Entrepreneur invents ingenious way to double his customer base

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‘Dragging customers into my store with a huge net is the best idea I’ve had!’ says local businessman

By Klara Woldenga, Humour Editor

Jack Harpen has been running his artisan beaver hat shop for over 15 years, but for the past 14.5 years he has been struggling to stay open.

“That first six months were great,” Harpen told the Other Press. “Lots of people were coming into the shop to buy my hats—lost and scared tourists, mostly.”

Harpen’s small store, located on East Hastings, resides on the top floor of a six-story walk-up between two buildings that provide needle exchanges and yelling, respectively. Despite this less-than-ideal location, Harpen was determined to make it work and began trying different ways to attract customers.

“First I tried to lure people in with a sign that said, ‘Free Candy,’” said Harpen. “But that only brought in children, and they don’t look good in my hats!”

After over a decade of paying his bills through loud threats, Harpen had to think of a better solution as his voice was growing hoarse from all the yelling.

“First, I thought about digging a hole that pedestrians could fall into and only letting them out if they agreed to buy hats, but who has time to dig a hole?” said Harpen. “But one day I went into the ocean to cry and saw the fisherman pulling up thousands of pounds of fish in their nets. Suddenly I realized: People are fish!”

Harpen bought a large fishing net, which caused his customer base to go from zero to 10 overnight, and has continued to increase.

“I just kind of learned as I went,” said Harpen. “I figured out that the best thing to do was throw the net onto a random street in Gastown and then drag the customers to my store. They feel too awkward being in there without buying anything.”

Harpen eventually went on to patent his famous customer net technique.

“There’s a lot of kicking involved,” he told the Other Press. “No other customer net technique has that much kicking.”

Although Harpen’s technique is patented, that hasn’t stopped other Vancouver businesses from following suit with their own nets and styles, some even claiming to have improved the technique.

Sasha Alden, owner of the Kitsilano gluten-free dog bakery Let Sleeping Dogs Rye, told the Other Press that she was constantly struggling to make ends meet before she implemented her own net system.

“I just throw my net out onto the street during peak hours and drag whoever I catch into my store; usually I get three to four people. They kick and struggle, but eventually they just give up after they realize they can’t escape a high-quality net.”

Alden also employs two strong men to carry her captured customer base into her store, but there are many variations of this system, such as using dollies, or the classic “nudge with broom until they do what you want” technique.

Frand Rogen, a tourist from Alaska, was one customer that was caught a few days ago by Alden’s net system.

“I was just minding my own business, taking over 300 photos of that gas clock, when suddenly I had a net thrown over me,” Rogen told the Other Press. “I was separated from my wife and family. Before I knew it, I was in a gluten-free dog bakery. I don’t even own a dog, but I bought three bags of dog cookies because I felt awkward leaving empty-handed.”

Harpen is developing seminars for his technique and plans to use his net-capturing to bring in a record number of audience members.

The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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