Prompted by an February 6 email from a vendor who was disturbed by the quantity of its goods appearing in an eBay store, Grizzly Paw Sports, SNEWS® launched one of its now infamous investigations – you know, the kind where we make test purchases, pull public records, send folks to the listed address to check out physical locations and more.
Here is what we have learned. When we first checked eBay for power seller Grizzly Paw Sports, we found 267 items listed including products from Yakima, Spyder, Smith, Thule, Sessions, Patagonia, Mammut, Cloudveil, Polar, Nixon, HighGear, Suunto, etc. The prices were impressive indeed. A Mammut men's Karakorum jacket in silver was going for a Buy Now price of $124.99 (MSRP is $179). A Patagonia men's Rain Shadow in size medium, color orange, was going for a Buy Now price of $99.99 (MSRP is $149, though you can find it at many online sites for as little as $127).
The seller lists his location on the pages as "GOT MILK, United States." He or she also utilizes several seller names: grizzlypawsports or skymountaingear. The site has been an eBay member and seller for four years and six months according to eBay records, and has over 10,718 member feedbacks – now that's some serious selling.
On the product pages Grizzly Paw Sports lists an email: email@example.com
A test purchase revealed a shipping address listed in Paypal as: North Fork Sports, 3807 West 1450 North, West Point, Utah, 84015. A phone number provided is 801-791-7343. We pulled public records for the phone number and discovered it is a mobile phone (of course) so further checking into records revealed the phone is registered to Kriss Dow. We also discovered that there is only one store in the area that is carrying Mammut apparel, and that is Ski Mania, located at 4305 Riverdale Rd., Riverdale, Utah 84405. A quick check of the locations of both North Fork Sports listed address and Ski Mania shows they are 13 minutes of driving time and less than 7 miles apart. Sundee Haywood is listed as owner of North Fork Sports by Paypal.
Armed with this knowledge, we contacted Ski Mania at the store number of 801-621-7669 at 9:49 am PST on Feb. 7 and asked to speak with Sundee Haywood. The person who answered told us he knew of no one by that name. So, acting baffled, we said we had a return to make and that the company had told us Ski Mania was the only authorized dealer of that product in the area and we should contact Ski Mania to arrange a return…we went on to say we assumed the online site was theirs. The man continued to deny any knowledge of an eBay site, or Sundee, or Grizzly Paw Sports, or North Fork Sports. When we asked the gentleman his name, he told us Kriss Dow. So, we informed him who we were and that we had a definite link between the two and were surprised he did not know anything.
He went on to tell us, after some prompting, that perhaps he had an employee who was pilfering product, though he hoped not. However, he continued to deny any knowledge of the website or Sundee Haywood.
We then called the 801-791-7343 number which was answered by a woman, who, upon confirming we had reached Grizzly Paw Sports, handed me off to a gentleman who identified himself as Chris (spelling was not confirmed) Haywood. We told him we had a product to return and that the manufacturer told us return it to Ski Mania, but Haywood denied even knowing about Ski Mania. (We told him it was strange that a person selling outdoor and ski products would not know of a store that had been in existence for quite a few years, was located only seven miles away, and was by all accounts an excellent retailer of ski and snowboard equipment.) Haywood also told us his company operated out of a warehouse and that I should simply ship my return (we told him the jacket did not fit) back to P.O. Box 3114, Ogden, Utah 84409. We asked Haywood about a Kriss Dow as well, and he denied knowing him.
Seeking comments and more detailed information, SNEWS® contacted various vendors whose products were appearing on Grizzly Paw. After we talked to Jeff Cunningham, national sales manager for Mammut, he contacted Dow. According to Cunningham, Dow first denied any knowledge of Grizzly Paw or online sales, but Dow eventually said that it was possible that his dad (also named Kriss Dow) was involved. And then more beans began to spill throughout the course of the conversation. Turns out that Sundee Haywood is actually Kriss Dow Jr's sister (formerly Sundee Dawn Dow), and SNEWS® confirmed this through a public records search. Aaron Morris, who also works at Ski Mania, was identified as a brother-in-law.
A search of our Outdoor Retailer buyer attendee list for Winter Market 2006 (which we purchased as an exhibitor) shows four names registered to attend for Ski Mania: Jill Dow, Brook Dow, Kriss Dow Jr., and Lisa Morris (formerly Lisa Dow). For the record, no one going by the first name of Sundee or last name of Haywood attended…at least as a registered buyer.
However, confirmation that Ski Mania has been involved with Grizzly Paw Sports aka North Fork Sports, comes via the listing of a Mammut Karakorum jacket in silver on the eBay site. The Karakorum, according to Cunningham, was a limited-run jacket, and sold to only two stores in the U.S. – a full size run to a store in Steamboat Springs, which has been a loyal and long-time Mammut dealer, and a full size run to Ski Mania. SNEWS® was told that Kriss Dow Jr met with Mammut at the most recent Winter Market trade show and said he planned to increase his business significantly this year. We compared each Mammut item that appears on Grizzly Paw with recent purchase orders and shipment manifestos to Ski Mania, and the sizes and colors shipped match.
SNEWS® also learned from another vendor that Kriss Dow Jr. was warned last year about selling products online by that vendor. We were told that Dow Jr. did promptly remove those products from the website in question. However, many products from that same vendor were now appearing again online, in violation of the vendor's dealer agreement.
In fact, every vendor SNEWS® spoke with told us that if Ski Mania was selling products online through Grizzly Paw Sports on eBay, Ski Mania was in full violation of existing and, in some cases, new dealer agreements.
Apparently, the message that vendors were going to be more than a bit ticked off and likely acting to cut off Ski Mania filtered through quickly. We checked the eBay Grizzly Paw Sports site at 2:34 pm PST on Feb. 7, and most, though not all, of the previously listed Cloudveil, Patagonia, and Mammut product was no longer on the site. However, more products from Spyder, The North Face, G3, Rossignol, Salomon, Giro, Nixon, Underarmor and Suunto appeared to be filling in the gaps. By 9:01 am PST on Feb. 8, all Mammut, Cloudveil and Patagonia product was removed from the site and the number of listed products had dropped from 267 to 228.
SNEWS® View: Cunningham told us that Dow eventually told him, "I can't believe this is happening…" Hmmmm….we would suspect that what Dow meant by that is he could not believe he was getting caught. Look folks. If you are going to sell online, and selling online (with approval and certain guidelines) is no longer a verboten part of most dealer agreements these days, just do it straight up. If you want to engage in a game of smoke and mirrors to deflect attention, and create the appearance you are doing something you shouldn't, chances are, you're going to get caught and the consequences aren't pretty. With access to public documents that include corporate records, business licenses, marriage licenses, birth records, any mention of a name in a news report or story, cell phone and business phone records, as well as a bit of on-the-ground sleuthing, it really is not hard to uncover just about any cloak a retailer is counting on to hide the fact they are not selling legitimately on the web.
Of course, too many retailers still hiding under too many cloaks has become an increasing problem for manufacturers to police, costing thousands and thousands of dollars that have to get passed on somehow, and they are…to the wholesale price of product. That is affecting the many other excellent retailers who are both selling with authorization on the web and representing the products they sell in a manner deserving of recognition, not investigation.
The fact that eBay remains an ideal breeding ground for this kind of selling deception because of its policy to protect identities is also an issue, but that's a story for another day.