Ahead of the curve on counterfeit awareness

Jan. 1, 2020
Advice abounds on how to attract women as customers. Here's a new suggestion: assure them that the parts you sell and/or install are genuine. Because when it comes to counterfeit products, women are way ahead of the curve in consumer awareness.

The automotive industry has gotten the word that women consumers are the new market niche to reach, and advice abounds on how to attract them as customers. Here’s a new suggestion: assure them that the parts you sell and/or install are genuine. Because when it comes to counterfeit products, women are way ahead of the curve in consumer awareness.

Part of the reason women are more aware of the proliferation of counterfeit items is that they are exposed to many other consumer products. I have two true stories from my personal experience to prove my point. As a communications director at an automotive supplier trade association, raising awareness of the issue of counterfeit automotive products is a major part of my job. I thought I was pretty well-informed on the subject, but these incidents raised my awareness.

The first occurred at an appointment with my hairstylist about two years ago. Julie, my stylist, is all about customer service. Among many other perks, she always has a stack of hair-related magazines for customers to browse through during appointments, which is exactly what I was doing.

And there it was — an extensive article on the hair-styling industry’s No. 1 issue: counterfeit products. Even knowing how widespread the counterfeit product problem is, I never thought about my hair care products.

I was shocked and started discussing the issue with Julie and her other customers. To my amazement, they were all well aware of the counterfeit hair product problem. They told me about the safety hazards counterfeit products represent and the importance of purchasing hair styling products from reputable dealers. In fact, the other customers told me they patronized Julie because she assured them she used only genuine products.

A previous columnist in this series mentioned women’s nurturing instincts and how this makes us naturals for automotive customer service positions. True enough — but another industry has shown how to use this nurturing instinct to combat counterfeit products on another front.

While at my gym recently, I flipped through a few major women’s fashion magazines. (I need inspiration to put in my time on the stationary bike and treadmill.) Every publication I perused had feature articles on knock-off designer clothing, handbags and shoes (that’s counterfeiting to you car guys).

These stories went straight for the readers’ hearts: graphic photographs of the child labor and sweatshops where these cheap imitations are made. The article quoted top designers and supermodels about the horrors they witnessed firsthand — and about the fashion industry’s fight against counterfeit products.

Now, the automotive parts industry is not sitting back while the hairstylists and fashion designers fight the battle against counterfeiting. Our industry is at the forefront of the fight. Through our trade associations and industry coalitions, we work tirelessly to stem the tide of counterfeit products, which costs American automotive suppliers approximately $12 billion in sales on a global basis annually.

And we’ve been successful in reaching our country’s decision-makers. The association I work for supports the Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act (H.R. 32) introduced by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), along with other automotive and manufacturing associations. If passed, this bill would add mandatory destruction provisions to the trademark law. It also would clarify that it is illegal for counterfeiters to sell counterfeit versions of the trademarks themselves on labels, patches and medallions, for others to affix to counterfeit products.

We’ve gotten our own share of media attention, too. Fake automotive parts were high on the list of dangerous counterfeit products highlighted in a recent exposé aired on the “CBS Evening News.”

In all of our anti-counterfeiting efforts, we need to remember that the end users of our products — the women and men who depend on their cars to safely transport them and their families — have an important stake in this fight, too. The automotive industry should follow the lead of other industries:

  • We should educate our customers on the serious safety hazards that counterfeit automotive products represent. Unfortunately, the horror stories are many: oil filters stuffed with grass-clippings, brakes made of compressed grass and wood.
  • We should remind our customers that when they purchase a counterfeit part, they jeopardize American manufacturing jobs. Let your customers know that cheap part is really expensive — it is costing lots of people their livelihoods.
  • We should appeal to consumers’ consciences, especially women customers. Since the unscrupulous counterfeiter does not care about the safety of his product’s end user, he certainly cares even less about the health and safety of the workers (often children) who make the product.

As a parts supplier or service provider, you should have a responsibility to know the telltale signs of counterfeit products — the No. 1 being that a bargain part isn’t always a bargain. Check with your supplier, WD or trade association for more information and for tips on what to do if you suspect a part is counterfeit.

My examples from other industries should show you that your women customers know the hazards of counterfeit products. After all, they not only are the family’s decision-makers about car care, they are also the family hair care and clothing experts. Make sure you let them know you stock and sell only quality, genuine parts in your stores.

You will probably find your women customers know as much, or more, than you do about the counterfeit product issue. And you also will find you have some satisfied, loyal and repeat customers as a result.

And that’s a real bargain for all of us.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Vehicle Service Pros, create an account today!