***Haunt Industry friends… is YOUR business protected?***
Have you ever worked hard toward your goal of owning your own business only one day to have someone you fully trusted completely turn on you, steal confidential customer information, and steal business?
If so please read on….
First off, allow me to briefly explain the reason for the elaborate explanation below. Said individuals involved have (allegedly) made unfounded claims and distorted facts to gain favor with our customers so these customers would order from them. While majority of the customers we reached out to directly were incredibly sympathetic, a few did not accept any further communication from us when trying to contact them about orders. Needless to say, upon further investigation, it was found those customers were apparently given false information by the individuals involved in this incident.
My name is Adam Lane and my wife and I have owned Dark Creations ATX since 2011. We have been very blessed and fortunate over the last few years to have grown our costume and prop design company into a thriving full time business that so many people in the industry seem to enjoy with each passing season. We hope our vendor friends and artists can learn from this unfortunate business story in hopes that YOUR hard efforts will never be taken advantage of.
Like most small vendors and businesses getting started we began out of small one car garage in Buda, Texas. It was here that we really started to feel that over time we would have something truly special to offer the haunt industry in the way of professional costume design work. We eventually moved into a rented warehouse where we’ve been for the past 5 years. Now, after selling off a previous business and having saved enough capital, we bought our own property and built the first company warehouse this year to continue to grow the business that so many have enjoyed.
Like a lot of businesses of our size, we utilize a lot of contracted self-employed seamstresses to help in the creation of some of our designs. Some contract work is seasonal while others we work with on a more consistent longer term basis. When any contract work within our company is utilized, it is agreed upon both verbally and in writing by both parties. We always prepay for all work needed even BEFORE starting any commission work for our company. As we grew we also realized it was necessary to implement the proper trademark and copyright protection as well as the proper confidential business paperwork to fully protect our growing brand that all contract workers signed. As contract work is again mostly seasonal (with seamstresses having their own private business away from our haunt industry …wedding dresses , children’s clothes , dolls etc), we recently had the opportunity to work with 2 individual contract seamstresses that came recommended and have been working with us. One of those was with us for 3 years straight (and subsequently became our Head Seamstress). The other seamstress was more off and on for approximately 4 years. Both became reliable seamstresses and trusted friends of the business as they were given access to our confidential client information including names, ordering information, emails etc. We even gave both of their husbands $1000’s of dollars in work within their own professional businesses as they were contractors themselves. Things were solid working together at a high level…for now.
As a business we had a very successful first Transworld 2018 and subsequent 2019 with the company bringing both seamstresses to the trade show the first year and only our Head Seamstress in 2019. As in previous years and prior to the show, the company and the contract seamstresses agreed (verbally and in writing) to a discounted trade show rate prior to both shows that would in turn be passed along to customers at the show. Additionally, DCATX provided them with fully paid airfare and hotel accommodations. A set predetermined rate for the time spent at the show was agreed upon for their time and of course all of the commissioned work orders from the show. We would on occasion, if the funds were available , give them cash bonuses as “Thank You” from my wife and I… again a very solid return as a group to this past years Transworld show…
Unfortunately, after the 2019 show, this is likely where the deceit of the two people we fully trusted truly began to take form….
The last day of the 2019 trade show. For reasons unknown at the time… our Head Seamstress looking at the number of orders taken decided to tell my wife, my staff, and myself that she would no longer offer her services fulfilling any of these new orders involving seamstress work if we did not renegotiate our agreed upon rates we discussed to the show and would no longer be honoring our agreed (in writing) discounted rate. All this AFTER the trade show. This disconnect, obviously, was not well received by my wife and I as you would expect but we remained professional at the time and was to be discussed upon our return to Austin, chalking it up to a long work week at the show. This individual would not sit or talk with us on the return flight home.
After a few days of rest for all involved we sent out an email desiring to get orders squared away and to discuss the embarrassing behavior she exhibited at the show days earlier. An email was sent back shortly with a reply and an invoice with the proper amount we owed for her services. This included the agreed upon proper discount. She never acknowledged once her behavior or the disconnect and proceeded to act like nothing had happened. We decided to pay her even MORE than we owed for her TW commissions as a “Thank You” for her work with the company the past year… even after her unprofessional behavior towards my wife and I. She proceeded to outsource some of our TW orders to the other former seamstress who now worked directly for her and not our company. We told her numerous times if she chose this that we would need to have her sign a legal agreement protecting the company and she would be fully responsible for quality control if she chose to outsource to other individuals.
However at this time, as the owner, I personally began to source additional seamstresses to bring on for future projects, help with the increased amount of order, and especially with the erratic standoff type behavior as of late (especially after our successful tradeshow run). This where our Head Seamstress decided to turn in her resignation in mid May citing that she was neglecting her own customers, not wanting to do production work, and the stress overall with her health being affected. In her resignation letter she fully agreed she would finish the Transworld orders and stay on until Sept 1 as to get future orders fulfilled by other professionals seamstresses once trained on our catalog. This was appreciated as we fully understood and thanked her for all of service over the years and even offered options to see if we could continue working with her on a limited basis due to her longevity. After a few days passing of her resignation her attitude towards our relationship and company deteriorated even further even though we had business to still conduct together. She stated she would officially no longer be working with DCATX on any additional orders and would finish the bulk TW orders but would not be assisting in any future from then on …. Additionally, she was removing herself as an admin from all of our shared social media platforms as well as “blocking” me, my wife, friends, and business associates stating she “didn’t want to see all the haunt related posts” my pages offered.
As you can imagine we had to shut down numerous parts of our business web store until we could assist new seamstresses in sourcing the needed materials and create new patterns for our designs. We began to slowly bring on new seamstresses up to speed while attempting to be civil with this individual who still had numerous orders that were outstanding. She on occasion would respond to a new seamstress request I authorized asking very basic sourcing questions. We finally began to get “caught up” in bringing on and training new highly talented seamstresses, creating new patterns and operating once again at a high level after the delay. This individual would occasionally text stating pickup times on completed costumes as I personally had to go pick up all commissioned orders at her home. It was this time the emails came…
In a random email a short time after her followup resignation notice, she stated she had gone to an attorney and said we owed her for the last two years of forcing her company to accept a discounted rate at TW and would not continue working on our orders until it is addressed and paid. To fully refute this we obviously sent back to her, her own invoice stating the discount her company quoted us which we paid and then some.
One down… then a subsequent followup email to us days later stating we owed her for X amount of money for “training” new seamstresses…. something that was never known to me or discussed/written/emailed/etc. Sadly, we now knew the level of disconnect was not going to improve and as she still had our orders and product for customers we consulted a legal firm to protect our business. We informed the individual of this and simply stated if she would not be going to finish our orders without further issue that she and her outsourced seamstress in a time frame given we would want our money on prepaid funds back or would pursue legal matters. She agreed to finish the orders but stated no further correspondence would be coming unless it was a to pick up completed orders. We cordially agreed.
Here is where it gets really deceitful despite us doing our best to remain professional throughout this unfortunate relationship. As we were now fully reopen with all new talented seamstresses on board, getting caught up to speed and orders beginning to flow once again smoothly – a returning customer from Transworld sent us a link to an unfamiliar business page. He stated that we really need to open it. We clicked the link and there are the two seamstresses that have been working on our costumes with a new competing haunt costume design business page! After some investigating, it was discovered they had formed their new costume design company LLC while they were working our booth in late March/early April and subsequently booked their OWN booth for NEXT year to compete against us! We did our research and they indeed booked their tradeshow booth as well as began advertising their design company while they were continuing to take work from our company and had outstanding orders still coming in. She had joined up with the former seamstress that was also working on our product line at the time thru our now disgruntled former Head Seamstress. So to be clear, our disgruntled Head Seamstress outsourced our design work to her new business partner, and then joined her to compete against us. Let that sink in. One of our new seamstresses also sent me a text stating that she would no longer assist her in questions as she is “being asked now to create haunt costumes and considered helping us helping the competition” in which she would no longer be in contact further to answer any questions. We were stunned to say the least! We obviously scheduled another time to meet with our legal counsel with many things to discuss and our legal options at the time to pursue.
This was just the beginning …
Upon her resignation she decided to begin posting on her personal business pages that she was now doing costume designs within the haunt industry. These are individuals that were creating children’s costumes, altering dresses, creating kids dolls and the like before our business relationship. It was here that we learned that she stole orders directly from our company at the trade show. A very nice individual who was referred to us by two VERY well known artists at the show (who we have corresponded with about this in length) trade show came up to myself with our entire crew present with a luminescent green fur asking us to create a nice custom Grinch costume. We stated that we would be happy to help but would need more information and once we returned home we could begin to gather information for a quote. He was very happy and excited to hear from us once we got back. Well as imagined the first thing posting on her wall after the resignation in May was ….”just picked up an order for a Grinch costume!” We were shocked as the first person to LIKE the post was in fact the gentlemen from the tradeshow who had come to see if Dark Creations ATX could help him. Eventually, we even called this individual and yes he told us explicitly and directly that our former head seamstress had created his Grinch costume and he did not know much about the situation other than she told him to pay her directly. At this point my wife and I were not only extremely dumbfounded but now truly hurt that she had done all of this after 3 years of and paying all of her expenses to be at the trade show she stole from.
This still isn’t worst of the deception…
We continued (and still continue) to build a strong case against the two individuals on many many unlawful business infractions. As TW orders were nearing completion by these individuals, we were gathering evidence quietly but we did not want our customers and our relationships to suffer due to these unlawful actions. Sadly it was not meant to be for a few. They had been contacting, calling, and emailing our customer base using confidential information customer contact information telling them internal operation protocols and information, giving them false shipping dates, and blatantly lying to them all the while disparaging our company. To add salt to the wound, they were using the Dark Creations ATX brand (and products) and promoting their business name to our customers under the guise of a DCATX shipping update email! When emailing our customers, they stated “we’re the talent of the company and had created most of our designs” and I was “just the middleman” who didn’t appreciate their work. They were so convincing to some that when I called to confirm shipping destinations, thanking them for their business, and asking if someone had contacted them other than myself they said no… all the while they had liked and interacted with the new business page days before. They even contacted a two time return customer of ours with such deceitful comments he threatened my company with his police badge even AFTER I had a pleasant conversation of shipping times with him literally days before. They even had him contact Transworld to say they were going to “disrupt our business” there if we were allowed to vend! We tried to reach out to this gentleman via email, 2 phone calls, and multiple social media messages with zero response. A day later he was “liking” all of their new Facebook content on their new business page! This was very hurtful once again that they would try to disrupt our business relationships with our customers.
To protect the brand we have worked so hard to build we were forced to send out the beginning proceedings of legal actions with full cease and desist letters to all involved with a detailed list of illegal infractions they had committed. It was of course ignored and they continue to contact our customers using confidential information and disparaging language which we have numerous copies of about our company trying to use our good name to springboard their business into the industry. This behavior sadly still continues today via email or thru social media as we are sent screen shots and emails of the illicit contact using our name and the comments they continue to make. Please note, this has all been documented and is evidence in the claims stated above.
At the professional request of our attorneys we have decided to take the professional “high road” by not naming the individuals or company directly as we are still gathering additional evidence to legally see the full array of legal options to us. Our post here was intended to give all of our vendor friends, artists, haunt owners, customers, and business owners in general a professional “heads up” in hopes that you can guys can be on the lookout for the tell tail signs of deceit, deception, and the greed that can occur in any of your businesses … regardless of who they are or how much you trust someone. Protect your brand! We must take this moment to thank all of our customers, friends, business partnerships, owners with whom we appreciate in their support, discretion, and private talks during this business lesson of “who can you trust?” My wife and I (and our crew) did not deserve this and have worked very hard to bring the industry we so love, a consistent and professional product. Our very solid reviews and a high level of customer service can speak of our desire to continue that trend. We are now back to the fun side of our business as we prep for this upcoming seasons release and our 3rd Transworld show in March!
You can buy from anyone you choose in this industry but if a company can try to get ahead through illegal means and “bite the hand” to this extent, just imagine why they might do in a business transaction. This is sadly a tale of narcissistic greed, poor ethics, no morals, and a strong lack of basic business knowledge. Buyer beware! If anyone has any further information or if you would like more information, feel free to privately email or contact us at any time. We hope that all your hard work and efforts pay off as you grow your own individual businesses whether they be big or small… but be on the lookout cause if it can happen to a professional company like ours, it can happen to you! These types are indeed out there looking for their opportunity to cash in on your hard earned efforts.
It happened to us so don’t let it happen to you.
Thank you all for listening.
Owner Dark Creations ATX