It might be unseemly, but I'm not entirely sure this shop owner's actions are illegal or even unethical. All's far in love and war and cross-stitch. It's a business after all, and if you can get a jump on your competitors, why not? On the other hand, designers don't really want to be angering their middle-men.
Market exclusives are a way to get people to attend market. Mary Agnes of Needle Nicely has written thoroughly and convincingly about the costs to small business owners of attending market. So you can see why the industry needs to offer a special draw. And when she says that needlework shops are small potatoes in the world of small business--currently defined as under $7M in revenue--consider that "cross stitch stores' average gross sales increased from $131,000 in 2004 to $156,500 in 2009." That's from a 2010 industry report (pdf). (And because Mary Agnes has a needlepoint shop, let's compare apples to apples: "Needlepoint stores' average gross sales decreased from $221,000 in 2004 to $169,000 in 2006, and then went back up to $192,500 in 2009.") That's just minuscule in the small business forum! (Remember it's gross not net.) This reminds me of a Sayre's law: "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake...that's why academic politics are so bitter." Henry Kissinger will tell you he came up with this concept; I will grant him brevity: "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." And now we can add needlework to the mix.
Market exclusives bring shop owners to the market, but are market exclusive kits a good idea?
- They can't be that good for designers: they're only going to make a limited amount of money on their design. It will all be up front money (as opposed to a designer who is still getting small royalties on a pattern she designed eight years ago) and a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow, but it will dry up quickly.
- It's not good for shop owners who simply can't afford to attend market. They are going to lose money to the shops who can attend.
- Now it's not even good for the shop owners who do attend market (and play by the rules). *NB the designer is helping the shop owners fulfill preorders they had received thinking you know they'd get a couple of the kits.
- Are they even that great for us as consumers? Do exclusives make us buy without thinking (better for shops, not so good for us)? We've all seen what can happen to oop charts on E-bay: prices shoot through the roof (not so good for us, and not good for designers who don't get that money). Does exclusivity have any kind of benefit for consumers? If the answer is yes, why aren't we all making up our very own patterns--the ultimate in exclusivity?
The industry has tried to mitigate some of the drawbacks for shop owners by making "exclusivity" a limited-time deal. Shop owners who come to the market get first dibs. A month later shop owners who didn't attend can order the pattern for their customers. But is it worth it?