Brand Protection/Investigations, Specialized Bicycles
Larry Griffith, PhD
CEO, Bohning Company, Ltd.
Most of us who have been in brand protection for some time, tend to be a bit paranoid. I think it helps us do our job better. Was there a moment when you knew this fight was on? Or that it had changed?
I think to survive in this current business climate owners and most senior managers are always assessing threats. Brand protection and the protection of intellectual property are always a concern. I think the potential intangible value and possibility of unknown harm for a compromised brand forces leaders to be vigilant.
Given our 70 years in business, brand protection is something we have been cognizant of for several decades. We knew counterfeiting existed but primarily in regards to high-value goods. We watched as it impacted other companies.
Our international customers were the first to raise the warning in 2015. Our customers were our friends as well as our business partners. All of us realized—as a manufacturer, as retail stores selling our product, or even as coaches and trainers—that this threat impacted all of us.
As a CEO, you must have a different perspective than an internal investigator-type like myself. How does this figure into your strategizing?
Perhaps the most difficult aspect is forcing one’s organization to step out of the clinging day-to-day challenges. To tackle brand protection and stave off counterfeiting, leaders must break up employees’ routines, provide employees time to analyze their environment, help them look beyond the immediate horizon and threat. This is very hard to do and it makes people very uncomfortable. Routine and the mundane are comfortable but dangerous.
Leaders do not have all the answers. We set the long-range goal but it is our people who will get us there. Both leaders and those they lead need to understand this. It is not a defined path nor is it straight.
To deal with brand protection and counterfeiters, organizations cannot fall into the trap of “this is the way we have always done it.” If you want the counterfeiters to win, fall for that trap. Manufacturers or those with strong brands must flex and change and force the counterfeiters to react. That means everyone in the organization must change and be agile.
Really nice answer! So imagine I work for you for a moment. What kind of things do you really want to know about what a brand protection professional does that will help you meet your goals?
I want to know what you think, what you see as the threats, and why. I want to see the raw information you see—because, as you note, I am going to have a different perspective than you will—and then will see if I agree. I want to hear your suggestions, what items you do not know how to address, and what other concerns you have, including those you have a gut feel for but cannot put your finger on.
Then I want to start aggressively planning and acting to beat the tar out of those attacking, compromising, or stealing our brand’s IP.
Like any threat, you kill it, destroy it. You make the bad guys know you won’t be an easy target and you will hit back and hard.
I just love that commitment. Our CEO feels quite strongly as well about his life’s work being attacked. I see you are deep into authentication here- https://www.bohning.com/authentication/
What made you go down that route? Has it helped?
Any authentication system can be compromised except a one-time code. As we began to grow our presence in China and other countries where counterfeiting is present, we found such a code the best and most economical means for allowing our consumer and trade customers to know they are receiving the “real thing.”
This is only one part of our program to battle counterfeit products impacting our brands and IP. We have instituted several layers to brand protection. We put in place legal protections where possible, especially where counterfeiters are located. Good lawyers in any country are worth their weight in gold. Sometimes the best way to deal with brand protection and stop counterfeiting is not by directly attacking it but by approaching something from an unexpected direction.
When possible, we visit companies, especially those we believe may be counterfeiting our goods. We also visit outlets we understand are selling counterfeit goods. It is not a defined path nor is it straight.
We often hire native speakers and set up dummy addresses to receive possible counterfeit goods. After analyzing goods, we can determine cost to make counterfeit products and then decide how best to damage the counterfeiter. The more information we can obtain, the better our ability to respond.
Agreed 100% about having locals set up dummy addresses in foreign countries. It can be super valuable for intel.
What do leaders need to understand better to make great decisions on how to fight?
I am not a lawyer but for this task you almost need to be both a corporate leader steeped in business processes who can often find the simple but effective solutions for product protection and the knowledge and skills of an international business lawyer – something very few of us have, certainly very few in the smaller to middle companies.
So it becomes a balancing act. Internal control items: investing continually on improving and changing products, which consumers recognize as value-added attributes (and forcing the counterfeiters to play catch-up). Having employees search the internet and following up leads. Identifying and visiting suspicious organizations are another internal item. Placing discreet marks on our products and ensuring our customer service people know what to look for and the process to quickly raise concerns are another internal method. Finding and hiring lawyers both domestic and international, obtaining IP protection for logos, names, patents for various countries, welcoming and grasping information received from customers about possible fraudulent actions and understanding each country’s processes for enforcement and protection are all part of the brand protection program.
Is you customer base aware of the issue? Are any of them fired up? Have you considered deputizing some super fans that really know your products to hunt? I mean, hunt the counterfeiters, your fans are already hunters of a different sort. That is what I am thinking about a lot right now- “deputizing” loyal customers to help hunting.
While counterfeit products do arrive in the USA, we see them primarily overseas. Over time we have visited as many of our international customers as we could. We have developed a respect and knowledge of each other and our respective businesses. They are very loyal. So when these friends and customers see and hear of counterfeit goods they enjoy helping in the hunt.
More importantly, they know the information they provide will cause a series of actions to occur. They know we will not shy away from the attack nor will we do anything to compromise their position. No one likes a thief, which is what counterfeiters are. Like any type of corruption, our customers are in the forefront of helping us to remove it.
At the end of the day they know actions speak louder than words. We act and attack.
THE BRAND PROTECTION PROFESSIONAL |DECEMBER 2017| VOLUME 2 NUMBER 4
COPYRIGHT 2017 MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES