"Last time people took things from me," said Mitchell Buck, owner of Dirty Fingers Bike shop referring to the March 6 burglary at his Heights store. "This time, they've taken my entire business identity."
The covert theft came to light when a Facebook friend of Dirty Fingers posted an alert on Friday, directing Buck to a virtual "duplicate" business - opened just four months ago in Sandpoint, Idaho - called "Greasy Fingers Bike Shop."
When Buck followed the link, he was "completely shocked" to find a bike shop with the identical layout to his own, right down to a personalized chalk board displaying Buck's famous "word of the day" and "daily catch phrase" customer teasers.
"Their website text was taken from our site word-for-word. Store colors - the same. Their logo, a slightly altered copy. Even the labor prices for services were identical," said Buck.
It then became all too hard to swallow when Buck noticed that his local service special, called "The Full Monte" was also listed on the clone site.
"They even stole my dog!" said Buck. The "Monte" referred to in the cheater's service plan is Buck's beloved shop dog of 11 years.
So, with the unwitting help of the Internet, and what Buck thinks must have included a personal visit to photograph the inside of his shop, Buck's business model was pirated. Conversely, the age of high-speed Internet social networking has also provided the start of the remedy to the high-tech theft.
Much like a publicly corrected Wikipedia entry, friends and fans of Dirty Fingers kicked in and began providing both support for the "original" business and public shaming for the marauders.
"I understand that the information exploded over the weekend via our Facebook page and that postings to their website and Facebook page caused them to take down and revamp their stuff," said Buck.
For those interested in seeing the copycat version, Buck has saved a screen page copy of the first site put up by Greasy Fingers which appears as an exact replica of his original.
Taking the raid with a wry sense of humor, Buck decided to contact the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce and their local newspaper with something other than the standard legal "cease and desist" letter defense.
"I've told them that I am going to petition to change Hood River's name to Sandpoint, just to keep things even," said Buck. "Actually, they were both really great about hearing me out."
On a serious note, the brand materials of successful businesses, developed with hard cash investments from owners, are a very real financial asset and are now more vulnerable to theft then ever before with the ease of access provided through the Internet.
"Of course there is a real hard cost to producing logos, designs, floor plans and marketing for every business, but this is also about what Mitchell has created from his vision, heart, and soul. You can't put a price on that," said Kerry Cobb, Hood River Chamber of Commerce director.
"We know that there is a 'conversation' going on out there on the Internet about every business and we advise people to be vigilant about your brand in this viral world," added Cobb.
Brian Anderson, owner of Greasy Fingers, did not return calls for comment.
Buck sent the following personal message about his ordeal to his customers via his website page on dirtyfingersbikes.com:
"I created Dirty Fingers with the last $1,500 I had in this world. Dirty Fingers was forged with love, sweat and heart … I humbly ask the riding community to … Let them know that in the bike industry, as in life, things should be earned and not stolen."
Dirty Fingers (the original) is located at: 1412 13th St. in Hood River.