Knocking back the knock off

The old adage “if it looks too good to be true, then it usually is” is as appropriate for this industry as it is for many others. Bargain prices for items such as wiring devices, circuit protection products and other electrical ancillaries are a bargain for a reason, possibly several reasons. They may be counterfeit and carry the distinguishing marks of well known brand names, they may be very good imitations or facsimiles of well known products but carry another manufacturer’s logo or they simply are manufactured in and sourced from low cost countries using budget components with a lesser regard for quality and safety.

Whatever the reason, it is certain that it won’t necessarily be a good deal. Counterfeit or copycat products not only create vulnerability in terms of liability and possibly livelihood, it can at best inconvenience the customer and, at worst, harm them or their customers in turn.

Until recently, most counterfeit wiring devices were sold in the markets of Asia, Africa and South America – but now there is evidence that Europe is also being targeted; although recent surveys indicate that traditional UK wholesale channels are generally not dealing in counterfeit products.  It is obviously in the interest of customers to combat counterfeiting and ‘passing-off’ as vigorously as possible.

Most companies would support and echo the view of MK Electric’s managing director, Mike Southgate, that defense of intellectual property is vitally important, not only for the business itself, but for its customers.

Fifteen years ago, copies of UK electrical accessories in overseas markets were few; most of them were made in China, were of very poor quality, and generally didn’t work. They didn’t represent a threat to core export markets, and were not seen in the UK at all.

By 1999 however, they were present in most major UK export markets, and some brands were seriously threatened. They were of varying quality, but generally a great improvement on earlier copies in terms of appearance, particularly with respect to their finish. 

It was then that member companies of British Electrotechnical & Allied Manufacturers’ Association (BEAMA) formed an anti-counterfeiting committee with the aim of getting companies to work together to tackle a common enemy and share costs for a mutual benefit.

The BEAMA approach was different to previous methods traditionally used in the various countries by reputable manufacturers. Instead of using the courts which attract very large lawyer’s fees, take far too long and do not provide any real incentives for the criminals to stop producing fakes, BEAMA used ‘administrative actions’.

These actions use the local regulators (the equivalent of ‘trading standards officers’ in UK) in the various countries (often China) to carry out raids on manufacturing sites which produce counterfeit products. Such actions have almost immediate effects such as closure of the counterfeiting factory, seizure of fake products, mould and press tools, the fining of the counterfeiter and eventually the destruction of the fake products. In some instances, the larger counterfeiters have been forced to pay very large penalties, one-third of which is paid to the victim.

The singular purpose of the BEAMA group was and still is to raise awareness amongst specifiers, consultants, contractors and users of the prevalence of counterfeiting. 

The manufacture of fake electrical equipment occurs mainly in China and this is where the first BEAMA activity was initiated; Electric Dragon was the name given to group actions taken in locating the source of counterfeit products in China, and the resultant raiding of the factories where they are made, outlets where they are sold and exhibitions where they are displayed.

While UK manufacturers can be hugely satisfied with BEAMA’s work in this field, the purchasers and installers of wiring devices should be similarly so. The stemming at source of counterfeit, fake and copycat products is a necessity if we are to stop the undermining of our whole electrical installation industry.

That engineers should support anti-counterfeiting campaigns and resist degraded imports is obvious at many levels. First, it secures their own positions (end-user or customer-facing) and aligns them with the concept of ‘reputable source’ with the associated reputational benefits.

Second, in these uncertain times, there will be many in the sector seeking additional confidence from the products they buy – especially those finding their way into the hard-hit commercial property environment. Quality ensures end-user satisfaction and obviates the loss of profits arising from remedial call-backs, disputes and other problems. A comprehensive branded offer can only re-assure the customer and the engineers will benefit from what has been described as a ‘flight to quality’. Finally, profits are better protected if only for the commonsensical reason that budget goods attract budget margins; and, in a reduced volume market, making more from less is the only sane way forward.

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