Stuart West, sales director with Italian shower brand Novellini, has accused Far Eastern visitors to the company’s stand at ISH of “brazenly taking apart shower enclosures” with a view to copying their designs.
“Over the first three days of the show, we had 60 to 80 Chinese people coming on the stand, some with step ladders, screwdrivers and digital cameras,” West (pictured) told kbbreview. “They took the enclosures apart and stole the components. We’ve had to replace them, because right now they’re on their way back to China.”
West said the normal tactic was for a large, organised group to enter the stand and quickly surround a pre-targeted product. “Sometimes there’s 20 of them on the stand at the same time,” he explained. “Before you’ve spotted them, the product is already on the floor in pieces. In one case, we had six of them surround an enclosure. They didn’t sabotage it, but they undid some screws, smashed the door hard several times to see if they could break it, obviously testing its strength, and then walked off.”
West admitted the Chinese had been trying to copy products displayed at international exhibitions for years, then sell replicas for a fraction of the price. But their actions were now “becoming much more blatant”.
Other suppliers at the Frankfurt bathroom show admitted they were also concerned by the problem with some reporting record numbers of Far Eastern visitors to their stands. West said he’d seen other groups dismantling taps, while another exhibitor, who didn’t wish to be named, witnessed “Chinese groups” taking close-up photographs of furniture hinges in many halls. Many suppliers have since called for security to be stepped up at the show, so brands can remove the offenders from their stands.
“The Chinese don’t have any shame in their culture for this,” West continued. “In a way, it’s a compliment to Novellini, but it’s one thing to take a photo and another to get a stepladder and a screwdriver and dismantle your product and render it unsafe with complete disregard for the company and people’s safety. They can very quickly make something at quarter of the price. There’s no point in Novellini making patents anymore, because they’re not enforceable.”
West also claimed Novellini had recently made a tour of Chinese factories and found some were putting ‘Made in Britain’ stickers on UK branded products coming off production lines.
“We came back with some shocking evidence,” West said. “These are well-known British shower enclosure brands where the product is made in China. We have videos of the Chinese workers putting a ‘Made in Britain’ sticker on the box, and then sending that product here. There’s no integrity.”