It's only business

… in the shopping context, I mean.

We might switch brands because the quality of the product we’re currently using dropped below acceptable standards; because we discovered the same quality for a lower price, or available via a more convenient route; because we discovered that another product contained more desirable qualities (more effective, more durable, more environmentally friendly, more cashmere)…

But if the quality of all competing products was equal, what behaviour on the part of the product distributor/brand owner is enough to make you switch to a competing brand?

It’s easy to envision behaviour that reflects an important opinion you might hold that relates to your life, liberty, or security of the person — you might stop purchasing a company’s products because it donates money to conservatives/liberals/pro-choice groups/pro-life groups/PETA/the Canadian Opera Company, which are groups that directly have an impact, or strive for change to, human and animal rights and health, the preservation of the environment — things that are highly relevant to quality of life. Not quantity of life, like the availability of extra discretionary cash, medical clinics on every corner instead of in every neighbourhood (as long as the health care is accessible), or the ability to enjoy a good night at the opera locally instead of having to travel or watch it on television. (Yes, I was joking about the COC. I also admit that it is very difficult to distinguish where preservation and enhancement of culture stops being a quality of life issue and starts being a question of quantity. But bear with me, because where that dividing line is doesn’t really matter for this question’s particular context.)

What if the company’s behaviour was just “not getting along” with competitors — the stuff that’s “only business” that in the end, doesn’t really affect you, even indirectly? What if the company thought it was protecting its market share and reputation, but you thought the threatened harm to them was exaggerated?

Take Cascade 220. Would you stop buying it just because you decided you didn’t like the distributor’s business behaviour, which had nothing to do with supply/availability to/at retailers, but only with the business of its competitors? Only Cascade has that yarn in those colours; other companies might distribute very similar yarns, but the colours are never quite the same.

Or take KnitPicks Options needles. Would you stop using them because you didn’t like the fact that they allegedly (since I’ve never actually had direct confirmation that yes, it was Crafts Americana, it’s “allegedly”) convinced a smaller business to change its name? Even if the smaller business didn’t seem to be the worse for wear after the expense of the change?

Or take a trademark dispute between yarn shops. How would you feel if your local yarn shop, which had a business name consisting principally of a common knitting word, was trying to stop another yarn shop in another state from using or getting a trademark registration for a name using the same word? Now, what if the two shops were in the same state? What if they were the only shops in the same state? Only two among many?

Or take Alice Starmore. Would you stop using her yarns or patterns strictly because she had been so publicly unpleasant to knitters and competitors, whether her public allegations and Yahoo-group-shutting-down behaviour were justifed or not?

Hypotheticals like that last one are a little trickier; yarn and needles, to a large extent, are fungibles, even though not quite the same colour or not quite the same cable flexibility might be available from a different source. Intellectual property isn’t; the eye for choosing colours in a fair isle design, the ability to compose cables and arrange them side by side in a pleasing manner. Should your perception of purely business matters influence how you feel about somebody’s art or craft? Are all public aspects of an artisan inseparable? Are they only inseparable so long as they exist on separate websites? Can a designer or author publicly write about whatever she wants in what she terms a “personal” journal, and rightfully expect that the public will ignore her ramblings when judging her professionalism?

I don’t think I have complete answers for these hypotheticals. I do have a stop-gap answer for the yarn shop one: if you think your proposed shop name is clever, then it means that someone else has probably thought of it already.

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13 Responses to It's only business

  1. Robin says:

    Oh, and if it wasn’t completely obvious, I read this blog post before I read the previous one re Sierra… I had scrolled up rather quickly and didn’t realize there was an earlier one I hadn’t read yet.

  2. Robin says:

    I’m not familiar with most of these examples, probably because I only read about 3 knitting sites. (I know about the AS one because, as I’ve commented before, I turned up this site when trying to find why I couldn’t find that Scottish Campion anywhere once I’d finally decided to commit to a garment’s worth of Mauve Mist. Anyone know what I can do with one skein of it? Half a glove?) But I know I do let personal opinions of people and practices color my preferences — I swear the alliteration is accidental — for where I shop and such, and it doesn’t bother me. I’ll make choices for myself on whatever basis I like. If I were purchasing for a group of people, or a company, or some other setting in which it was more than just me, I’d be less sanguine about allowing my personal prejudices to determine what I do, because I’d be making that choice for other people.

    Regarding comments on a blog, to me it’s very simple: if you don’t want people taking what you say into account when forming opinions of you and your works, then shut up. Especially in an industry (?) which has such an association of being personal and friendly and social and full of individuals, not just company names. You have the blog for people to read, so complaining when they not only do so but react to what they read is naive at best.

  3. Shannon says:

    Funny I should read this just after I’ve heard about the (non-crafty when they hired her) office manager of a much-loved online craft store leaving the company to open her own… using all the same vendors, the style…even the look and feel of her former employer’s site. Did it make me want to never shop at this new place, regardless of price? Oh heck yes. What if her prices were half the other place? Don’t care… I don’t like what I heard about what happened and I’d prefer to support the original business, personally. It isn’t a question of friendly competition, though, it’s a question of outright copying their business model, without anything in the way of improvements other than — wow — a MySpace page in addition to their regular page.

    I’ve willingly paid more at KPixie for things I could’ve gotten cheaper elsewhere, just because I thought the forced name change thing was so annoying and stupid (and also, I like the women who run KPixie a lot). But that’s just me.

  4. Steph says:

    For me, it’s just knitting. There are shops I won’t buy from because I haven’t been happy with the service, but that’s about it. I am on the look out for very unethical practices which hurt people very directly–sweatshops, unfair trade, cruelty etc. It’s hard enough to do this with everyday necessities (like food) that I cannot spend my time getting upset about spats over yarn.

  5. I’m not up to date on all of the incidents you’re referencing, but for me, it’s not so much about the business practices as it about the whiff of insanity comes from folks like Starmore and SFSE. Someone mentioned Microsoft, but can you imagine Microsoft or any of its representatives responding publicly the way some of these companies have? The internet it a weird place – it’s hard to resist the urge to engage, but a business must resist that urge, must maintain a cool, calm front. It’s not that I don’t want to do business with aggressive companies, I just don’t want to do business with lunatics.

  6. minnie says:

    the closest comparison i can give you on a subject like this is something my second ex-husband would (and probably still) do. if he didn’t like the political activity of a certain celebrity, not only would he refuse to see any work they did, he would actively campaign with his associates to get them to refuse to see this person, either.

    i personally thought this was assinine (part of the reason why he’s an ex, lol), and refused to buy into it. to me, this was just one facet of that person’s life.

    as far as cascade 220 and knitpicks? i haven’t bought any since that allegation came out. i also haven’t shopped with knitpicks since that incident was alleged. not that this has been an active choice, it’s just happened that way. however, i won’t be buying any cashmere, after what i read about the gobi desert.

    i have, however, actively avoided a certain LYS after hearing about the treatment of a paying customer. i’m not going into the story here, but the few times i have entered there, i’ve been extremely uncomfortable. and i’ve not purchased there.

    i suppose it comes down to picking your battles (i’m a good one with that, lol, my youngest is ADHD!)

  7. Christy says:

    I have bought from KnitPicks, I have bought from Kpixie, I like the quality of Cascade 220 (and Pastaza). I own 2 Alice Starmore books because my aunt gave them to me (from when she knit and wove).

    While I have bought from KnitPicks, my yarn purchases come from all over. Their yarn, while on the “inexpensive” end of the scale has left me somewhat flat. I can find better colors in better quality wool (that I can actually touch and feel before buying) elsewhere. There are some things that you can only buy from them, though, and when my group decided to knit-along with their Palette Sampler Fair Isle Cardi, I quickly decided that it’s not worth my time an effort to find similar yarns for substitution (in 28 colors). Their Options needles are nice, cheap, but not necessarily my favorite, and the smaller sizes don’t come in the lengths that I want/need. I have a Needlemaster set, and am only somewhat interested in interchangeable needles. These are the things that shape my business relationship with that company. No, their treatment of kpixie wasn’t the nicest in the world, but they were trying to make sure that their name and trademarks were protected, and that’s something that’s important to a business, especially one that operates wholly on mail order and internet orders.

    Cascade has done some not-so-ethical things lately, what with the Cashmere debates, and introducing their new cashmere content yarns. I have been thinking of expanding my stash with bags of yarn so that when I become inspired to knit something, I will have enough yarn on hand to knit whatever it is I’m thinking about, whether it be a scarf or a sweater. Cascade 220 is generally the most affordable worsted yarn that comes in the colors I like, but I’ve been looking at other yarns, too. It will all come down to whether I feel that the actions taken are representative of the company’s behavior, or if there are a few marketing weevils who have spoiled the Cascade name for a while.

    I have been thinking about knitting from one of the two Starmore books that I own, with yarn that works for myself and my budget. I’ve heard that she (and her company) have been less than nice to the knitting community, but if I were in her place, I don’t know that my public persona could remain warm and friendly at all times, especially where my intellectual property is in question. People using my name, for example, to describe work based on my work that may not be up to my personal standards.

    I tend to, however, buy more from my LYS than from online sources. Their name, while succint, is not clever. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you’d think they weren’t a fiber store at all. But they’re nice ladies, they’re business people who treat me and anyone I’ve ever brought to their store warmly and with respect, never belittling projects or yarns even if bought elsewhere. How a business treats me is a big consideration of where I put my money. Sometimes, there are choices that people within a business have to make, choices that may or may not reflect on the way a business treats its customers or final consumers.

    Let me take it out of the knitting realm a bit:

    There are plenty of people who say they won’t buy from Microsoft, for example, because of their predatory business practices, but what’s the #1 office suite? which OS dominates the corporate world? Do small businesses generally look at how Microsoft has treated businesses of their size before buying computers with Windows and Office? Generally, no. People tend to buy products that they’re comfortable with, and even though Microsoft is the master of predatory business practices, and truly treats small business like crap, people buy their products because of the percieved quality and because that’s what they know how to deal with.

    As consumers, we make snap judgements every day based on our own experiences, based on different criteria. Some of those seem logical, like “I’ll buy this yarn because it was handspun by an equatorian womens’ co-op” when buying yarn. Another person wouldn’t buy that yarn because it’s “too pink” or because of the amount of fossil fuels that it took that yarn to get to their local store. The problem is, everyone is right. Each factor is a piece of the decision making process, and it all depends on what the consumer who is looking at your product thinks of it at that moment, and what that customer thinks is most important.

    I have no idea if I made any sense. I’ve been awake for all of 15 minutes today. ;)

  8. Krista Jo says:

    All products/services being equal, it probably doesn’t matter much. But the trouble is, they *aren’t* equal. And when somebody is leaning on your favourite producer/designer/retailer/web browser developer, and possibly endangering its very existence, you have to vote with your $ if you want to have the opportunity to keep buying whatever they’re selling.

    Nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, of course.

  9. JoVE says:

    At the end of the day, I’m not sure it is important to distinguish which has more influence. In terms of a business person making decisions about their behaviour (business or personal), it is important to realize that customers and potential customers do take both into account. Sometimes the quality of your product will balance out dissatisfaction with other aspects of your business, just like sometimes, folks will accept some quality issues because of other things (the number of knots in a skein of Noro comes to mind as something folks are upset about but willing to live with because the colours are so unique).

    The problem with business people asking the question “Should people judge my business on the basis of x?” is that they are trying to legislate why people buy from them. People are not the rational consumers found in economcs text books. They are human. They make decisions that might appear irrational. And sometimes they value intangibles (like whether you are “nice”) over the things you think they should value. That is life. And any business person that can’t see that and run their business accordingly deserves to have “unexplained” drops in sales.

  10. Jen says:

    As for the business conduct of a company, I find that I expect more of yarn companies because of the personal nature the business seems to have – I don’t want yarn companies behaving like AT&T. On the other hand, I don’t like when the people associated with those companies are unprofessional in a public way – like on a blog. So I don’t know where the standard is.

    You raise some interesting points. I am one of those who shops Knit Picks as little as possible because of how they treated that small shop…but I don’t have the Options needles because I find them too expensive, too heavy and have heard too many complaints about the finish being of poor quality. So in the end, product quality wins.

  11. Carol says:

    Hmmm, food for thought. I think that on the whole, I would expect professional behaviour from said company and/or person. If they have a blog, for example, they would have to act professionally on it as well. Even though it is a “private” endeavour, it is still available to the public and as such should be treated as business related. If they want to be un-prifessional, then a nome de plume or plain old paper journal that can be kept private should be used. I f a knitwear designer was rude to her customers, that would definitely make me shy away from giving her business. After all, the customers are the reason she makes money. Having said that, I ALSO expect customers to be polite. Mobbing the “famous” person for autographs is a good example. In that sort of situtation, a certain amount of rudeness would be expected. It would be along the lines of “No autographs are being given out. Go away”. Not “F— off, can’t you morons see I’m trying to eat?”

  12. Laura says:

    I think these things really do affect our purchasing decisions. I won’t do an AS pattern or buy from her new company because of all the antics. I have never been a Cascade user, so I am contemplating whether or not I will miss them in my knitting life if I never do because of their behavior. I don’t shop at yarn shops where the staff is rude, or “you have to get to know them” for the same reason. I am there to spend my money as a customer, shouldn’t they be nice out of the gate?

  13. Elaine says:

    I would like to think that ethics and quality (in that order) govern my decisions. In reality, probably no so much. KnitPicks for instance…what I’ve tried hasn’t satisfied me so I don’t buy from them regardless of price. Have I tried every yarn they sell? nope, but the first 3 or 4 really ruined it for me and I just haven’t tried again. Their service was nothing to write home about either. On the other hand, AS yarns are excellent quality and fantastic color, but even if they weren’t costly beyond reason, her professional and personal behavior leave me with absolutely zero desire for her product. In my travels, I’ve found three US companies, who support US producers and shephards, who have treated me well and provide a very good product for a reasonable cost. I am very loyal to them. My loyalty is built on basic quality of product and business qualities that impress me. Once that loyalty is built, it would take a good bit of proof otherwise to discourage my purchases in the future.