Who would think that a measuring tape that retails for about $10 would fall victim to an Asian knockoff ploy?
Accufitness, with its popular Myotape that allows someone to measure themselves easily without getting tangled in tape, found out even a little ol' company like itself with a tiny little blip-on-the-radar product like the tape could be hit up.
Recently, President Matt Chalek sent out an email to customers and others with pictures of a newly shaped Myotape plastic case with a rippled design for better gripping.
"We have changed the shape of the Myotape because we were being copied too much. So if a Myotape doesn't look like the attached, it is not authentic," Chalek wrote, noting that the packaging for now was the same but it too would change.
Chalek told SNEWSÂ® that apparently its China factory, Ningbo, decided it could sell its own version of a tape too, using the Accufitness product to make its own under both a "non-label" and a private label, in one case specifically for a current Accufitness customer. That private-label knock-off, however, was undercutting Accufitness retails by 40 percent ($6 compared to $10).
"Upon our success, others went after this tape," he said. "We created a market, but the factory would not relay the new customers to us and possibly were soliciting some of them."
It's not as if a tape measure has some secret ingredient, but the fact that the factory undercut its own customer and went behind its back didn't sit well.
"It's an ethics issue," Chalek said. "I was shocked."
He discovered the problem when a few customers suddenly weren't reordering at the pace they had in the past, and they told him they still were "fine" with product although he knew from records they likely weren't. So Accufitness dumped Ningbo and found another secure factory that also does business for a string of huge North American-based companies and was trustworthy.
"I didn't expect that this would happen with our company," he added. "Our niche is so small. It was pretty aggravating."
SNEWSÂ® View: OK, so this ain't unusual, especially in these days of camera phones and the Internet, but Chalek found himself surprised and shocked by becoming a victim of such a ploy. Honestly, we aren't. We have seen mini-mobs of often Asian folks wandering shows, stopping to click photos of gear and equipment to email it back to headquarters. We have seen suspicious agents actually pull out tape measures and notebooks to take a note of styling, design and measurements. We have even stood in front of product being photographed just to block the view and annoy these agents. Nice? No. Fun? Heck, yeah. Click here to take a look at an August 2005 SNEWSÂ® story about such scammers being served with patent infringement papers right on trade show grounds at the Outdoor Retailer show ("Chinese exhibitors hit with patent infringement papers"). Guess what? Two of the companies served were Ningbo plants.
We came down hard then and will again: Such scamming and infringing must stop. Innovation by duplication is not innovation. The other problem is that legitimate Asian supplies and other industry professionals can also get type-cast just by walking down a show aisle and stopping to look at something. Such profiling also must stop.
For Accufitness, lessons learned, of course: The speed of innovation today is so quick that products can be copied and at market in a blink of an eye. Today's technology shortens the lead time a company thinks it may have. Plus, Chalek â€“ perhaps slightly naÃ¯ve in thinking his company was too small for anyone to care â€“ learned that even small products like a measuring tape have to constantly be updated and innovative features added or be lost on the wayside. Or be a victim of a knockoff with an undercut price. Everyone has to wake up, realize they can be a victim and be vigilant. See somebody taking a photo of product, yours OR a competitor's even? Take action: Confront the person, ask what they are doing, and delete the offending photos if they can't prove themselves legit. Then turn them in to show management.
We hate to see such antics turn our trade show halls into rows of old stuff or closed-door exhibits since folks are too afraid to publicly show the new and innovative stuff.
Do you have a strong view, pro or con, about Chinese exhibitors and those copying product designs? Then sound off in the SNEWSÂ® Forum -- a secure place that can only be read by those of us in the industry, and a place where you can say anything, as long as you are not simply flaming or nuking another person or company for personal reasons. Click on www.snewsnet.com/forumsÂ -- your Forum is now open for business.