Turf wars

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but if someone tries to directly rip off your brand, you need to know where you stand, writes Sam Pearce

Sam Pearce Potting ShedAnyone who works in our industry will understand the energy and investment it takes to make your business work. It is a commitment that you end up living and breathing, and even then there is never a guarantee that it is going to work. You definitely have to find a point of difference – and a good one at that.

So what happens if you do all the above and then find that your precious concept is “borrowed” by another business? You have to protect your product.

Under intellectual property law, you are granted rights to intangible assets, such as music or artistic work, inventions, or phrases and designs. There are various types of intellectual property right, such as copyright, trademarks, patents, or industrial brand rights. You can protect your brand, but fighting your case legally can be costly in terms of both energy and finances.

Our industry is a generic model; everyone will offer similar services and there is a possibility that another salon may have a similar brand or image to yours. However, directly plagiarising another business is quite frankly unacceptable. But what can you do about it if it happens to you?

Take action
You could contact the other salon independently and ask them to remove the content, reminding them that by law it can be deemed as “passing off” – using another business’s reputation for your own gain. Alternatively, you could look to take legal action.

I have learnt from experience that it can be sensible to include clauses in your employment contracts that protect your business from an employee taking your brand concept or treatment and training methods to develop their own business if they decide to leave you. There are specific legal options available to deal with this, but I have found that sometimes this is a force you simply cannot control.

The first and most important thing to do is trademark your business name. A trademark can cover numerous aspects that you may not be aware of, such as sounds, colours and shapes. It’s not just the actual words in a salon name that can be trademarked. If a sound, smell, colour or shape works as part of a brand, you may be able to register that as well.

We all take inspiration from aspects of other business models for our own gain, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t infringe on other business owners’ intellectual rights or breach copyright laws.

Get fresh
There are only so many ways you can market a manicure, for example, but if you spot that another salon has created something new and completely unique, replicating this in your own business won’t do you any favours in the long run. Ultimately, it will result in clients finding your business model lazy and unoriginal; clients aren’t stupid and you will ultimately be found out.

Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz famously said, “We have no patent on anything we do and anything we do can be copied by anyone else. But you can’t copy the heart and the soul and the conscience of the company.”

Our industry is one of the biggest growing sectors within the economy, full of entrepreneurial people that keep it evolving and growing. We are not reinventing the wheel, but it will become stagnant if we rely on other businesses’ success instead of developing new and innovative ideas of our own. So my advice to any salon or spa manager is to look to other businesses for inspiration but make sure you create something that is unique to you and reflects your passion for the industry, then protect yourself from imitation, too.