Thursday, November 15, 2007

Longest post ever...the case of LocLoops

This post will be a long one. I hope--if you are interested-- you will slog through it. I have spent the past week getting more information for this post. Why? Because I was bothered about LocLoops. So if you read this entire post, I will relay everything I found out. And I will post the reply of Carole Pearson--owner of LocLoops--to my second email to her as well as my last message to her.

I tell you about all the hair and beauty products I try. This was the first time I had something critical to say so I wanted to make sure I had all the information I could get. Honestly, I hoped I would learn something that would change my initial reaction. But I didn't. You can think what you want about all this...I was going to do a price analysis like I did about the expense of SLs...but y'all can add and subtract...sigh...

Some of you know that last Wednesday a new group member posted on LockItUp about the 'new' product their stylist had 'created,' called LocLoops. Being curious, I followed the link. When I got there I was surprised because they looked exactly like a product I bought over two years ago called SoftSpikes. The product looked the same, heck, the style photos looked the same. Then I saw this and my face scrunched because I was accustomed to this.

So I went back to LockItUp and wrote that I thought these products were the same except that these 'new' ones were more expensive. And I asked for clarification...Did you say the person selling LocLoops created them? Doesn't she know there is a product exactly like that called SoftSpikes? And the customer came back to the list and wrote that the stylist said, 1) she had never heard of SoftSpikes and, 2) she created LocLoops herself and developed them for over a year by testing them on her clients. Really?

Well, that was all the customer knew. So it became clear I would have to check this out on my own...

I went back to the site. And I read this. And I grew increasingly annoyed. Why was I annoyed? Well, let's read together. In the first sentence of the first paragraph, we are told that this is a black-owned business...ok. And then we are told this product is a "new" way to style locs. Really?

Onto the next paragraph..."LocLoops are made from a special material specifically designed for the heavier requirements of locs. Using a material that is 'closed cell' to prevent absorption of any liquids or hair products..." Really?

You all know I used to teach black feminist theory, literary and visual analysis? Didn't I tell you that? Anyway...I spent many, many years learning, and then teaching others, to look very closely at all kinds of texts for what is really being conveyed to them through what is specifically denoted and implicitly connoted. Fancy words for what is said and what isn't. And these two paragraphs were something to chew on...

From MY reading, by my interpretation, the most emphasized points on this page are 1) this is a black owned business, 2) this is a NEW product, and 3) it is made of something UNIQUE for locked hair. But there is a problem...it is not a new product and it appears to be made of the very same material as its predecessor. In fact, there are three things different about LocLoops compared to SoftSpikes-- 1) it is a black owned business, 2) it has notches in it that are supposed to lock them closed, and 3) they cost more.

Last week, the website also said that LocLoops was a trademarked product with a patent-pending. It no longer says that. But it has been evasions like this that have bothered me about this whole situation. I'm sure Ms. Pearson is aware that every iteration of a website remains accessible thanks to the marvels of Google. So you can read what the page used to say for yourself here.

I am giving you all these links and encouraging you to look at them yourself. Ms. Pearson suggests --in her message reprinted below-- that I will not be fair to her. I am a lot of things. Unfair is not one of them. So I feel it necessary to give you these links to illustrate the path that brought me to my opinions. And that makes this very long...But I digress...

I said everything I wanted to say about the black-owned marketing strategy on LockItUp. In sum, I think in this case it as an appeal to sell a product. I was disappointed by that. Growing up, I was taught that minorities have always had to achieve a higher standard to compete. I not only internalized that, I embraced it. So when I patronize a black-owned enterprise, I have high expectations that I will have a positive experience based upon the owner's desire to offer a superior product. When I get that, I tell everybody--EVERYBODY--about that business and that product. I patronize them. I do all I can to support their success. But it's a two-way street. If you want my business, I expect that you are offering a superior product and a superior experience. Based on price alone, LocLoops was not offering that. When I heard this story about the owner having no prior knowledge of Soft Spikes, I thought either it wasn't true or that if it were true, the business owner was in way over her head--manufacturing and attempting to patent a product that she then had to retail at a significantly higher price than her competition... not good. I was leaning toward it not being true. But I wanted to be wrong. So I reached out to Ms. Pearson by posting my questions about her product development and writing her through her website. I also wrote to the owner of Soft Spikes because I wanted their perspective about all this and because she had been so responsive to the locked community's interest in her product...

That's when things got more interesting. I was sent the shipping confirmation number and order information that showed Soft Spikes were purchased and delivered to the same address as Ms. Pearson's business on November 12, 2006. Though she told her customer last week, that she never heard of SoftSpikes. Now Ms. Pearson is certainly free to say whatever she likes. But it seemed odd to me that she would go to such lengths to deny knowledge of a competing product and that she would say such a thing to her own customers.

Maybe it was because Ms. Pearson claims to be seeking a patent on her product. Brunsli is far more capable of giving an expert explanation of patents. All I did was a little internet researching. What I quickly found was that in order to patent a product, it had to be original or modified in a way that is not obvious. So which was the basis for Ms. Pearson's patent application? I asked her. And she won't say...So, here's my opinion. If your SoftSpikes slip open--and mine don't--it wouldn't be a leap to cut a notch in them to stop that from happening. Of course, it would also make it more likely your roller would break at the weak point...so I don't know if that's necessarily an improvement either. Oh well, you can still get a patent on a new product, right? Maybe that's why Ms. Pearson emphasizes that her product is new. But she knew about a similar product since at least last year. Hmm. But they are made of a special material, right? Maybe. But it's not a material Ms. Pearson developed. So she can't be patenting that either. In fact, her competitor's product is also made of a 'closed cell' material. Sigh.

Patent applications aren't cheap. I know Brunsli could give more specific information about that too. But I imagine that's the impetus behind the price of LocLoops. Someone has to pay the lawyers. I guess it as well be whoever buys the product.

So how do you sell a product that is twice that of its competition? Marketing...I've addressed everything else and that brings back to the black-owned bit. But I don't think I need to elaborate on that. I think I've described exactly how I got here.

All that's left is to let Ms. Pearson respond. So here you go...

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Received Thursday, November 14, 2007

Renea Henry,
I was happy to give more information about my product to you, but the
more I read of your note, including the blatant attacks and empty
conclusions, the more I thought otherwise. My heart was warmed that a
customer took it upon themselves to share my product with the
audience at LockItUp. But I have never made claims on my product
outside of my website. Based on your notes, it is clear to me you
have made up your mind about my product, and I do not feel that any
information I provide will be presented fairly on your blog. Your
conclusions are based on assumptions, they are false and your claims
are clearly biased. However, for the sake of closure, I will supply
some information below.
Here are my responses:

1) "Similarity in Design & No prior knowledge of other products"
I made no such claims. You're trying to make this about Loc Loops and
one other product, but this should be about creating rollers that
work. Loc Loops is a product that I created because other products on
the market did not work for my hair. I then shared that creation with
my clients around the country.

2) "High" unit price
This is relative. The price of this product reflects the durability
and lifetime of the product based on other rollers/curlers on the
market.

3) Patent Questions
I am not willing to discuss patents with you. Our lawyers are
handling our position as it relates to the market.

This should bring our discussions to a close.
Regards,
Carole Pearson
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Carole,

There were no attacks in my message toward you and I was candid about
my response to your product because I was being honest. Based on the
representations of your product on your website, I do not think its
design is original. That isn't an attack. That's my opinion. There is
no bias either. There is a difference between someone giving their
opinion and having a bias or launching an attack.

Your customer reported you told her that you were unaware of the
SoftSpikes product as of last Friday, and that when asked, you said
you came up with the idea for the product 'yourself.' The posting of
your customer was the source of the information, not your website.
When I contacted SoftSpikes, I was provided a copy of the shipping
confirmation you received when you ordered their product last year. So
that is the source of that information. There is nothing baseless or
assumptive about me saying that you had prior knowledge of the
product. Your own customer reported that information to LockItUp and
subsequently, I saw your shipping confirmation which clearly lists the
address of your business and the date of your purchase.

As far as denying there is a similarity between your product and the
other, that strains credibility. After the posting with your website,
every person who went to your site reported on the similarity. If you
are saying that you can't see it, you are alone in that assessment.
Since in your response you acknowledge that you are aware there are
similar products on the market and the photographs of your product
reveal no difference in composition, you should see how I would
reasonably seek out an explanation. I asked you what it is about your
product that is unique for locked hair--as you describe on your site.
If you had responded to that question, I would have printed exactly
what you said. That would have been the only source of a description
available to me. As I said, I think your product is priced too high
and I'm not going to buy it. That is a statement, not an attack. I
also asked if anyone could provide me a first-hand comparison of the
two materials. It was not directed at your product maliciously. I buy
all kinds of hair and beauty products. Many have similar
functions...but in every case I have patronized these businesses and
bought these products because I felt good about the exchange and I
cannot say that here.

Which leaves your patent...It only took me thirty seconds to find out
that patents are based upon the claim of an originally designed
product or process or a non-obvious improvement to a product or
process. I was honestly curious what the basis of your patent could
be. Acquiring patents are very expensive, so I hope you are getting
excellent counsel about the viability of your application. Especially
since in order to offer your product on the market, you have decided
to price it significantly higher than competing and almost identical,
pre-existing products.

My negative reaction has been to the situation of a black-owned
business coming into the market place with such a precarious basis for
existence. Your marketing is misleading and your price is not
competitive. As someone who does support minority-owned businesses and
entrepreneurs frequently, I was very frustrated and disappointed with
your strategy. I would be falling short as a potential customer not to
give you my reaction. That gives you the opportunity to respond to the
market you have targeted. If I went to a restaurant and disliked the
experience or was served poorly, I would let management know. If I was
looking for a product, I would comparison shop and choose the best
value. You may not like what I have to say, but it is honest and
unbiased...and I SINCERELY hope that before you go further with plans
to expand your business, you think about your pricing and marketing.
You could do a lot better. In order for minority-owned businesses to
succeed they have to be MUCH better than their competition, better
with service, better with product, better with price. All that on top
of having a sound business plan and knowledge base.

I was also reacting to the fact that your endeavor is undercutting
another. I don't believe you didn't know about SoftSpikes and I
haven't seen anything to change that reaction. Your representation is
that you are going to all this effort because you have inadvertently
developed the same product someone else's family-owned business has
been selling for eleven years...I guess that's your story and you're
sticking to it. But since you are so isolated, I hope that finding out
all this has been helpful. As a small business owner yourself, I hope
no one ever does to you what you appear to be positioning yourself to
do to someone else. After you have invested time, resources and
capital into developing and manufacturing a product; establishing a
market presence and building a clientele, I hope no one comes along
and tries to set up shop in front of your endeavor and reap the
spoils...That's the view from over here. But I hope, at least, when
CuteCurlers or whatever they might be called is asked, they give you
credit for whatever you contributed to their enterprise.

While you 'fear' you won't be fairly presented on my blog, I assure
you I will deliver exactly what you presented to me. You have record
of our exchanges and access to any of the postings that were made on
LockItUp. If you decide in the future you would like to comment, you
are certainly welcome to do so.

Regards,
Renea

10 comments:

*Coop* said...

Definitely the longest post ever, but it's much appreciated. I, too, am unconvinced that she was unaware. I'm also offended that she's relying on ignorance in the Black (hair) community for her own financial success. It's very disheartening.

Thanks for all the info.

brunsli said...

Renea,

I think you presented your email in a very fair way, fully admitting any biases you may have.

I am so curious about the on-again, off again patent marketing! And, is there so much money in these types of rollers that it's worth the $10K plus to get a reasonable patent application filed? I'll keep looking - most patent applications are publicly available after 18 months.

naadii salaam said...

renea,

i commend you for all of the work and research that you have put into this.

it kind of seems like a moot point to me because, contrary to what you have stated, this product does not undercut soft spikes.

the textbook definition of undercut (as it applies to a business) is: to offer to sell at lower prices than or to work for lower wages than (a competitor)[according to merriam webster].

locloops doesn't undercut softspikes, they cost 30 cents more per individual roller (thanks 2 brunsli for the price analysis.)

i think that any informed customer wouldn't buy this product just because there is a cheaper product out there!

i know i wouldn't! and i have even experienced the problem that locloops claims to prevent (due to the thickness of my hair and after my soft spikes being well used for over a year). but i still wouldn't cough up the money asked just to get this modified "closed cell" technology.

i also agree that locloops are probably more likely to break off at the thinner sections, as 2 of my soft spikes have succumbed to the pressure of being pulled through the loop part (again, after being well used for over a year). as a consumer, i am all about quality, almost to a fault, but if i'm gonna spend my hard earned money, i have high expectations! kinda skeptical about the claim of not absorbing moisture too. is there a soft, pliable non-plastic material anywhere on the market that doesn't absorb moisture?

however, i do think that this information provided would be most helpful to anyone who has never heard of soft spikes.

i am most disappointed by ms. pearson's claims to have had no prior knowledge of the product, yet there is evidence of her prior purchase of a competing product. that seems shady. had she said, hey, i tried this product, it didn't work for me so i modified it so that it would, i might be more open.

as it stands, i think that you reap what you sow. if you start out by deceiving people, how well can you expect to do? as for ms. pearson's business endeavor, only time will tell.

i think that when marketing to the african american community, price is a key factor...not to say that we're cheap by any means, but we are resourceful. there are currently several posts on nappturality instructing how to use pipe cleaners as an alternative to buying the wrap-a-locs tool.

i wonder if there's anyone out there willing to actually purchase and do a real head-to-head product comparison. i think that would be the ultimate test.

Renea said...

Morning Y'all--
I left all my typos in the post any everything!
@Naadii-- I'll give you the definition of undercut. What is the word for what Carole is doing? She reminds me of John Amos' character in Coming to America ... With the restaurant that 'wasn't' like McDonald's but he hid their operating manual in his desk. Except the business she's swagger-jacking is not a huge, multi-billion dollar conglomerate. . .it's another woman's small business. And IMO, Carole is using 'black-owned' as a marketing strategy.

And I think the pipe-cleaner discussion is great! I thought about them when I saw the Wrap-A-Locs. But I wanted to support Sister Nandhi by reviewing her product on its own merits. When I compared Wrap-A-Loc to SoftSpikes I tried to give pros and cons. There IS room for all kinds of good businesses in the marketplace even if they sell similar products.

And from what I see, Carole's material is not modified. It is the same material as the other product. Her website does not say that she developed the material or that she is the only product that uses it. It's very distracting language...like when a paper towel says its a matrix of fibers that trap liquid!!...uh, yeah. It's sounds really impressive and technological and unique... but uh, that's what all paper and fabric are--mesh grids that can hold water in the spaces. Anything can wipe up spills...
OK...I need to be on my way to work.

muslimahlocs said...

ahhh...the court of public opinion. what a great place. too bad all of the internet resources, yahoo groups and bloggers weren't around when all of the "xyz" locking knock-offs started stealing and marketing sisterlocks methods and materials from joanne. but enough about that.

i wonder how many people would be less taken aback by locloops if they were priced less than soft spikes. it seems to me that there are a few camps out there, and probably more: those that are crying foul as a mattter of principle, those that are crying foul as a matter of price and those who are crying foul on both grounds.

which then causes me to wonder if those who are crying foul for whatever reason are consistent in their positions. hmmm...for example, back when i was a vegan, non-muslim and wannabee diva a friend pointed out to me that although i did not eat dead animals i had no problem wearing coach bags and expensive leather shoes. (darn those friends who pay attention and help you mature and grow!) anyway, this made me pause and stop being so disgusted and self-righteous when i saw my friends eating dead animals.

if carol takes the hint and lowers her prices i think that a significant number of folks will begin to use her products, prior outrage notwithstanding. then someone will knock-off locloops. let's call them "locloops look for less". and so on and so on.

NewlyLocd said...

Hello Renea

Just wanting you to know that I assumed that the soft spikes product wasn't seen by Carole. She never told me that she hadn't seen the product. I feel that this has really received a lot of attention (both harsh words & good discussion) over something that was merely something that I wanted to do to get the name out.

Well get the name out I did, but I never wanted anyone (or felt that anyone in our community) would start harrassing or saying negative statements (even libel I believe) towards another community member.

However, just wanted to clarify that I never discussed if it was original or not but what I personally felt (because that's all I can respond too).

Ayo said...

I would be interested to know whether soft spikes are patented or simply trademarked.

In defense of Ms. Pearson, it softspikes are trademarked but not patented, then Ms. Pearson has every right to seek the first patent. This might, unfortunately, put soft spikes in a precarious position - but that's business.

Although, I might understand concerns about the veracity of her claims, I don't quite understand all of the emotion (hostility?) around Ms. Pearson pushing her product. My point is this: there would hardly be any commerce in the Western world if it weren't for knock offs.

Amina said...

There is currently, a product called "Sassy Curlers" out there now that look like tulips. They are pretty much the same thing, but are intended to create spiral curls for long straight hair...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAsdFVRDg74

I guess what's good for the goose is good for the gander, too bad SoftSpikes didn't lock it down.

Anonymous said...

this was a very interesting, informative & much appreciated post. this reminds me of 2 situations going on now.

1) sisterlocks vs nappylocks. here you have a former sisterlocks consultant who decided to break from sisterlocks to start her own "new" technique for locking hair called nappylocs. when you visit her site nappynhappy.com and look at the business plan business in a box, you USE to see that the installation of the locs were exactly the same as sisterlocks; just the wording was changed. you can no longer see this part of the business plan before purchasing. nappynhappy also offers classes via an in-class setting for $750 or purchase the business in a box for $77.95. now this is a true example of undercutting an already established business by lying that what you're doing is different & new. now the nappylocs tool is by far a more superior tool than the sisterlocks tools, but i'm wondering why this tool is STILL "patent pending" after all these years.

2) sister nandhi's expensive wrap-a-lot curlers vs cheap pipe cleaners. i also thought "pipe cleaners" when i saw this product, but wanted to support a black, female owned business. i paid a lot of money for the curlers & was satisfied for the most part with the end result of the curls produced until i decided to clean them. per instructions given, i let the curlers soak in a warm solution of mild shampoo & water for only 15 min. when i rinsed the wrap-a-locs curlers they were beyond sticky from the glue holding the ribbon in place and therefore, no good. i went to the craft store, purchased a bag of 300 long, black pipe cleaners & the pipe cleaners have been easier to handle than the wrap-a-locs.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Black on black assault in the intellectual arena. I say so what her curlers cost .30 cents more than soft spike. Perhaps as a small business owner, black, and female she paid more for her products via indirect means. This reminds me of the animosity generated toward Michelle Obama by black females. Give her a break. Soft Spike Curls resemble other curlers as well.