There are few things in life that I hate more than people who try to ride on the shirttails of others. It’s not good for business when you have earned a reputation, through word of mouth (the most powerful form of advertising in small business), and through your own actions, as a company without scruples, and when you have been accused, on several occasions, of design theft.

As a consumer, I tend to be brand loyal. When I find a brand that produces an outstanding product, and has excellent customer service, and repeat business is received with fanfare every single time, that is the kind of thing that brings me and my money back to your door. I’ve had a long term consumer relationship with Paco Collars, spanning over 6 years. Until 2 years ago, I ran an upscale boutique for large and giant breed dogs and even retailed Paco Collars to the public. Now, perhaps I’m spoiled by the absolutely amazing way they treat me and my dogs, as if we were part of a large family, rather than just a customer, but in all honesty, I can’t imagine buying leather collars anywhere else. They are, in my opinion, and one that is shared by many, simply the best.

Several months ago, Journey was in need of a sturdy puppy collar and I wouldn’t trust anything else on my service dog in training, so I contacted Paco Collars about a collar for him to wear while he grew and trained. After several emails back and forth, I finally settled on a completely custom design – a PBRC, in 1.25″ width, brown leather, silver hardware, and instead of the large flat studs, I wanted to change things up a bit and use gorgeous bone spots as the focal point. I placed my order in August 2011. Click on the images below to view larger.

Original order placed, dated Aug 26, 2011

Customizing the collar with bone spots, dated Sep 1, 2011

Confirmation from Paco Collars, dated Sep 1, 2011

So with that, I sat back and anxiously awaited the arrival of Journey’s puppy collar. When it arrived on Sep 13, 2011, it was everything I had imagined it would be and so much more.

Custom PBRC with bone spots, Sep 13, 2011

It looked fantastic on him! Those bone spots really pop against his coat.

Journey, custom PBRC, Sep 27, 2011

Imagine my shock and horror, after loving this collar that was customized for my dog for months, when I discovered this:

Screen Shot Ella's Lead FB page, dated March 7, 2012

I don’t know about you… but to me, that bears an uncanny resemblance to my collar. So much so, in fact, that it looks like an exact copy (albeit in brass and made from what appear to be inferior materials). While I realize that there are only so many different ways to design collars, and only so many unique materials out there, this company has a history of copying other people’s designs – see here and here. Such actions would lead one to believe that the designers who work at Ella’s Lead have the creative talent God promised a doorknob. Copying other people’s work is tacky at best, illegal infringement at worst. Now, since I did not actually design the collar in question, I merely requested very specific customizations that appear to be copied in the design above, there’s not a whole lot I can do legally about it, but I can share my thoughts about it, and am doing so here.

Screen Shot 2012-03-09 at 11.40.44 PM

In the above image, Rebecca clearly claims credit for creating the design of this collar. yet my dog was wearing this design for over 5 months before she created her version of it. Things that make you go hmmm….

But it gets worse. Much worse.

On February 14, 2012, Paco Collars hosted one of their semi-regular Sample Sales on their Facebook page. I love the sample sales – tons of great deals to be had, and it’s fun to chat with other Paco Collars fans while the suspense builds as to what collars will be included in the sale, plus the first-come-first-served style of the sale leads to frantic rushes to the phone, so there’s the adrenaline factor involved.

During the course of the sale, several other Paco fans and I decided to form an unofficial fan club (which ironically, what started out as a half joke has blossomed into an officially authorized fan club). Ideas started to flow about what our ideal collars would look like, sales of gently used collars between members emerged, the energy and camaraderie was, and is, amazing.

On February, 17, 2012, one of the PCANSA admins posted this:

Screen Shot 2012-03-09 at 10.42.31 PM

About a week later, a photo was posted of Samatha’s collar on the Paco Collars FB page and one of our members responded:

Screen Shot 2012-03-10 at 5.16.25 PM

Cranberry and bone spots seems to be a recurring theme with the PCANSA members (myself included). Three days later:

Screen Shot 2012-03-09 at 10.40.53 PM

4 days later… this was posted on the Ella’s Lead FB page:

Screen Shot 2012-03-09 at 11.40.17 PM

Hmm, the preview image is kinda small. Let’s take a better look at that new collar they released a mere 4 days after we at PCANSA had a discussion about bone and cranberry spots, in groups of 3 in a row, separated by studs (rivets) and repeating around the collar…

Screen Shot 2012-03-09 at 11.40.28 PM

Oh. Hmm. That bears an uncanny resemblance to the idea that was brainstormed on our fan club page. But of course, it could be just coincidence that the exact layout we specified was used in this design just 4 days later.

Screen Shot 2012-03-10 at 5.22.51 PM

I don’t believe in coincidences. Do you?

And it doesn’t end there, folks.

Not only do their designs appear to be copies of other collar maker’s designs, or ideas stolen directly from our Facebook page, there also seems to be a distinct lack of quality control and customer service leaves a lot to be desired. You can read more about that at Chihuahuas Are Not Sheep. Originally, that review was posted on a dog forum. It was an honest review by a dissatisfied customer. The thread quickly turned nasty when Ella’s Lead resorted to threats:

Screen shot 2011-08-20 at 3.54.44 PM

And when another person replied with their experiences with Rebecca, the owner of the company, well… see for yourself.

Screen shot 2011-08-20 at 3.56.22 PM

Screen shot 2011-08-20

Now, I don’t know about you – but I for sure would not appreciate being treated like that by a company simply because I was dissatisfied with their product, and posted and honest review online. Threats? Insults? Being called a liar? That’s good customer service?

People have asked me why I unabashedly refuse to have anything to do with this company, why I won’t vote on their photo contests on the Ella’s Lead Facebook page, and there you have it folks. On face value, it would seem that Ella’s Lead copies other people’s hard work, steals ideas and designs from others, provides an inferior product, and has deplorable customer service skills. I’m not here to tell you not to buy from them – you’re free to do whatever you want with your money. I’m posting this as my own personal reasons for not ever giving them a dime of my hard earned cash. You, of course, are free to make up your own mind.

*Disclaimer: All images used in this post were either screenshots taken by me personally, or by someone else and permission was granted in writing to use said images. Screenshots of the Facebook pages and forum posts were made on publicly viewable pages. The content of this post is the opinion of the poster, and anything stated as fact has been verified with evidence as outlined in this post.

Update: It would seem there is more than one shady collar company out there. The anonymous nastygram left below by ohpuhleeze turned out to be not so anonymous after all…

Screen Shot 2012-03-11 at 11.28.20 AM

Note the IP address…

Pay attention to that email address…

Tie it all together with a bow:

Address blacked out for privacy :)

And that, along with my comment below, would be why I will never place another order with Collar Mania. Companies that react violently to negative reviews or comments don’t do themselves any favors.

Update: Collar Mania has refunded me for the collar I purchased last year as agreed in the comments below. That particular matter is now resolved and closed.