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How to protect your pet business from copycats with Debbie Humphreys

Jun 8, 2022 | Content Marketing Tips, Podcasts, Publicity tips


What would you do if someone copied your pet business? 

That’s what happened to Debbie Humphreys from Redhound for Dogs, not once but TWICE.

The first was a department store who copied knitting kits she’d made for dog jumpers.

Then someone ripped off her entire product, buying her designs, and using the exact pattern.

In this episode Debbie shares what it’s like to find out you’ve been copied, and how to take action to protect yourself.

She talks about the emotional impact and what she’s doing to take on the copycats, campaigning to the Government to support businesses.

You can listen in on the player link below or read the key points as a blog post.

Hi Debbie can you tell me about you and your pet business?

“I’m the founder of Redhound for Dogs, a brand for Whippets making products for Whippets and Whippet owners and lovers. 

“Before joining the pet industry 12 years ago, inspired by my own shivering Whippet Bruno, I worked as a wedding dress designer.

“I started out making knitted jumpers to keep Bruno warm, and that grew into Redhound and we now have a range of t-shirts, fleeces, macs, coats and packs.”

We’re here to talk about copying in the pet industry, can you tell me about your experience? 

“Yes, it started back in 2014 when I decided to make kits where you could knit your dog a jumper. 

“I thought I could broaden out to a craft market, not just people who want to buy ready-made items for dogs.

“They did really well and I went to London and spoke to a range of retailers. The kits were sold in Habitat, Not on the High Street and Graham and Green.

“Then, I was doing my Christmas shopping in a big department store and saw a box with a knitting kit for a dog jumper that was virtually identical to ours. 

“And I can’t really describe the feeling. It was gut wrenching. We bought one because I needed to know who was doing it. 

“We traced it back and we’d sent a kit six months before to the head office of this particular department store, so we took legal action and the kits were taken off sale.”

And then you had a second experience where somebody copied your patterns?

“A customer of ours sent me a photograph of someone on Etsy and said, ‘I think this is your coat.’ 

“We did some research and found the owner of the shop had bought all our patterns, in separate orders.

“It was clearly written on the patterns that the copyright was protected and they were not for commercial use.

“As we were still selling the ready-made coats, I logged it with Etsy and they took her shop down, and I received some really abusive emails from her. 

“Our solicitor wrote to her, and we could prove that she had bought our patterns so she made some changes. 

“We couldn’t take it any further and I decided to discontinue the ready-made version of the coat and rebranded the patterns.

“We rebranded the labels, it was so much more colourful, more of a craft product and we sold them on Etsy and Not on the High Street.

“Again, people were ordering multiple and the concern was they were going to use them for commercial gain.

“It became so difficult to police it so we pulled the product completely. I’d made it really easy for people to start making their own products and start their own business from our designs.”

What are the legalities around taking your pattern or your products and copying?

“It’s illegal but the Copyright laws in this country aren’t fit for purpose for 3D items, they work for art, music and photography but it’s not like that with a product. 

“If they make a certain number of changes to the design, even if they start with your product, it gets to a point where there’s enough change that it becomes their product.

“So it’s really difficult to prove, and it’s not policed.”

Can you tell me about the impact of that on you emotionally as well?

“It’s quite difficult to put into words because when you’ve spent time, money and passion it becomes personal. 

“So when you see something that’s been heavily inspired by you and someone has ripped you off and there’s nothing you can do, it’s soul-destroying.

“It can stifle your creativity as it can make you fall out of love with your own products and you feel scared of putting something new out there in the world. 

“The only way you can deal with it is to do what you do better, and know that because you’re the originator you can always come up with something new – copiers can’t.”

What you would say to someone who’s thinking of copying a product?

“I would say your item will never be as good. If you’re looking at something and thinking ‘I can do that’ you don’t have a business idea. 

“Go and think of an idea of your own, or invest in the skillset to do it yourself.”

What’s your advice for small businesses and protecting themselves?

“You can register your designs; we used a solicitor to do this or you can do it through a Government agency. 

“I also made our designs deliberately complicated because they aren’t as easy to just ‘make’ and most of our designs aren’t simple shapes because they’re for Whippets. 

“If they’re making a product, do a timeline of your design, photograph your designs with the dates on them. 

“Log every part of the process so you can always show that you’re not copying if anyone accuses you.

“And don’t give too much away about new products until they are ready and registered just in case people are watching on social media and want to copy.” 

You’re speaking to the Government but what would you say you’ve learnt from the experience?

“I’ve learnt that you just have to plough on and do the best you can. You can’t let it upset you, you have to carry on being better and stay in your bubble.

“I also don’t look at what other people are doing so I’m not consumed with, ‘that’s really similar to ours.’ I just try to do better than I already am.”

Want to learn more about Debbie?

Find out more about Debbie’s work: https://www.redhoundfordogs.com/

Follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/redhoundfordogs/

Join the Redhounders Facebook Community:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/2912568292301801

Learn more about copying and protecting your business on the Anti Copying in Design Website: https://www.acid.uk.com/

Debbie also recommends the Make it British community: https://makeitbritish.co.uk/

If you found this post helpful you might like How to make sure your blog isn’t breaking the law with Catherine France, In the spotlight with Stephanie Zikmann and How to deal with criticism from people in your industry 

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