A few weeks ago I received a rather odd email out of the blue. The message was sent via the contact form on my website, from another local embroidery company and the subject line read and I quote; “stop stealing my customers!!!!” (yes there really were four exclamation marks).
Naturally, I read on with trepidation. The message itself was thankfully brief, but suffice to say, I was accused of undercutting prices, using ‘underhand dirty tricks’ and there was an implied threat about posting these alleged tricks on Facebook for all to see. Furthermore, I was accused of ‘looking’ at this other businesses Facebook page and told I have now been blocked. Their parting shot was to tell me that the owner of the other business has kids to feed.
Well, I too have mouths to feed and as I was reading that message, at daft o’clock in the morning, feeding one of those mouths while so doing, I was so taken aback I replied straight away with all the groggy eloquence I could muster at 5AM, after about twenty three seconds of sleep. I probably should have left it until later, or just ignored it, but I didn’t and I didn’t.
“Tread softly because you tread on my dreams” – W B Yeats
I felt attacked, so I defended. I felt the need to answer the wild accusations and did so half asleep and up against the autocorrect demon. Had I waited until I was more alert, I’d have (hopefully) realised that I shouldn’t have dignified it with a response.
That’s what I should have done, but I didn’t. Having allowed myself to become a little annoyed at my honour being impugned, I fetched my deerstalker and did some sleuthing.
Who do you think you are…. oh wait….
It turns out, this other embroidery company is a startup just like me, but at roughly the stage I was at about five years ago when I was just starting out.
They even have the model of machine I almost ended up with. Thankfully I got advice from someone in the industry and instead went straight for a full on industrial unit. They’ve also gone for an eCommerce website, but look to have realised, just as I did when I tried it, that pages of product listings don’t really make much sense when everything you produce is custom.
It looks like there’s a bit of overlap in what we both do, which is pretty inevitable, I even quite like some of their work (credit where it’s due) and can see a few opportunities that they really should explore given some of the directions they’ve gone with their designs. But I didn’t manage to work out what’s prompted the accusations. Maybe I never will.
It’d be really easy to name and shame, to point fingers and all that jazz, but I won’t, hence why I’ve gone out of my way not to identify the business concerned.
I know just how hard it is starting out. Entrepreneurship is never an easy thing to do, every day’s a school day and the cost of not learning is failure. Whatever it was that prompted the email and despite being entirely unfounded, probably felt very real and utterly justified to the sender at the time it was sent. I also know from experience that a small screaming set of lungs at three in the morning can disconnect ones brain from its logic centre.
Business is business, but not at the cost of my principles
I won’t deny that I’m trying to increase my market share. But not by fighting another small business for the scraps left by the big players. Rather, I’m eyeing up a seat at their table and I’ll be ordering the Chateaubriand when I get there.
With that being the case, (and metaphors aside) I’ll say this. If you’re running another embroidery business locally, even if you just read the above realising that you’re the one I’m writing about, I’d actually be really pleased to meet you. I read a fabulous blog from an equally fabulous lady in business on why ‘competitors’ aren’t to be feared, but embraced – definitely worth a read (click here).
We’re all in this together
Yes, that’s right. The opportunity to ‘network’ with people who know exactly the trials and tribulations of balancing small humans and trying to make a living in the same way I am would be strangely cathartic. Who else would understand that terrible sinking feeling when a hoop pops open halfway through stitching a design?
Besides, while I’m not in a position right now to turn down embroidery work when it’s offered, there will come a time when I might well be too busy with existing work to take on a new job. So rather than make someone wait, it’d be nice to have a few local contacts I can recommend. Everyone wins!
What goes around…… you know the rest
When I was starting out, I had a lot of help and a lot of input from experienced people already in the embroidery industry and many others who’ve taken time and trouble to help me out. They gave their advice freely and I might not be where I am now without it. So, now that I’ve gained some experience of my own, it feels right that I should give back and keep the karma flowing.
Here’s to my competitors, may we all succeed together!