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The Case of the Copycat

A fellow member of a local business group copies Betty’s idea for a pet event. Should she confront him and ask him to cancel? Or let it go?

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BETTY OPENED UP Facebook to check in with the pet business groups she belongs to. She loves that there are so many wonderful people in them and that they are always willing to answer questions and give honest feedback about situations that arise in her business.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NANCY GUINN is founder and president of Dog
Krazy Inc., an award-winning pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. Also a clinical pet nutritionist, she consults with veterinarians and pet parents alike. Nancy shares her life with business partner and husband Chris, and their pets Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

Some of the members even have stores not far from her own. They had begun to meet up monthly for coffee or cocktails — to exchange ideas, combine orders to get better pricing, and refer customers to each other if one does not carry a product another does. Betty loves knowing that they are working together to make sure local pets and their people have what they need.

After checking in with the groups, she began working on her upcoming event. Betty had been planning a fall pet festival over the past few months, and thanks to the pet business groups and her store community, she knew it was going to be a success.

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A notification popped up on her computer screen, complete with a photo of an adorable dog in a costume. It said, “Join Us at Our Fall Pet Festival!” When she looked closer, Betty saw that every activity she had planned for her event was listed for this one as well; the paw paintings, the photo booth, the bobbing for hotdogs and even the DJ she hired were all there.

When Betty saw which business was hosting the festival, her stomach dropped. It was a store just 10 miles away owned by Robert, a fellow member of one of the Facebook groups and someone she met up with monthly. Then she noticed the date: the day before her event.

Betty stared at her computer screen in shock. She had talked about her festival plans with Robert the last time they met for coffee. Betty had trusted him and could not believe he would copy her ideas, including every single detail.

She picked up her phone and called her friend Anne, another pet store owner in the area. Betty knew Anne would understand her frustration and give her some good advice. After she told Anne exactly what was going on, her friend explained that this was the exact reason she never went to any of the get-togethers with other store owners. Anne told Betty that she had had the exact same experience with Robert, but rather than make a big deal of it, she chose to avoid sharing any information with him in the future.

The Big Questions

  • Should Betty still hold her event the day after Robert’s, knowing she will look like the one who copied another store’s idea?
  • Should she confront Robert about the copycatting and tell him to cancel his event?
  • Should she let it go and just no longer share ideas with other store owners who are in close proximity to her store?
Vincent S.
NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ

Determining who to trust in a business environment is a difficult task. Sometimes you don’t have an answer until someone violates that trust. Having said that, collaboration and advice between independent business owners is a critical tool for all of us to compete against the online behemoths and mass channel. I would continue to share ideas, but maybe hold back on the details until confident the other party can be trusted.

Beth K.
IRWIN, PA

I hate confrontation, but I would bring it up with Robert. If nobody confronts him, he will continue to do the same thing to other local store owners. I would also (without naming names) mention something at the next group meeting about things being discussed at the meeting not being used by other members without prior consent.

Paula G.
MUSKEGO WI

I have had this happen. At first it bothered me, but now I look at it as a compliment. I do my events/special sales, etc. mostly as a customer appreciation. Yes, I also do it to grow my business, but my main focus is customer appreciation. Betty should still hold her event even though it’s the day after Robert’s. She will have her clientele and maybe get some outside interest. I have found that it doesn’t matter if you share ideas or not, the people who are going to copy you either follow you on social media or get your newsletter.

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Crisi F.
VICTORIA, TX

Betty should still hold the event and possibly change one or two activities to offer a little variety. I definitely think she should have a conversation with him and express that she feels he stole her idea. Give him a chance to tell his side. From that point forward, I would most likely only share ideas from previous events knowing they might be used and only briefly mention upcoming plans, but not in depth.

Oliver K.
NEW YORK CITY, NY

Betty should be flattered. Their stores are 10 miles apart. How many of her customers shop at his store, and vice versa? Is this even an issue? If she was doing the proper event marketing, it would not look like she is copying. She also could partner with his store and make it a two-day event, allowing more people to attend. Isn’t it better to be there for customers’ needs? Being petty gets you nowhere in business.

Liz S.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN

In sales I say, “There’s room on the shelf for everyone,” and look at other brands as partners in growing the product category and success of independent retailers. I think that open mindset applies to stores, too, and both events could be successful, raise awareness and appeal to a larger audience.

Jodi E.
BRADLEY, IL

Betty’s fall festival sounds wonderful, but many stores have similar events with those activities. Sharing ideas with other people in the same field is great networking and makes everyone better. It’s awesome that there is a community of store owners she can meet up with. I’m sure she herself has implemented ideas shared there. Someone thought her festival sounded great and is trying to emulate it. That would be cool with me even if it’s fairly close by. I’d go on with my own event the next day and make it the best ever. If she wants to contact Robert, she should but not to scold him. One of the reasons we all read PETS+ is to learn from and to celebrate our sister stores’ successes.

Melissa L.
SYKESVILLE, MD

I would confront Robert and ask him why he scheduled his event for a day that would clearly conflict with hers. Not only that, I would call him out in a group meeting and open it up to the other members to get their feelings and let Robert hear first-hand from his peers why what he did was wrong and how he could have planned his event in a way that wouldn’t negatively affect Betty’s. Borrowing ideas from each other and brainstorming are what groups like these are all about, but complete rip-offs are a really bad look. If he continued to do this sort of thing, I might even call for a vote to remove him.

Kristen W.
SAVANNAH, GA

How frustrating. If I were in that situation, I would still hold my event and maybe consider moving to the weekend before. I would also confront him about it in a civil manner and express my thoughts and concerns over stealing my ideas. I would not share any more ideas unless I knew I could trust the person.

Shelly N.
ESSEX, MA

Betty should still hold her event. She put too much time and energy and money into it to just throw it away. Many people miss events due to schedules, so those who can’t make it to Robert’s may go to Betty’s. Some will go to both. Betty should make sure to let her customers know which is her event. Also, Betty should say something to Robert. It probably won’t change his behavior, but it will give her some satisfaction.

Diana F.
SAN ANTONIO, TX

I’ve had similar stuff happen, but it wasn’t from a group. I had a store copy an event by following my social media accounts, and she also started to carry nearly all the products I carry, also by watching our pages. Not sure what you can do about stuff like that. I would probably have a word with the guy and let him know my feelings. That feels like it was deliberately done, and I for sure wouldn’t share anything else with him.

Comora T.
HENDERSONVILLE, NC

My golden rule is to keep my business to myself unless working on a group effort. Copycats are everywhere, and when it comes to money, people become ruthless. Some say it’s flattery, and it is to a point. However, if you keep your plans to only those who need to know, there is much less worry about things like this happening.

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Frank F.
FARMINGDALE, NJ

I would suggest that Betty continue to hold her event the following day. Her event is unique, not just because of the activities offered, but also because she is Betty and her store is different. Plus both stores don’t share all of the same customers. I would not mention anything to Robert. I would just file the incident away in my brain. I tend to follow an old Chinese proverb: “Revenge is best served cold.” Regarding the third question, I would tend to lean along the rules of The Godfather, when Don Corleone told his son Sonny, “Never tell anyone outside the family what you’re thinking.” Talk all you want about the things that you’ve already done, but hold the things you may want to do a bit closer to the vest! Unless of course you’ve been doing it as long like me and don’t give a rat’s ass!

Pattie Z.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

When there are so many consultants and influencers who provide awesome ideas and event concepts to their followers, any idea is fair game. Betty should have the event. Same idea, but the execution and energy will be different. A conversation with Robert at this point would be a waste of time when Betty could be promoting her store. It’s history. No one was born being a great retailer. We all learned what we know from others in the business. Unless it’s proprietary information that makes my store unique, I’m always willing to help and share, just as many others helped me to become successful.

Lorin G.
REDLANDS, CA

I would never share info with him again, but for this situation, I would match the date and the events so that it looked like it was cooperative between them. My guess is that Betty will hear from Robert as a result. Nonetheless, I would still move forward with the event on the same timeline as his. However, I would plan additional surprises, promos, discounts, etc, to occur during the event. Something like Fall Flash Sales/Deals. They could cover a few hours or the day or whatever she wants. Make him have to scramble to keep an eye on what she’s doing instead of focusing on the event. If he constantly has to monitor her, his event will be less successful. Betty just needs to be better than Robert all the way around, and she should NOT bother to even look at his event, but rather just focus on her own. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Pick it up, do better than. When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

Paige E.
ERIE, PA

If I already had it planned and advertised, I would go through with my event. I would try to pull out all the stops to make it a little bigger and better than planned. Unfortunately, you can’t control what other people and businesses do, but you can control yours. I don’t think I would confront Robert as people like that usually are who they are. And I don’t think there’s anything to be said he doesn’t already know, and he’s not going to cancel something he already has advertised and put time and effort into. I would definitely be hesitant to share things with other owners that were local to me in the future. I tend to keep to myself in that regard as is.

Michelle M.
OSPREY, FL

I would still have my event. And I wouldn’t request Robert cancel his event, but I would try to figure out a way to let him know that I know what he did. Two events on two different days may allow more people to participate, especially if it’s like a Saturday/Sunday deal. In my area, especially during “season” 10 miles seems like the other side of the state. If I had had this festival in the past, I might note that in advertising, like the “3rd Annual Fall Pet Festival.” That would let people know I have done this before. I would not share information with Robert anymore, but I would still network with the area group — just be cautious with event planning conversations. We used to have a huge pet festival in a city just north of us in the spring on a Saturday, and it was always a very busy day for us. People would stop by with their pets on their way to or from the event.

Brett F.
OWEGO, NY

Betty should keep her event. Lots of time, energy and resources go into planning even the smallest event. Her loyal customers will still attend. I’d do a short but powerful advertising blitz highlighting her store name and the date. Once the event is over, she should get all over her website and social media, raving about how fantastic it was even if it was a terrible turnout. Thank all who came and all who helped, and really pour it on. After that, I’d refrain from sharing ideas with local competitors. And I’d probably send an email to the competitor in question and basically cut ties. Business can be a dog-eat- dog (pun intended) world, and we each have to look out for our own interests. That’s exactly what Robert did by planning his event ahead of hers. He’s no ally, and he’ll continue to steal her thunder.

Stephanie S.
AMARILLO,TX

We see this a lot in my city. They actually send in spies to see my prices, what I am carrying and various other things. We were the first place to have a pet costume contest and did great the first year. The next year, the motorcycle shop did with one several pet rescues, and our turnout was dismal. If you get angry and confront, I think it just hurts you. Obviously Robert is jealous of her success and doesn’t have original ideas. I would confront him after the events and suggest a collaboration for the next year. Explain to him both shops have uniqueness and that they are not competing but collaborating. Tell him the cost would be less if they combined forces. It would totally catch him by surprise. If he is a jerk afterward, then Betty should go find others to do a community one.

Dawn T.
VERO BEACH, FL

Unfortunately, Betty should not still hold her event the day after Robert’s. It would not work out in her favor as many people would be tired or have other things to do than to attend another similar pet event on the same weekend. Knowing Robert has done this before, confronting him won’t do any good, and to tell him to cancel his event, well I am sure he wouldn’t. If I were Betty, I would reschedule my event, giving me additional time to make it bigger and better. Also, not share any ideas with other store owners in the proximity, as apparently she is not sure who she will be able to trust or not. As for letting it go, definitely not share ideas (unless she wants to include a store), but if there is an opportunity that she is able to mention Robert’s ignorance in a neutrally correct manner, I would mention it for others to be aware.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

Nancy Guinn is the founder and president of Dog Krazy Inc., an award-winning natural pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. She helps other small businesses succeed through her contributions to industry magazines, webinars and podcasts. The Guinn household includes Nancy’s husband and business partner, Chris, and their furry and feathered inspirations Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

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