Perhaps the most frustrating element to this complex issue is the fact that it can be so difficult to quantify the lost sales of a valid lighting company. MEMA's vice president of communication, Neal Zipser, elaborates on this: "Obviously you have lost sales, which is first. Second, you've got any type of litigation costs, as well as dilution of the brand name. If it's a counterfeit product, it's a good possibility they're finding out about it through their warranty return channel, so they'll see higher warranty and return costs," he says. "They might have to change their packaging to try to stay ahead of the counterfeiters, so that's another cost there.
Truck-Lite's perspective is similar when dealing with the exasperating scenario of potential lost business: "It is really difficult to guess how much we have really lost," Van Riper says. "Even worse are the losses for our customers, which tend to manifest themselves in performance and safety issues."
FLEETS: HOW TO SPOT A THIEF
Lost business for a manufacturer most likely means eventual trickle down costs for fleets. A fleet manager can address the issue of counterfeit and non-compiant parts by refusing to purchase them. This requires having enough knowledge to know which parts are non-compliant, how to avoid them and why.
"We are helping our customers gain awareness of the responsibilities of a lighting manufacturer," Van Riper says. He goes on to describe ways in which a buyer may get more than they bargain for when purchasing a non-compliant product from an unregistered foreign supplier, such as the "potential product liability that each of them assumes by buying products that do not have a US address."
Duggan gives a few suggestions for how fleets can protect themselves before purchase: "Customers should beware that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. There's a reason why it is so cheap," he says. "If it's from a supplier or a source other than a known source for this kind of regulated product, well, that might throw up a caution too. Why is this guy who doesn't normally sell lighting... why is he doing this?"
Zipser adds, "One of the problems, obviously, is on the packaging you find on the aftermarket products," he says. "A lot of the non-compliant companies will put down that they do comply with the standards when in fact they don't. There's definitely a deceiving trying to go on to the truck part buyer or the fleet manager."
Financial stress is an important result of this process, and obviously safety is too. Counterfeit products that are also non-compliant can result in a safety burden on fleets. One way of keeping the costs down in a counterfeit product is by cutting corners, and it is often the safety and reliability that get thrown by the wayside. In addition, a company that is using another company's brand is less likely to be motivated by registered safety organizations, or by wanting to maintain a quality reputation in the marketplace.
"A lot of times counterfeit products are cheaply made; often they are imported—not always, but often they are imported—so not only are they violations of trademark, they don't meet the federal safety standard either," Duggan says.
A fleet that is operating with a non-compliant product could spend less initially, but find later that the product causes more unforseen safety and maintenance concerns than it is worth.
Fortunately for legitimate lighting manufacturers, there are organizations like TSEI to provide help. Dominic Grote, vice president of sales and marketing for Grote Industries and current president of TSEI, describes its benefits.
"Grote has been an active member of TSEI since its founding in 1962," Grote says. "TSEI has taken proactive steps to educate the public, including end-users, distributors and OEMs, about the fact that a non-compliant product in the marketplace poses a safety risk to end-users, as well as distributors and OEMs from a liability standpoint."
Grote continues, "We, along with other TSEI members, firmly believe that there are no shortcuts to quality and compliant lighting systems."
THE TSEI SOLUTION
Luckily for fleets, TSEI is on the job, hoping to stop counterfeit and non-compliant products before they reach someone at the purchase decision point. This includes trying to get more government accountability for compliancy issues. According to Duggan, the government is willing:
"We lobby for compliance with standards," Duggan says. "But we don't need to convince the government of anything; they want to enforce their standards."