our products have been stocked in over 50 indie retailers around the country.
- North Ayrshire Council selected our products to gift to international delegates at Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
- The press picked up on this quirky, new product and the clock has been featured in such publications as The Guardian, Stylist, The Herald, Ideal Home Magazine, Made in Scotland Magazine, Sunday Mail and Mollie Makes.
- Perhaps most inspiring of all is that more than 50% of our direct customers return to us. The quirky nature of the clock, the smile on a friend's face when they open the gift box, the customer service, the knowledge that they are supporting a small family business, and that our product comes with a guarantee, they know we have a physical location to return to, although our return rate is an impressive 0.5% all ensures we have a loyal customer base who appreciate what we do.
The number of companies/individuals producing textile clocks of this nature before we started trading: 0
The number of companies/individuals producing textile clocks of this nature now: at least FORTY
I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re trend-setters. However, have these new companies been inspired by our perceived success?
How do copycats impact on my business?
In late 2014 my time, effort and commitment was seemingly paying off. The growth of our creative business, built largely on the popularity of our Harris Tweed Clocks, was such that the decision was made to resign my permanent post and focus on becoming self-employed on a full-time basis. This opportunity was something I worked very hard to create. It’s the dream, isn’t it? Working for yourself, all the hard work benefitting yourself and your family as opposed to a large organisation. The success of my business also directly impacts on other businesses around me, from the local suppliers we use for raw materials, component parts and packaging to the small, independent retailers we supply.
Here are examples of some of the shady practices we've witnessed:
- Some have blatantly replicated our product, followed our social media and then proceeded to market a direct copy of the work and sold into our marketplace.
- Some have customers who recognise the product as belonging to us but then advise that customer that they can undercut our price.
- Some existing and potential stockists have now produced their own copycat versions of our products.
- Some have stolen our product photographs and used them to market their own products.
- Some even claim to be a member of an anti-copyright organisation and ask their customers to contact them if they see someone stealing their intellectual property, despite the fact that they have stolen their ideas from someone else!
The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the official UK government body responsible for intellectual property (IP) rights including patents, designs, trade marks and copyright. They are there to stop people stealing or copying the design or look of your products.
Design right’ automatically protects your design for 10 years after it was first sold or 15 years after it was created - whichever is earliest.
You can use it to stop someone copying your design.
Design right only applies to the shape and configuration (how different parts of a design are arranged together) of objects.
In addition to this invaluable government resource we have also gratefully received advice from Scottish Enterprise and Business Gateway, on the issue of IP infringement. The resulting action being that we contacted a specialist IP lawyer. Having provided the lawyer with a full background, and all the supporting evidence we have built up, they agreed that there was a case to pursue. However, as I’m sure you will know, legal assistance does not come cheap. The financial outlay to pursue all of the ‘businesses’ infringing our copyright, will be huge to us.
Why Juniper and Jane will no longer sell Harris Tweed Clocks.
Juniper and Jane, as a brand was formed because of our love for nature and the great outdoors. Our initial product offering was mountain and island inspired, embroidered textiles. From this starting point, the embroidery hoop clocks took over. We never intended Juniper and Jane to be known for Harris Tweed Clocks, but given the popularity of the product we had little choice but to run with it. We have now taken the decision that Juniper and Jane will no longer market the clocks.
Sam in the process of making the clocks by hand.
*Points to note.
We are not a Goliath of a company! Our professional approach to business combined with the significant geographical reach of our products might lead hobbyists and new/small craft makers to think the opposite. Perhaps we are seen by some as successful and so large that their small scale efforts will go unnoticed or have little impact to our company. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We are a small, family business. Staff include only Jane and myself. That’s two people, putting their heart and soul into everything they do. Trying to pay the mortgage each month, and feed the kids.
Ethics and integrity are hugely important to us. That is part of the reason it has taken me so long to write this article. It’s also why you’ll notice I haven’t named and shamed those people who are causing me so much concern.
*UPDATE - APRIL 2017 - CLICK HERE