I don’t know if other small businesses experience this kind of thing, but here is something we deal with on a regular basis… “The Paparazzi.” By this, I mean competitors who come into your shop with the sole intent of taking notes and photos of your products and pricing. This has been a normal occurrence since we opened in January 2007. It’s weird and uncomfortable thing we have to deal with on a fairly regular basis.
A fellow who managed the Beer & Wine Department of a local grocery chain used to spend over an hour on each visit to our shop, just walking around and memorizing our products and prices. Never buying anything. He’d then go back and add those items to his orders, match or beat our prices. On his third visit doing this we told him, “Hey, you’re welcome to come in and chat beer, or purchase beer, but if you’re coming in to shop our selection and prices to see what to bring into your business, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
After this was said to him, he got all red in the face, and immediately called one of our shared Beer Salesmen saying, “They just kicked me out!” as he was walking out our business’ door.
We didn’t kick him out. We offered him the chance to stay and visit about beer and/or to purchase from us. He chose the third option: To leave.
We have also had groups of people coming in to “shop our store” for their business ideas. Some pull out cameras; others pull out their notebooks, jotting away, and even show me what they’re writing when I ask them what’s up.
I regularly read references to our shop in their press coverage when they’re opening their own beer shops here in the Pacific Northwest. While I’m somewhat flattered, but I’m also cautious and have cause for concern…
As more places carry craft beer this sometimes means less is available for our customers. It’s been happening. It seems that not a week goes by where we’re not on the phone, asking for breweries to support us with supply sufficient to reach their fans who shop with us. I understand their supply is being stretched thin as more and more places branch into craft beer. The breweries try to make it fair for the small guys, to spread out their product, but many also want to regularly supply the big chains. But in doing so, they often short businesses who’ve been supporting their products for years, who have built loyal followings for their beer. There are so many seasonal, rare and limited beers. You have to work within the politics [and laws] of the Alcohol Industry System to make sure you get the beer for your customers, for the brewery’s fans.
As specialty beer shop owners, we represent each and every brewery we carry.
We are stewards of beer. We are [unpaid] brewery representatives.
This all makes us a bit gun-shy about people coming into our shop and taking notes and pictures.
Every week people are taking pictures on their smart phones to send to their friends. This is pretty cool. It’s cool to have a shop that people want to share with their friends.
I am happy that people like our shop. We wouldn’t and couldn’t be here without the people who like our shop and who love craft beer. I am grateful. I am also curious whenever someone pulls out a camera…
Yesterday a woman came in. She asked our employee if she could take some pictures. He responded in the affirmatory, believing that she was just taking a snapshot or two to send to a friend. My husband then came in to see her take photo after photo after photo, all at strange angles. Not just of the beer, but of our artwork. Of things that we developed for our business.
He felt concern for our intellectual property, so he asked if they were for personal or business use. She claimed to work for Bing but had no business card. She said she was an independent contractor for them, there to take photos of our business.
Naturally, this puzzled him. He knows that I take care of all the social media for our business. And when I make appointments with people to come out and take photos or interview us, I always let him know. Because I hadn’t told him about this woman … because she hadn’t contacted me to ask permission to take photos of my business for social media purposes … he wanted to be clear of her intent of use of the photos she was taking.
So he asked what the photos were going to be used for.
She told him he was rude.
…that is he being rude by asking her why she is snapping photos in his business?
Clearly she didn’t understand why he had concern for photos being taken, so he attempted to explain our previous experience with photo takers from competitors. She didn’t want to listen, called him an asshole and jerk, and continued taking photos.
Granted, here I am now wishing that he’d of just said, “Please, don’t take photos. Please leave.”
He and I both have the gene that makes us want to explain ourselves, our intentions. But when people are on a mission, they don’t want to hear explanation. They just want to meet their own personal goal. They don’t care about the business owner.
He asked for credentials, he asked what the photos were being used for.
She told him he was rude. She called him names.
She threatened to leave a bad review of our business on Yelp.
My employee hid around the corner of the boxes, going through backstock, keeping his head down, but listening and watching this entire interaction between my husband and this customer. She wasn’t there to buy anything. She was there to take photos. And she didn’t care about why we were concerned with the use of the photos. She didn’t care that we do all our own marketing in-house.
She kept snapping photos. She ignored his concern.
She left the shop, turned to take more photos. So my husband went outside, took a photo of her and of her car’s license plate. She had no credentials to present and didn’t care about his concerns. She ended the entire interaction by telling him to “Fuck-Off!”
Then she went home and wrote a bad review for my business on Yelp.
I received incident accounts written by both my staff and my husband. Recording incident reports is a normal part of operating a business that involves a controlled substance; we’ve been recording incidents since 2007.
Hence, I emailed Bing three times (once via their web form, once on their facebook messaging, one on their facebook wall) to ask if they sent a representative to our place of business. They haven’t yet responded.
I also contacted Gigwalk, asking, “Can you tell me if she is an employee of yours, and/or if your company is associated with Microsoft Bing? I have attempted contacting Bing several times today after the incident to see if she is a contractor representing their company. In nearly six years of operation, we have never had a journalist come into our business and act so unprofessionally, without making an appointment for interview.” Their response—
Thank you so much for contacting us, and I’m so sorry to hear about what happened today! Bing has in fact contracted with us to help them update their listings by posting 360-degree panoramic photos using the iPhone app called Microsoft Photosynth. We have Gigwalkers across the country to complete the work. It is common that our Gigwalkers would not have a business card indicating they work for Bing or even for Gigwalk, as for most of them it is a small side job. However, we do expect all Gigwalkers to be professional and respectful while completing Gigs.
I do not have access to see if she is indeed one of our Gigwalkers, although it sounds like she is. I want to make sure this issue is resolved properly, so I will pass your message along to someone who can assist you.
Thanks again for contacting us; we certainly want to be made aware of issues like this.
After reading this, I downloaded the Microsoft Photosynth app on my iPhone. I now know why she was snapping so many photos in our shop, at strange angles and of our artwork and things that people don’t normally focus their photos on. I showed the app to my husband last night.
Now I am left with a crappy business review, a woman clearly really angry at my business, at my husband, and now at me for defending my business in my response to her Yelp complaint.
A friend tells me to file an Incident Report with the police department.
In this day and age you don’t know anything about people, their background, their intent, their mental capacity… Just last year, a Seattle business had a regular come in and turn a gun against their staff and customers. Nowadays as a small business owner, you fear for yourself, your staff, your customers when someone acts a little crazy.
You just never know.
Stress level: 8.5