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March 28, 2006

Brand Recognition & Home Furnishings

I was speaking with a well-known product designer who was worried that the Internet was enabling his designs to be copied and knocked off by factories in Asia. Sadly he's right. But the answer is not to pull up the drawbridge, or eliminate all images of products from the Internet. (Note to readers: this is an actual strategy by some misguided companies.)

While the temptation is great to lock up the designs and funnel customers to product only through the front doors of retailers who have purchased the goods -- this goes against the grain of what the rest of us want. Time has become so compressed that all of us consumers want the ability to research online, validate our decision and then and only then schlep to a store to make a purchase.

But that doesn't mean the designers and manufacturers have to roll over for the rip-off artists. Look at the music and motion picture industries which are faced with the same knock-off infringements perpetrated in countries that do not follow international copyright laws. Still, music insiders concede that without the net, there would be NO music sales. Kids listen to everything digitally -- and buy it all as downloads. There are studies that show that the bootleg actually increases the sale of real.

In fact, every consumer product can be knocked off -- Nike sneakers, Manolo Blahnik shoes, Gucci purses, Rolex watches -- but in all those cases the manufacturer has built equity into the BRAND. Most furniture brands are worthless: the retailer has ripped the tag off the furniture for 50 years, marketing products under its name instead.

Manufacturers have to start building their brand equity so when i go shopping I only want a specific label (signed by the Product designer!!) because the brand exudes sexiness and brilliance -- and I want my purchase to be associated with sexy and brilliant.

Manufacturers can keep their products off the web -- and out of site of our Googling fingers. They will be ripped off less -- but unfortunately out of business in 5 years.

What do you think? Do brands mean anything to you?


Tell Us Your Thoughts Here!

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Comment on This Article Here! Brand Recognition & Home Furnishings:

Hello there. I own a storefront business, and handle original 20th century Modernist design. The issue you raise is an interesting one to me not only because of my career and the fact I too am a collector & an artist, but I have friends who are designers dealing with the broader rip-off issues we face.

This is NOT a new issue. People have always copied things & ideas from each other. Sometimes it is THIS activity that eventually creates a new or at least improved concept. NONE THE LESS, I am on the side of protecting the artist/designer, and making sure they reap the rewards of what is usually very hard, expensive, time-consuming work. The Web merely amplifies what has always gone on. The growth of free-market Asian countries is of course the main concern these days.

It is, as you put it, the "schlepping" to a store that becomes more and more important, as people gain more and more intrinsic faith in the web as not just a tool, but a destination. This faith can be misplaced. (Clearly, with my own web site, I CANNOT be anti-web, but I DO understand the limits of perception it can transmit to a viewer. Let's leave liars, cons, puffers, and the naive out of today's discussion!) In MY business of handling ONLY proper, historical pieces, my relationship to your subject (and some of my less informed customers) is within the idea that originals are usually better, and always the investment, whereas knock offs are not, plain and simple.

For example:

The quality of materials used does not improve with new items, even when copying an old item. What was once made to last 100 years, is now made to last 5 years (Ikea's production philosophy, stated by the owner). I saw the latest wave of cutting corners arrive in the 1970's, and hit us full force by the 80's. It has not improved since then. When Michael Graves released his first line of items for Target, I wanted a few of those things for my collection. I discovered I needed to open & inspect as many as TEN boxes - right there in the store - to find ONE object that wasn't already falling apart.

The quality of construction is linked to materials, but also a time factor on the assembly line. It is now not only shabby, but dangerous. Watch the RECALLS section of "Consumer Reports". People are put at risk every day by bad design, cheap materials, and shoddy assembly. This is NOT merely an issue of appearance, folks!

The three main countries I see sending out the absolute worst fakes of vintage and new designs are China, Taiwan, and Italy.

"Bootlegs" of music are one thing. A poorly copied album does not break down and send you crashing into a building. A poorly copied film does not collapse and cause you to break a leg. Poorly made cars, furniture, medical equipment, electrical wiring, architectural supplies, food stuffs, or mountain climbing equipment CAN KILL YOU or someone you love.

Let's face it: there ARE things you need to seek out - "schlep" - touch, drive, sit upon, smell, feel, listen to, and study before you purchase - if you have any concern for your investment, enjoyment, and safety.

"Brand Equity" is much more than its shallow glitz of social insecurity (although sadly, an effective tool for much of the public). REAL brand equity is an insurance policy. You are INSURED a safer, longer lasting, wise investment from one company, and a dangerous, short lived, waste of your money from another. Anyone here collecting Yugos? Have you purchased a Chinese toaster, and do you leave it plugged in?? (or for THAT matter, what about the neighbor in the apartment below you??!)

No brand is 100% reliable. Design mistakes can happen with the very best companies. The difference is in percentages and what is done about it. I go with the odds. I want a better, longer lasting, stronger, safer item with investment potential and an almost indescribable "Beauty" as opposed to "Cool".

Thanks for the opportunity to speak up.

Ronn Ives, owner
FUTURES Antiques
Norfolk, Virginia
www.futuresantiques.com

Posted by: Ronn Ives | Mar 29, 2006 11:01:14 AM

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