By Stijn Kits, Business Development Manager
As autumn replaces summer, sports enthusiasts are switching their pursuits to reflect the change in season. For fans of outdoor activities and country sports especially, fall is a time when fishing, hiking, climbing, and shooting all change in response to the colder temperatures. Consequently, whether it’s warmer clothing or specialized equipment, many brands also offer different products or collections to reflect the seasonal shift. Predictably, counterfeiters have also been quick to take advantage of these new product lines and have developed their own fakes in response. As a result, there are some major dangers for outdoor sports brands who are having their trademarks applied to inferior quality goods.
Despite having significant exposure to fake products, however, brands in this sector (particularly smaller businesses) are often less aware of the growing danger from online counterfeits. In many cases, this gap is partly a result of a lack of publicity. Because they come with the biggest numbers and profiles, multinational sportswear and fashion brands are the focus of the press around counterfeits, yet SMEs and niche producers in the outdoors sector are often just as at risk.
Another reason why the problems suffered by this industry are not better understood is because of the technical specificity of many products. This means that it can be harder to detect online infringements from listings alone, and it can be particularly difficult for untrained law enforcement agents to make decisions about the genuineness of product when they find them on raids or in shipments. Understandably, it is the most obviously poor fakes (often fashion and footwear brands) that are easier to spot for enforcement officials who are less schooled in the intricacies of fishing lures, rock climbing carabiners, or the down fill power of an insulated jacket.
These gaps in knowledge have reinforced a widely-held assumption that such technical products are too specialized and too difficult for counterfeiters to manufacture. The conventional wisdom on countless message boards across the internet always asks the same question; why would counterfeiters bother to organize the machinery needed for sleeping bags or fishing reels when it is easier to print a logo on a t-shirt?
But the answer is always the same; money.
Despite the belief that the problem of counterfeits is very limited for outdoors and specialist sports brands, cases of IP infringement are increasingly common. There are numerous examples of consumers being fooled by inauthentic goods, whether they are custom or mass produced. Even experts like Wayne Real, a long-time collector of Abu Garcia fishing equipment, has spoken about his purchase of an Abu Ambassadeur reel, which cost $300 but was not genuine:
“Sadly it is a disappointment as the creator of the reel turned out to be someone who did not do things quite right. The reel looks nice but does not operate as it should. The lever to engage/disengage does not work and the spool itself, whilst rotating, does not remove from the right hand sideplate when disassembled. It must have been forced together. So a very nice looking set of assembled parts but far from a ‘fishing’ reel to actually use.”
In 2018, the problem was also documented in the UK, where a court case was brought against an eBay seller and a manufacturer who were selling counterfeit fishing line. Across three different accounts, the eBay seller was trading in fake products for the Rio, Snowbee, Greys, and Hardy brands, all of which earned him just under $200,000.
With figures this high, the question of why counterfeiters are lured to brands like these seems naïve.
On the occasions when the problem has become unavoidable, some brands have taken to advising customers to be wary of buying from unauthorized sources. The fishing brand PowerPro have issued advice in the past which testified that they had detected counterfeits with packaging so convincing that it was “nearly impossible to spot a fake spool.” It was only when consumers had laid out their own money, and had the substandard products break (potentially wrecking other expensive pieces of equipment), that they would learn the true nature of the product.
Despite additional advice that PowerPro products are not authorized for sale on Chinese wholesale sites such as Alibaba and Aliexpress, listings on those platforms remain numerous.
The problem extends beyond equipment too, with the logos of popular brands such as Penn being indiscriminately applied to a variety of unauthorized goods.
Although fishing may appear to be one small sector, it is important as it represents a growth of counterfeits within niche industries. This is especially worrying for outdoor sports enthusiasts who need to rely on their (expensive) equipment. For climbers, hikers, campers, and anyone else who faces cold conditions, substandard counterfeits can dramatically affect not just their bank balance but also their health.
The Canadian brand Arc’Teryx produce high-quality equipment and apparel for snow sports enthusiasts, with materials that are designed to resist the most adverse conditions. When their products appear listed on bogus websites with words such as “sale” or “outlet” (a key tactic of many counterfeiters) in the URL, however, this can be a sign that the products being offered are not genuine.
One of these listings was drawn from the official website, while the other was from a questionable source; does the $300 difference between these indistinguishable items represent a major saving or a potential hazard for consumers braving the winter weather?
What Can Outdoor Sports and Specialist Brands Do About Fakes?
While taking steps to educate consumers can be an important step in the process of reducing counterfeits, grey trade, and other IP infringements, this is a sector that demands some additional actions. The technical nature of many products, along with the smaller profiles of brands, means that general public awareness will remain lower and seizures will also be less common.
For those reasons, brands need to proactively monitor domains, marketplaces, and social media channels. This can be a time-consuming, frustrating process for those without the expertise or the technical solutions, however, which is why Pointer offers end-to-end brand protection strategies that are tailored to the needs of every brand and industry.
Our experience of working with brands of all sizes has given us valuable insights into the factors that affect your business and its ability to combat counterfeits and grey trade.
- SMEs, specialist, and niche businesses frequently assume that problems with counterfeits will not hit them due to their relative size. However, businesses grow! We believe in proactive protection with a long-term perspective. By acting early and monitoring the market from an early point you will be better able to control the issue before it spreads.
- Contrary to some thinking, smaller companies may actually require a greater degree of brand protection than larger ones. When products fail, when consumers are defrauded, or when there are problems with IP usage, the reputational damage done is much higher when the business has a smaller audience. For that reason we recommend robust monitoring of social media too.
- Many brand protection companies only offer online removals, which may be insufficient for brands who face issues with offline goods in physical marketplaces. Law enforcement on the ground can be one solution, but as has been mentioned above, specialized sporting equipment and apparel can be too technical for law enforcement agents to properly identify. Pointer have a connected online-to-offline program where trained investigators work to identify your most serious infringers, thus helping you to provide evidence to law enforcement and get maximum impact for your spend.
- We consider the market intelligence for your brand. Where are your products made, advertised, bought, and popular? Which seasons are strongest for you? When developing a strategy that’s right for you, we take these factors into account.
- Turn your size into your strength. Being a smaller business can have positive effects when it comes to defending your IP. If you have a smaller and tighter control of your distribution, you can identify errant distributors or sellers easier than larger companies with complex networks. Our Distribution Protect module is ideal for keeping watch on the pathways your official products take.
- Be conscious of genericization. This can often be an issue that affects many smaller brands who are synonymous with one product in particular. By considering how this may affect your business and its defence in the future, we can help you to avoid upcoming problems.
For more detail on how Pointer can help you defend your brand and your business, contact us today and start the conversation.