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Why buy original?1st of July 2011
In January of this year, ECJ hosted a round table discussion in Amsterdam - attended by cleaning industry manufacturers and exhibition organisers - which highlighted the growing problem of intellectual property infringement. As the sector's producers seek to protect themselves from the issues surrounding 'copycat' products, we explore the reasons why distributors and end users should only consider buying from original manufacturers.
Many of the industry's leading manufacturers of cleaning equipment have already been victims of intellectual property infringement - or copying of their products. Research suggests the offending companies are most often Chinese but there have also been cases from India, the USA, and the European countries.
The products on offer may seem tempting, as they are always significantly cheaper than their original equivalents. But there are many reasons why distributors and contract cleaners/end users should only purchase from reputable industry names. ECJ spoke to a number of manufacturers that have first-hand experience.
"Copycats don't invest in development, so of course they can be cheaper," explains Markus Asch, president of EUnited Cleaning, the European Association of Cleaning Systems Manufacturers and deputy chief executive officer of Kärcher. "But if we don’t fight this we lose the drive for innovation from quality manufacturers.
"The market is in danger of losing that innovation so buyers have a responsibility to buy from original manufacturers," Asch adds. "Buyers are actually disrespecting original manufacturers’ investment in the market if they buy counterfeit machines."
Hako's Ralf-Hendrik Steinkühler agrees. "From an economic point of view IP rights are there to enable manufacturers to invest in innovation – bringing more effective and more sustainable products onto the market. Otherwise, it would all be about price."
Dirk Salmon from mopping systems specialist Vermop also believes it is vital for customers to buy from original equipment manufacturers. "When buying from original manufacturers, customers can be sure to continuously receive the high product quality they require in a demanding professional cleaning environment," he said.
"Thus, they can be sure to deliver the high cleaning standard their end customers expect. Products will have the expected high lifetime, saving customers having to reinvest ahead of scheduled reinvestment cycles."
"A facility management company’s profitability depends on the product’s performance and the productivity it provides," Sergio Pupkin, global facility management sector director at Diversey points out. "It relies on perfect functioning and minimal downtime. Cleaning utensils that do not stand the rigours of the demanding cleaning environment, and machines which malfunction and cause service breakdowns, must be avoided. And just like in any other industry, these benefits are optimal in original manufacturers' equipment."
"Copycat manufacturers do not take the time to understand the critical details around equipment and frequently make poor trade-off decisions in their manufacturing process," said Tennant's product marketing team. "Only original manufacturers understand product applications and they design the machine around those applications."
Aside from the important principles behind buying original equipment, manufacturers are keen to emphasise the practical benefits of avoiding 'copycat' products - no matter how tempting the purchase price may be. Pupkin sums it up: "The key benefit is peace of mind. The reason why companies like Apple or Mercedes Benz get chosen over cheaper alternatives is because their users are conscious of the benefits they provide: first, they don’t break down, second, when they do, technical service is paramount."
Steinkühler adds: "Original products come with back-up service, software etc. Copycat products don’t come with anything else – just the machine." According to Asch: "When there’s any problem with a copycat product, the user often cannot trace back to wherever it has been manufactured. It’s a matter of taking responsibility, and quality manufacturers do that."
"Cleaning equipment in particular needs reliable service and continuity of equipment availability in order to remain a reliable partner for service companies," says Kai Stolzenberg of Stolzenberg. "Copycat products might pop up the market for a year or two and then disappear..."
Salmon stresses the importance of original manufacturers providing certain guarantees to their customers. "Customers can rely on the long lifetime of his investment and the support his supplier will deliver - such as consulting, training and local presence with quick reaction times. We develop and sell not only products but systems."
Quality manufacturers also always respect norms and legislation in their manufacturing processes, explained Asch, which is essential in ensuring technical safety. When a CE mark has been put on a piece of equipment from an original manufacturer, the end user can trust in the fact it has been subject to thorough evaluation and risk assessment. "Copycats, on the other hand, often place a quality mark on their products because they are simply copying the mark from the original machines. Anyone who copies that will not respect those values and norms we adhere to."
"Buying from a certified original manufacturer guarantees products were produced from safe materials and under working conditions that adhere to strict laws and regulations," summarises Salmon.
So, how easy is it to identify a counterfeit product, and what should the customer look out for? "This is a quite challenging task," replied Stolzenberg, "as copies are becoming more and more identical to the original equipment. For industrial products it is most important to check for the machine label (CE), where the manufacturer needs to be stated. The quality of materials (mainly plastic parts) is often quite poor compared to the original product."
Check serial numbers
"Most manufacturers apply a serial number to each piece of equipment," Tennant points out. "These serial numbers are designed to be readable for the life of the machine. If a user suspects the serial number has been removed or altered, or is simply unsure if the equipment is original, they should contact the manufacturer directly." Salmon advises: "The first thing to check is the logo and brand name on the actual product."
Even taking all these considerations into account, there may be users who make the conscious decision to purchase counterfeit products as they become more widely available. After all, prices are often between 30 and 50 per cent of the original product purchase price - and with cost playing such a significant part in purchasing decisions during these difficult times that can be an extremely tempting proposition.
However, as Steinkühler points out: "The initial investment in the machine is the tip of the iceberg – what counts is the total lifetime cost. Copycat producers have no structure in place to support customers who need products that do the job with as little downtime as possible and minimal cost associated with repairs and maintenance."
"The buyers of machines will save some money up front but will often pay more over time because of the need to frequently service the machine or even buy a replacement machine much sooner than they would expect," adds Tennant. "They generally will also not achieve the same level of clean that a reputable manufacturer can provide."
Health and safety considerations must also be taken into account, says Salmon. "There is a danger to cleaning staff from using malfunctioning products. And a longer term pitfall may be a loss of image in the eyes of the customer for the contractor."
Sergio Pupkin agrees that saving money up front can only result in higher costs further down the line. "In my experience in this business, short product life and spare parts availability are two of the main risks associated with using copycat equipment."
Beyond that, the implications could be more serious says Steinkühler. "Companies that make copies of machines may face lawsuits, which is a potential risk for the dealer distributing those products. There may be implications for distributors dealing with convicted companies – confiscation of products for example.
"From our point of view, Hako would certainly take action against dealers who sell copies of our machines. We have not seen any being sold in Europe so far but we do know the guilty companies are trying to enter the market – and we will continue to take legal action."
All the manufacturers we spoke to agree that counterfeit products entering the European market present a real threat to its future.And while this might not be a significant problem in Europe now, the sector as a whole must be more aware of the potential threat.
"We do need to see a more proactive approach because the short term and longer term consequences of counterfeit products will take hold," Markus Asch emphasises. "Copying is an opportunistic approach but if you’re serious about the market you need to build up structures in order to support your distributors and end user customers. Counterfeit equipment producers simply cannot do that."