Marks and Spencer, Similarities and Small Business Anxiety

Today I was alerted to a very similar product to mine being sold in Marks and Spencer. Now, Marks and Spencer was a company that I really respected, one that I spend a lot of my money with, and that I believed was a more ethical big business with their Plan A campaign and ethical business practices. A few years ago, I was invited to discuss ethical business at their head office as part of the Prince’s Trust. So, it’s a shock to see a product that is so unbelievably similar to mine being sold on their personalised shop and with ‘personalisation stickers’ on their shelves in store.

My ‘Days I’ve Loved You‘ card first went online in 2011 and has been my most successful design every year since. It’s gone through numerous reincarnations but this first version is still the original and best selling throughout every occasion. I’ve noticed a few small designer/makers finding ‘inspiration’ in my designs and I’m no longer the only one selling ‘days cards’ but when I first put mine for sale, I didn’t know of anyone else who made them – I believe I was the original. It’s had so much attention over the years online, blogs, online marketing, print catalogues, etc, and it’s (very luckily and very much appreciated) always been in prominent places on notonthehighstreet – quite honestly, it’s held the top spot in the best selling cards for quite a number of gift-giving occasions and I’m very proud of that.

It’s frustrating when you create something that you believe is so unique to you and find someone else crop up with their own ‘version’. There’s part of me that is really laid back and brimming with positivity that says “this makes me stronger, it inspires me to make bigger and better products, it motivates me to be an innovator and be better than them” and reminds me of the saying about imitation being a form of flattery.

Then, the other part of me – this is one I battle with constantly and that has made some days unbearable – is the anxious, obsessive and frustrated part of me. If I’m being honest, the fear of finding a product similar to my own has lead me to avoiding parts of the internet. Where a business would be looking at their market, their competition, I am hiding from it in fear. My anxiety over what I might find is crippling, I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about these other versions. My stomach flips if I check the notonthehighstreet tag on Instagram and I hold my breath whenever I get a customer newsletter. I am a small designer maker living entirely on what money I bring in selling cards online – it’s scary how maybe one change in the marketplace could result in me not being able to afford to live each month. It’s a daunting prospect that I could very easily be put out of business by the actions of another seller or even one of the places I have an online shop.

So I actively avoid searching for greeting cards on Etsy, and I never look at the card section on notonthehighstreet. I know what I might find (I have found it before – I even found one this week!) and it fills me with anxiety so bad that I cannot function. I have to have faith in my products and my business. Which is hard to do when you’re lying awake at night with the sights of other products which are too similar to your own original products swirling around in your head. I thought my safe place was the highstreet, where they can’t personalise like I can. And judging by the tacky pack of stickers that come with the M&S Days card, they still can’t personalise like I can. But I did think I was safe from the big corporations and there was no way they could possibly crush this little small business. It seems I was wrong, and my anxiety over looking at the card sections will now spread to the shelves of the highstreet out of fear of ‘similar’ looking products.

My positive personality will have to be stronger than my anxious one – onwards and upwards to being the original innovator I am. Providing excellent quality products, the best customer service, going above and beyond on personalisation. The competitors may be able to create an almost identical product, but they’ll have to try to keep up with me on everything else!

The Marks and Spencer version is the navy and listed ‘new’ on their website. Mine is the pink and has been for sale since 2011.

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