Embracing Thieves and Robbers

While I was taking pictures at a market this past weekend, I saw this really cute hand-made item that I took a couple of pictures of to share with you. The vendor in that booth accosted me and accused me of stealing from him. He was right, but in the wrong way.

Vendors spend a lot of time coming up with new ideas for things to sell to customers. In markets where everything looks the same, you have to be able to differentiate your product from other vendors. I really enjoy going around and taking pictures of stuff. A lot of the things that I take pictures of inspire me for things that I could make for the house but I don’t have any intention of taking an idea, copying it, and then selling it to people. Apparently other vendors and customers do exactly that.

While taking pictures of this guy’s awesome booth, he stopped what he was doing and asked if I was a vendor. Upon confirming that I was a vendor he then proceeded to tell me how he was sick of people like me coming by and stealing his ideas. If I want one of these, just buy it and get out.

He also told me about an item that takes him four hours to make. People come by and see it and then buy the pieces they need to make one just like it. After all, the pieces are cheaper than the actual product. He went on to say that when that happens he can’t pay his bills and it threatens his livelihood.

We went back and forth for a while but I deleted the pictures and went back to my booth fuming. After all, he is in a public place with lots of people coming through. Every one of them has a camera on their cell phone. There is nothing he can do to stop me! The fate of TheVendorLife.com and maybe even the entire planet is at stake!

Maybe that is a bit severe, but I did think about what he said and I realized that he is right. When I go to markets, I am constantly amazed at the creativity and ingenuity of the makers. How they put disparate items together to make something entirely new is inspiring. I go back home and I take some of these inspirations to create something.

Wait. Did I just steal from someone?

This leads to an interesting question. What is the difference between being inspired and stealing an idea?

This, in turn, led me to another realization. People are going to steal this vendor’s ideas and there is absolutely nothing he can do about it. People are also going to steal my ideas and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

We are in an age of the Do It Yourselfer’s (DIY). With the plethora of DIY videos on YouTube and all of the home renovation channels, people out there want to show off the things that they “created” for their home, not the things that they bought. That is one reason why many of these markets that we go to are so popular.

This lead me to another realization. This guy is sitting on a gold mine! Given the fact that people are going to steal our ideas and there is nothing that we can do about, then the way in which we handle it must change.

I would love to tell you what his cute little idea was, but I don’t want to be accused of theft.

After thinking about our minor altercation for a while, I went back to him and told him that he was absolutely right. He has every right to protect his ideas and I was not going to steal that idea from him.

I then told him that he was absolutely wrong in the way in which he deals with the theft. It’s time to get with the DIY movement dude! However, I was more subtle when telling him that he is missing out.

I told him that this idea was really cute, and also very easy to make once you have all the supplies. This idea was perfect for a DIY afternoon with your girlfriends or with the kids on a rainy afternoon. The biggest challenge for someone to make one of these was to get the supplies. I had no idea where to get orange burlap (one of the components in this cute little thing).

I told him that his idea was perfect to package and make a DIY kit! Instead of spending the time that it takes to make one of these, he could assemble all of the pieces, but them in a bag and sell them as a DIY kit! While he currently charges $8 for one of these cute little things, he could create a DIY package to make three or four of them and sell the package for $20. After all, if you are going to spend the time to make them and you have all the material, why not save a lot of time and effort and just put the material in a kit for people to buy? He could make more money with much less effort this way. After all, isn’t being profitable a goal for all of us?

This is a common issue with many markets – particularly vintage markets. People see a lot of really cool stuff and know they want to do something with it, but they lack the creative vision to see the end result. They also want something that can help them to unleash that creative desire but they don’t want it to be so difficult that they get frustrated. It is a lot like cooking dinner. People want the feeling that they cooked a delicious meal without it being too frustrating. This concept is the basis behind companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Home Chef and others.

If you are selling something that is really cool and gets a lot of attention, but people either don’t want to buy the end product because they can make it themselves or they don’t know what to do with it, show them. Give them a kit to make it themselves or an example of how it might be used. That will increase your sales instead of having people walk off with an idea. If they walk off with an idea, they will probably forget about it and not think about it ever again. If they have a kit to make something, they will probably share it with their friends who in turn will come looking for you to get one of their own. Turn theft into a positive for you and for them.

Being a vendor at a market is highly competitive and there is a lot of paranoia among vendors about who is going steal an idea and who to trust. It is up to each of you to find a way to differentiate yourself from the many other vendors at your market. You must find a creative solution to address these issues that come up – particularly when there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Be smart, adaptable and forward thinking. That will help to ensure you are part of a market in the future instead of being left behind.

In the meantime, I’m going to see what DIY kits I can assemble that are consistent with our business.

See you at market!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Inspiring, I did a diy kit with macrame hangers at a Christmas market. Sold more kits than ready made hangers. You may “ steal” this idea! Lol! Always enjoy your blog.

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