‘Counterfeiters have cost us dear,’ admits bathroom supplier

Colin Maclean, director of Milton Keynes-based bathroom manufacturer Insignia, has called for stricter controls on Far Eastern counterfeiters and urged other UK suppliers to follow the company’s lead.

His concerns echo those of Stuart West, sales director with Italian shower brand Novellini, who accused Far Eastern visitors to the company’s stand at ISH of “brazenly taking apart shower enclosures” with a view to copying their designs.

“We at Insignia showers have encountered the same problem at various trade exhibitions over the past few years,” Maclean (pictured) confirmed. “It even occurred at the KBB show three years ago. Having spent many thousands of pounds developing a light system to transmit colour through glass, it was promptly copied here in the UK. At KBB 2014, its first airing, we saw a large influx of Chinese people attempting to take macro photography of detail a consumer would never think of.

“Alerted to their intentions, we swiftly stopped their actions, but explaining our reasons to them was pointless as none spoke English. The result, a few months later saw poor copies offered by factories in China.”

Trying to secure a patent for the product had proved “a total waste of investment”, Maclean said, and it was eventually shelved only a few months into production.

“Counterfeiting couldn’t be arrested fast enough for the outlay of monies in pursuit of cessation,” he explained. “In addition, copies were so poor, we felt strongly it could have repercussions on ourselves. We would see flooding of the market with a product that, to all intents and purposes, looked the same to the consumer, but was vastly inferior. Time would prove the failings and this then could heavily reflect on our product, even though superior. Literally, tens of thousands of pounds were wasted.”

To counteract the problem, Insignia now has its own Chinese offices and works closely with factories under strict contract terms. However, the company is refusing to exhibit at the Canton Fair this year “for the very reasons Novellini, Insignia and others have experienced”.

“Very little innovation is on display and, from our perspective, equates to largely an exercise in factory/client relationship. Even the Chinese are too scared to showcase their own products between each other,” Maclean continued.

“Without question, counterfeit fraud is endemic and needs strict control. A glance through the internet shower cabin market will highlight many copies of our own innovations installed into competitors’ lower-end products. Many cannot be patented, unfortunately, but can be made very much cheaper if quality is sacrificed. None of us have any control in these situations.

“The UK is a very real world leader in innovation, design and invention. We have some marvellous innovators and entrepreneurs. Let’s protect this as best we can, in any way we can. Be mindful of cheap copies and designs. Let’s not forget the old adage – if it looks too good to be true, it is.”

Responding to these claims, Carmen Vetter, head of the proprietary rights department at Hansgrohe, said: “Counterfeit and copying is an issue. We have seen copies of products appearing at trade fairs in other regions of the world. In terms of stand theft, we have not witnessed any activity and nothing on a par with the stand invasions some have reported. We will continue to allow general photography on our stands and our policy is to move visitors along if they start to obstruct other customers or become disruptive. We will continue to liaise with the show organisers with a view to monitoring and ensuring bona fide visitors attend the shows.”

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