Copycat competitors: What to do when you get copied by a competitor

One of the rewards of offering a quality service is that after a while, people will start to notice.  However, that means your competitors will notice you, too. So what do you when the look-a-likes start cutting into your niche? Get past the initial reaction, remove the emotion, and take this advice from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Don’t panic”

copycat competitors

We spoke to Valerie Beck, a business owner who recently faced this very issue in the Chicago region. Her company, Chicago Chocolate Tours, was recently copied by a competitor who worked closely with daily deal sites and booked many tours—and confused customers who were looking for Valerie’s business.  The issues associated with the overlap in services lead to much more than increased competition and colliding tours—it lead to unhappy customers and false associations.

Chicago Chocolate Tours are known for their upscale walking tours of artisan chocolate shops, bakeries, and cafes and have been offering these tours for eight years. But when offers for chocolate tours with strikingly similar wording (exact wording, to be exact) started showing up, Valerie and her staff started being inundated with confused customers.

“We began receiving calls and emails from people who bought the copycat’s tickets online but thought they bought tickets for our tours and wanted to schedule with us, and were disappointed to learn they had purchased from someone else who used confusingly similar wording,” Valerie explained.

Unhappy tour attendees left negative online reviews for Chicago Chocolate Tours, when in reality, they had taken the copy-cat’s tour—based on the different starting point and tour stops, this was evident. Guides were untimely, there was little education provided, and those on the tour left feeling underwhelmed. The lingering confusion was creative a negative impact on the brand Valerie and her team worked so hard to cultivate.

So what do you do when copy-cats steal your intellectual property? Valerie came up with a few ideas that she and her team immediately put into practice when they found they had a copycat competitor:

  1. Send a cease and desist letter. Valerie, a Harvard Law grad, knew the law was on her side when it came to violations of intellectual property—and took the steps both on her own and with the help of an attorney to make both the offending party and the deal sites aware of the issue.
  2. Hire a “secret shopper” to take the copy-cat tour and find out where the differences lie between your offerings.  Valerie found that not only were the routes slightly different, but the guides were not as knowledgeable or timely.
  3. Keep a record of instances of customer confusion so the whole scope of the issue at hand can be reviewed and is documented.
  4. Let your loyal customers know about the situation via social media so they can stand with you and help combat the confusion.
  5. Reinforce your image and brand through online interaction with wording such as “the Original” and by staying true to your values and quality of excellence.

In the meantime, Valerie has found that her loyal supporters have been advocates for her brand and continue to stand by the company, and they continued to be pleasantly surprised by rewards such as “Founders Day Celebration” where customers receive free tours and giveaways. No good deed goes unnoticed—those loyal supporters are thanked for their unwavering support.

Her parting words for business owners facing a similar situation:

“While a copycat situation has its challenges, know that “no one copies a loser,” and that the characteristics that make you a winner can see you through any situation. This is your opportunity to distinguish yourself through excellence and strengthen your brand even more. So, take a deep breath, save all the evidence, communicate with your constituents, take legal steps as appropriate, and keep innovating!”

For more information on Chicago Chocolate Tours, visit “Valerie’s Original” at ChicagoChocolateTours.com.



Photo credit:  gosheshe

Kaleigh Moore

Kaleigh Moore is no stranger to small business. She's the Founder of Lumen -- a business that offers copywriting, social media services, and graphic design. When she's not contributing to the EnMast blog, you'll find her running or at the movies (because the running helps manage the movie snack consumption.) Connect with Kaleigh on Twitter, LinkedIn, or read her blog.

Comments

  1. Exactly!!, I wonder if anyone would make anymore simpler than this, great approach. One thing to emphasize on in such situation is point number one “cease and desist” make sure you get the message across in terms that would make copycat think over.

  2. I have a copy who does the same exact thing. If I put an original; she will then do the same exact thing. She copies my wording, pictures, items, my story of how I started to business; every single thing. She does this to me because she is a jealous ex-friend. I have asked her to stop and she continues. Customers can see this. It is just so unfortunate that she does not have her own mind and stalls my every move.

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