Help! What do you do when another vendor is "stealing" your show schedule?

by Donald Clark

Courtesy of Handmade Business

I am an artist who has earned a permanent space in a weekly craft show. I also do other special events, generally one or two monthly, in addition to this market.

Another vendor has made it a habit of coming over to my booth and quizzing me about my upcoming shows. She will then apply to them. If I refuse to answer, she will take postcards or any written hand-out that I may have in my booth.

Perhaps this wouldn't be such a quandary, but the artist in question has a terrible reputation of stealing designs and patterns, under-cutting prices, hiding income from commissioned shows, along with other terrible ethics. I am worried as she is applying to shows, saying how I "recommended her as a personal friend." Obviously, this is not the case. I am now very concerned that my professional reputation will suffer with this habitual coat-tail riding.

In desperation, I wrote a professional letter to all of my upcoming shows. I didn't give her name or business (as to avoid any libel charge), but I did let them know that it "had come to my attention" that a vendor was giving me as a show reference, without my permission, and to please disregard any such claim, unless I personally recommend another artist face-to-face with the venue manager. What else can I do to stop this, yet still remain professional? ANY advice or suggestions would be wonderful.
Thank you, Kimberly, via email
I can certainly understand your concern about this artist's unprofessional behavior, and commend you for the professional way you've been handling the situation. However, before you take any further action, I suggest you sort out the issues involved and only pursue those that directly affect you and your business. Underreporting income is probably a breach of contract with the show promoter and is very difficult to document and prove and certainly is not affecting your business. Dealing with this is the work of the show promoter, so let this one go.

Protecting your intellectual property is an important part of your business. Remember, as soon as you make it, you own it, and the moment you bring an idea to market it's up for grabs. You would certainly want to contact an attorney regarding any infringements she may make on your designs. Unfortunately, defending your intellectual property can be expensive and often non-productive. Only an attorney can guide you with this.

Unfortunately you can't do anything to combat a competitor's under pricing your items. You certainly don't want to reduce your prices in response. You might find some comfort in the realization that if she continues to sell her work at unsustainably low prices her business will fail.

Now to the real issue here, maintaining your integrity and protecting your brand. You clearly are taking care of the ethics we associate with a well-run business. In sports, the fastest runner wins the race. In our business, the most creative mind creates work that sells the best. I would urge you to be sure to feed your creativity by taking a workshop now and then and exploring new materials. Be on top of any trends that affect the items you make and be ready to respond with new product in a timely manner. And, above all, take strength from knowing you have taken the high road.

Basic Spirit booth at the June 2012 ACRE Las Vegas Show

I was reading your website and getting lots of valuable information, but I have a couple of questions which I really need advice on. I am just starting out in the craft fair business and share a booth to keep down costs. However, there are a few issues that I can't find any solution to. For instance, how should we go about using signage for our booth? A lot of fairs insist you have a sign of some description, but as we are essentially two different businesses, we have two different store names. Do we display each name on a different sign? Or, do we come up with an entirely new name incorporating both our store names? My partner (who is related to me) wants to use her name since it is more generic (we sell very different things), but I am opposed to that since it is her branding and not mine that will get all of the advertising. Do you have any suggestions?
Anonymous, via email
I do, and I totally agree that you always want to protect and promote your own products and brand. First, you need to be clear with the promoter of each show that when sharing a booth each participant is allowed to promote their identity. Assuming that is the case, you'll want to have a sign that incorporates your logo and any colors you use in your printed materials. You would want your items to carry tags that clearly identify the work as yours.

Setting up the booth will present some challenges. If you each have signage that relates to the tags on the work you could display your work together and work the booth as a whole together. The tight graphics will help the customer identify the maker. On the other hand, you could divide the booth. Perhaps you each take a side, hang your signs on the side walls and create your displays beneath it and each work your own space. This is the clearest way to promote your work and brand. The back wall could be used to hang large pieces or photos of your work or studio shots designed to bring in customers.

Speaking of brand, you must always be mindful that everything you do reflects on your brand. The printed materials you use, the way you display your work, the clothes you wear, the way you interact with customers, and the company you keep all reflect either positively or negatively on your brand. In this case, you have already begun a relationship with another craftsperson whose work you respect. As you go forward, always be mindful that your work will be impacted by the work around it; therefore, be sure to choose booth mates whose work will enhance the customer's impressions about your products.