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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Counterfeit Archery Equipment in Toronto

For years now in Toronto there has been a store where people can purchase counterfeit archery equipment made in China. We are not going to mention the name of this store however as we don't want to be advertising their business.

Instead what we would like to do is draw attention to the fact that some people are buying Olympic archery equipment that are counterfeits, and that the equipment doesn't have a warranty. On a regular basis people have been buying Olympic archery equipment from that store, having the limbs break on them, and then think it was their own fault or they just had bad luck with faulty limbs.

What they don't know however is that counterfeiters in China are deliberately targeting high end Olympic manufacturers and reproducing replicas that look like the real thing, shoot somewhat like the real thing, and break easily.

It is only if they actually contact the manufacturer, try to use the warranty on the limbs, and then discover that the limbs they purchased don't have a warranty - and thus are not covered by the manufacturers warranty.

If you were to accuse the store of selling counterfeit equipment, they would of course deny that it was counterfeit - even if you had proof from the manufacturer that it was actually counterfeit limbs, they would still deny it because they don't want people to know they are selling fakes.

Counterfeiters are not limited to selling via sleazy stores however. They also routinely sell equipment online via:

Amazon.
eBay.
Alibaba.
Craigslist.
Kijiji.

The really savvy counterfeits even go so far as to advertise in magazines, direct email or traditional mail solicitations using fliers and brochures. Doing so makes their products look legit, so you would never know it is a fake.

Last year a friend of mine ordered some new limbs online from the UK. Or what he thought was a company based in the UK. Turns out after some research the company was actually based in Hong Kong (which explained why the shipment came from there instead). He tried them on his bow and guess what...

They broke on the very first shot. Or rather, it broke mid draw, before he even got to do the first shot. So technically he never even got to shoot it once. Just immediately broke. He had spent $400 on those limbs.

When he tried to get his money back the company never answered any of his emails. They stonewalled him. $400 gone.

The thing is people don't know how common counterfeit archery equipment is. They don't know how prevalent it is either. And they always assume that people buying counterfeits is "someone else's problem and that it won't happen to me".

The Price Variance of Counterfeits

Something that comes up regularly with counterfeits is that sometimes people think they are getting a deal. The equipment is "on sale", 40% off, or something like that. So it is cheaper than normal and people don't always question the quality of the product. They just see the expensive brand name, assume that it is a great deal, and then purchase it because it was so cheap and too good to pass up.

When they should be thinking "too good to be real".

Full Price Counterfeits = More Profits

Another thing that happens is that counterfeiters will sometimes sell the fakes at the full price of what it would cost to buy the real thing, which is more money for them. Cheaper overhead, more profits for a much bigger sale.

This is why counterfeiters often target more expensive archery equipment, because there is more money in selling brand name expensive fakes than there is in selling cheap knockoffs of bargain bows.

Counterfeiters are not Limited to Selling Bows

In recent years counterfeiters have gotten really good at manufacturing everything that is a brand name. It isn't just bows, but things like the following too:

Sights
Arrowheads
Broadheads
Arrow Rests
Stabilizers
Bow Strings
Tabs
Etc

Various archery accessories are all open to being counterfeited. Now you might think, what difference does a fake arrowhead make vs a real arrowhead? They are both still technically arrowheads. This is true. But as fakes become more common, the brand name manufacturers have the quality of their reputations tarnished by fakes that don't perform as well as the real thing.

So while an arrowhead is an arrowhead is an arrowhead, the brand name suffers every time someone buys what they think is the real thing and it later breaks easily and they decide to never buy that brand again.

Arrows Breaking is part of Archery Routine

The more expensive the product, the more likely it will be targeted by counterfeiters. All they need is a photograph or sample of the product and they reverse engineer how it was manufactured, make a cheaper knockoff version that looks exactly the same, and there you go: Nobody will ever notice the difference until it breaks.

And even if it does break, many archers won't think to complain to the manufacturer and thus will never know what they purchased was a counterfeit. Because archers are so used to their arrows breaking once in awhile, we have become accustomed to the idea that when we buy arrows that they will eventually break. So when it does break, we don't really complain about it. Thus counterfeit arrows could behave well up to a point, as long as the fake is a reasonable facsimile, and the archer who breaks all their arrows would never know that their equipment wasn't up to snuff.

Where is counterfeit archery equipment coming from?

Mostly it is from China. Roughly 70% according to industry insiders is counterfeits made in China. Other countries known for counterfeiting archery equipment include India, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

How is the archery industry catching counterfeiters?

In the USA the industry often employs industry watchdogs to beware of companies which are not following the minimum advertised price guidelines. If a particular company is advertising products below those prices, and if they get a reputation for broken equipment, then the watchdogs investigate that company to see if they are sourcing counterfeits from one of the above mentioned countries known for making fakes.

Copyrights on product images and printed materials (such as a written warranty, which is also faked) allows the brands to sue anyone selling the fakes for using their copyrighted material. They can't sue them for selling fakes, but they can sue if they are using logos, images, print materials, etc and anything else that is copywritten.

Patents is a different topic, because unless the fake actually copied a specific patent, and if the counterfeit source is unknown, then it is basically impossible to sue for use of their patent. Also since the companies that make the counterfeits are overseas, it is basically a waste of time trying enforce the patent.

Counterfeits are not Limited to Olympic, they also target Compound Bows

Some of the biggest names in the compound bowhunting business have been targeted by counterfeiters. Among the manufacturers hit recently by counterfeiters are G5, Rage, Muzzy, Slick Trick, Trophy Ridge, New Archery Products and Flying Arrow Archery. Those are just a few of the companies that have been targeted in recent years.

One of the ways the industry has adapted to the threat of counterfeits is to keep coming out with new versions of their equipment every year, so that archers can buy "the newest available version" before counterfeiters have a chance to make a copy of the newest model.

Some times these manufacturers will also discontinue specific models of equipment (or rename the model), forcing the counterfeiters to play catch up in an effort to copy the latest model or change all the stickers / labels / logos on the new version.

How do you spot counterfeit archery equipment?

Common tip-offs include generic or multi-colored packages that don’t look like the manufacturers’ actual packaging. Or the products themselves come in colors never seen in the originals.

However sometimes the products and the packaging is a perfect replica, looks wise, and thus you don't have a clue and you wouldn't know it was fake.

It could still say "Made in USA" on the packaging, but that doesn't mean anything really because that too can be faked.

Sometimes manufacturers also send out notices letting customers know about known fakes too.

"We don’t list what to look for in our ‘buyer-beware’ warnings, because as soon as you do, the counterfeiters change things to pass that inspection," says Chris James, national sales manager for FeraDyne, owner of Rage, Muzzy, Tru-Fire and Nockturnal.
"We post warnings on our website and Internet forums, and we tell people on the phone how to identify the problems. But it’s a lot of work."
"Some common giveaways are burn marks, rough cuts and O-ring problems. We also ask about colors. If it’s bright yellow, it’s not one of ours. Look at the top of the card. We put a sticker there that says Rage. Does it have anti-theft barcode? Little things help you tell. In most cases, manufacturers can quickly the counterfeiters’ shortcuts."
Another common thing that counterfeiters will do is require either a "minimum purchase amount" when making sales or offer bigger discounts when buying in bulk. So for example instead of selling broadheads in packs of 6 or 12, they will try to sell them 30 at a time in bulk.


Brand Name Identity Theft

One of the archery equipment industry’s most infamous counterfeiting cases targeted Trophy Taker arrow rests and Sims Vibration Laboratory’s LimbSavers vibration dampeners in 2005-2006.

The famous case involves large retail outlets in the USA which were contacted by an inventory liquidator who offered Trophy Taker arrow rests at a huge discount. In addition, the quantities offered were larger than the stores could have realistically hoped to sell.

The counterfeiter even sent free samples of the arrow rests for the retail outlets to test out. One of the retail outlets however was suspicious of the huge bulk and hugely discounted prices, so they contacted the real manufacturer, Trophy Taker, and sent one of the arrow rests to them to see if it was real.

"We thought it was ours. It was an exact replica, right down to the clamshell, tooling and die cast for the launchers. Then I got three or four more calls from other distributors, and I asked them to send their product. This time we looked much more closely, and found slight differences in the clamshell, the fasteners and the rope. We developed a worksheet showing the little differences, and spread the word," says Jerod Lile, general manager of Trophy Taker.
In other words, they were replicas so good that only the manufacturers could tell the difference upon close inspection.

Meanwhile Alan Lotton, marketing manager at Sims Vibration Laboratory, had a similar incident.

Alan received a series of interesting phone calls from distributors asking about offers from the same liquidator that was selling the Trophy Taker and was looking to sell large quantities of LimbSavers at unprecedented discounts. Sims later identified the suspect products as counterfeits, but it wasn’t easy.

"They did a hell of a job knocking off our product line," says Alan. "A layman wouldn’t have had a clue. It didn’t work nearly as well  as a true LimbSaver, but it provided some benefit. The disk that adheres to the bow limbs was the biggest problem. It would crack within a month of installation, but their packaging copied ours to the T. You needed a magnifying lens on the bar code to see it was counterfeit. The standard dealer, buyer or consumer wouldn’t have had a clue. They were very good at what they did."

However because of the sheer bulk from the "liquidator" many of those fakes are still being sold online and through other sources. Even though it has been 10 years since those fakes first hit the market, the sheer bulk in numbers means they are still floating around within the industry and the two companies have to keep pointing to the incident from 10 years ago and telling people that they need to be more careful about buying counterfeits.

Now you might think "What is the big deal?" but when you consider that both brands ended up losing about $250,000 in potential sales from that ONE incident, and they had their reputations tarnished by faulty products that keep popping up over the past 10 years, plus the continual barrage of new counterfeits, then you start to realize that counterfeits really are a big deal to the manufacturers.

Victimless Crime or Double the Victims?

Some people argue that counterfeits are a victimless crime, like in the case of fake Gucci purses. With a purse, it is all about the brand name and the look after all. It still behaves like a normal purse and eventually breaks like a normal purse.

The problem with counterfeit archery equipment is that there ends up being two victims:

1. The consumer, who bought a product which is cheaply made, faulty, and breaks easily.

2. The brand name manufacturer, who has their reputation tarnished by poorly made knockoffs, and to add insult to injury, less sales revenue because people are buying the fakes.

How big is the counterfeiting industry in Canada?

Well, lets put it this way. In 2015 sales of counterfeit items (clothing, food, car parts, soap, basically everything you can think of...) had an estimated total sales value of over $1 trillion USD in the USA alone.

In Canada the amount of counterfeit products is difficult to measure because Canada hasn't been as vigilant about trying to stop counterfeiting as much as the United States has been. Canada still has government agencies working on the problem, but their budget is small compared to the amount of money being dedicated to the problem in the USA.

As a result counterfeiters have better luck "flying under the radar" in Canada compared to the USA, so we can expect the counterfeit sales industry in Canada to easily be exceeding $100 billion annually.

It is difficult to estimate how much counterfeit archery equipment is sold in Canada as a lot of it is being sold online, but the addition of a specific store located in the GTA which specializes in selling Olympic archery equipment - and selling knockoffs of such equipment - means that on a regular basis people in Toronto are buying fakes, breaking them, and wondering what happened or just assuming the product was poorly made and the brand name suffers as a result.

So how do you know you are buying the real brand name product?

Honestly, you don't. But there are ways to improve your chances.

#1. Only buy from stores (including online stores) you trust. And if you begin to suspect a store is selling counterfeits, stop buying products there.

#2. If you hear from a friend that they purchased a bow at a certain place and it broke easily, make a mental note of the store. Worry about the store, not the brand name. The manufacturer might not be at fault if it is actually the store selling faulty equipment.

#3. If someone mentions a specific place sells counterfeits, avoid shopping at that store.

#4. If someone is selling new archery equipment for a really low price online then it is probably too good to be true. Especially if they are trying to sell it in bulk.

#5. If you buy used equipment (or antique equipment that has survived the test of time) then it is pretty much guaranteed to be the authentic product. Nobody (to our knowledge) is making counterfeits of antique archery products because there would be no point in mass producing fake antiques. (Forging antique coins or stamps however, there is money in that. Just like there is money in making fake original Star Wars collectables from the 1980s.)

#6. Read the online reviews and check with manufacturers to see if they have had any problems with counterfeits. Sometimes a particular product might have a bad reputation due to genuinely bad reviews, or maybe that product being sold on Amazon is a counterfeit pretending to be genuine. Sometimes the manufacturers might even be aware of online websites that are selling fakes, but are somehow powerless to stop them because the website is based overseas.

Of course there is always the possibility of making your own bow and arrows. Or having a custom order made. Then it is guaranteed to be real because you made it yourself or custom ordered it.

For counterfeiters their primary goal is to make money, which means targeting the big brand name manufacturers like:

Bear Archery
Cartel
Elite
Fivics
Hoyt
KAYA Archery
Krossen Archery
MK Archery
PSE
Sebastien Flute
Uukha
Win & Win

And remember also that counterfeiting isn't limited to bows, but also extends to arrows and accessories. If your equipment doesn't perform satisfactorily contact the manufacturer to see if they can send you a replacement and/or check to see if it was a counterfeit. If it was real, and your warranty is valid, they can send you a replacement. If it was a fake however, do the archery community a favour by confirming it was a fake and then warning others not to shop at the same place you got the counterfeit from by posting a negative review online and warning your friends via social media.

"All that glitters is not gold."

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