Over the past 6 months or so, some of us on the CafePress staff have been contacted by individual Shopkeepers with the odd news that a local licensed-brands shop (we’ll call them “Glitz Factory”) is actively combing our Marketplace, trying to identify “high-value” Shopkeepers, and then contacting them with unsolicited emails or phone calls with a hard sales pitch to switch to the Glitz Factory Print-on-Demand system.
These sales pitches generally involve big sexy promises, and can include cross-country trips to California and signing bonuses. The best terms, of course, carry the catch that the Shopkeeper ends an already-successful business with CafePress. The deals also require NDA’s and contracts, the latter of which apparently carry aggressive exclusivity term limits (i.e years).
Our Shopkeepers are as baffled as we are about the poaching strategy, particularly given that Glitz Factory has traditionally focused on showcasing licensing deals that have nothing to do with the rewarded self-expression that’s at the heart of the CafePress Community.
At this point I’ve heard a multitude of stories from a variety of people, most of whom are calling full of indignation and asking, basically, the same four questions:
- Did you know about this?
- Does this bother you?
- So what do you think about it?
- What are you guys going to do about it?
The first question is easy to answer: Yep, we’ve known about this for quite some time.
One might expect that we’d have already come out beating our chests and climbing tall buildings to bellow about our size, scale, lead, and the simple fact that people make a boatload (think freighter) more money over here – heck, CafePress Shopkeepers are quitting their day jobs (and Glitz Factory knows that). Thing is, we prefer action over words. And so we’ve continued to focus on our Community and our business in order to improve the CafePress experience for our Shopkeepers and buyers. After all, our lead is our Community’s lead – and that’s what’s important.
But when our Community is targeted in a detrimental way, and when Shopkeepers are genuinely looking for answers to the same few questions, it’s time to speak up. So:
Q) Does this bother you?
A) Yes – but perhaps not for the most obvious of reasons.
A local blogger posed the question as to the ethics behind the poaching efforts a few months back. What he failed to mention is the collateral damage – and that’s the income of the person running the already-successful CafePress shop.
I got a phone call from an anonymous someone that I’ll call… Pat (androgynous anonymity is the most anonymous, after all). Pat is filled with deep regret after signing an exclusive Glitz Factory contract and being forced to remove most of his/her CafePress content. Pat has admitted to making very few sales in the Glitz Factory shop – including periods with no sales at all – and has come to the realization that the big promises were “all words and no substance.” Pat also mentioned that Glitz Factory seemed “annoyed” that Pat didn’t have the magical secret to be successful on their platform.
In Pat’s words: “Once the conceit of being treated like a big shot wore off, I realized that I’d been had. And I don’t want anyone else to make the same mistake.”
Pat went on to say that s/he’s embarrassed and kicking him/herself for ever getting involved in such an “underhanded” deal in the first place. So basically, Pat’s entire online business income (thousands of dollars a month and consistently growing) has screeched to near standstill. And sure, that bothers us.
For any company to deliberately take advantage of an individual’s desire to make a better life for him or herself at the expense of that person’s livelihood – for the primary purpose of trying to hurt the competition – leads to some very serious questions about business ethics, and about the respect that company has for its potential customers as customers, as business owners, and as individuals.
Here’s the reality: there’s no need for anyone to close their CafePress shops if Glitz Factory is going to provide incremental sales.
But that’s not the case here. The Glitz Factory deals are a BYOB deal. (Bring Your Own Buyers.)
And the thing is, most of our Community members have figured this out. Because CafePress Shopkeepers that are running successful businesses are generally successful because, you know, they’re smart about their businesses.
Another Shopkeeper put it this way:
“I think they assumed that we’re all just little stay-at-home people who don’t understand our businesses. So they figured that flying us out and sitting a bunch of senior executives across the table is going to impress us or intimidate us and make us believe all the big promises, and that little old me wouldn’t figure out that the promises were vague and that the contract terms weren’t much different than their actual Terms of Service. The Big Kahuna exec looked me straight in the eye and told me that signing the contract was a ‘No Brainer’ – I think they just figured I didn’t realize that I’d be losing most my business if I switched over.”
Q) So what do you think about it?
A) You guys rock!
I mean, seriously. Our Community is the heart of what makes the CafePress Marketplace so vibrant and interesting, and to see people being flown in and recruited NBA-style makes us proud both of the Shopkeepers who have built such amazing cottage industries, as well as proud of having provided a way for them to do so.
Our energies are, as ever, focused on making sure that your good ideas are celebrated and rewarded. Sure, we have a nice long list of big guys like Snoopy and Discovery using us too, but our primary focus has always been to empower the creativity of the human spirit and make a difference in people lives.
Q) What are you guys going to do about it?
A) Keep on keepin’ on.
Honestly, there’s no point in getting distracted by a small company’s attempt to disrupt our groove. Our focus is looking forward in order to ensure that we continue investing our time and energies into efforts that improve the overall CafePress experience. We don’t like the idea that someone is out there trying to sow dissent in our Community, but the thing about community is that people have come together for good reasons. In any case, actions (and paychecks) speak louder than words.
We have a lot of groovy things planned for this year, and they’ve all been designed with our Community in mind. So you too can look forward… to some awesome surprises.
There’s a very good reason we continue to grow like mad in revenue, membership, traffic and catalogue size every year. And that reason is you. Yes, you. You guys taking advantage of your own imagination, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to create such a lively (and huge!) Marketplace of self-expression.
You guys are rock stars – and you don’t need a black car waiting for you at the airport to prove it. Congrats, big thanks and a huge green thumbs-up for making CafePress the awesome, vibrant and successful community it’s become. Rock. On.
So keep it up, folks. Just remember: the grass may look greener on the other side, but in this case it’s orange.
If you’ve been approached by Glitz Factory:
1) Stop, drop and roll.
2) Feel free to give us a holler. (You can probably skip #1. Up to you; it might make compelling video…)
3) Feel free to share your story by commenting on the blog.
4) If you take the trip out here, let us know! We’re just up the road from Glitz Factory, and in this case there really is such a thing as a free lunch. Just give us a shout to tell us you’re in town and we’ll hit a local haunt to chat about whatever suits your fancy.
Whether or not you’re in town, we’re always happy to talk with you about your shops, your life or your favorite dog breed. If you’re not sure who to call, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can steer you to the right person. We truly do value our relationship with our Shopkeepers, and a real live person really is just a phone call or email away.