- By Tom Kirkman
(This article originally appeared RodMaker Magazine, Volume 5 #6)
How can you really be sure that the blanks you're buying are, in fact, what you think they are?
Custom Rod Building has entered a new era of growth. With this growth we are certainly seeing some positive benefits, but unfortunately we're also seeing some negatives as well. One of the greatest causes for concern regards that of misrepresentation or outright counterfeiting of rod blanks. The rod building industry is not unlike others in that where there is money to be made, unscrupulous individuals will find a way to invade the market and make gains at the expense of the consumer and the industry.
Most of us take for granted that when we receive our rod blank orders we are getting exactly what we think we're getting - what the seller told us we were getting. More and more, however, there is a fair chance that what you are getting may not be what you think it is.
1. Pictured are two blanks from different manufacturers. Can you tell the difference and which company made which blank? Probably not. By their very nature, rod blanks are long cylindrical objects that all look pretty much the same. Even color cannot be counted on to discern one company's product from that of another.
2. First quality blanks are nearly always packaged in a poly bag with the manufacturer's own header card attached. Note that in these bags the manufacturers have included decals which may be attached to the rod if the builder so wishes. Either way, the decals are further proof of a first quality product from the named manufacturer.
3. Even if a blank does not come packed in a poly bag, it should come with either a label and/or decal-sticker showing the model number and manufacturer. If you believe you bought a first quality product, but does not have any accompanying identification, you may have taken possession of something that is not what it was claimed to be. If in doubt, do not be afraid to ask questions of your dealer and the supposed manufacturer. Misrepresentations and counterfeiting are problems that they wish to uncover and eliminate.
There are several situations we are seeing lately that need to be addressed. The first is one that the manufacturers have actually created for themselves. In the normal process of making rod blanks, there will be some blanks that don't pass the final quality control check. They may be fine in many ways, but for whatever reason, the manufacturer will not release them as first quality product. Destroying these blanks would seem the best thing for all concerned, but any blanks that have to be culled and destroyed must have their cost of production spread among the first quality models which that manufacturer sells. For many years blank manufacturers have sold their cosmetic blems, crooked, or otherwise culled and rejected blanks. Usually, these are offered in bulk to dealers who are then allowed to sell them either under the company's brand name, but only under the designation of "second" or "blem". Sometimes the dealer is asked not to mention the company's name, and they turn up simply as "blems from a major blank manufacturer" or some such similar moniker.
But a problem creeps in if and when a dealer or reseller gains access to these type blanks and decides to advertise them as first quality product. This can and does happen, and the unsuspecting consumer pays for what he or she believes to be a first quality product, possibly from a particular manufacturer, and ends up with something that is not what they were led to believe it was. You can conjure up the myriad of troublesome situations this causes.
The blank manufacturers are in a bit of bind here - they would like to recover some of their investment by selling any culls and rejects that could still be built into sound, functional rods. Yet by releasing anything other than first quality quality product to the market, they are only contributing to the problem of blank misrepresentation. They should not complain when their own seconds or blems, which they released to the market, come back to bite them in the butt. This scenario is easily solved, however. Manufacturers should adopt of policy of absolutely never selling or releasing anything but their first quality product. What it costs them in terms of having to eat the production cost of a certain percentage of their own culls and rejects will be more than made up for in the long run by not having to deal with the headaches that putting these seconds on the market is causing.
The next situation is a bit more troublesome. It regards those companies who do not actually make their own blanks, but have them made to their specs by someone else and then sell them under their own brand name. In those cases, they will return any blanks which do not meet their quality standards or specs. Unlike the manufacturers who make their own blanks and thus can control the destiny of their own product, these firms are sending their culls and rejects back to a manufacturer who may end up doing a number of things with those returned blanks. Sometimes those blanks had brand name identification stickers placed on them for the company who contracted to have them made. When they are returned, those stickers may still be in place. You can imagine what happens when the maker decides to sell those blanks that have been rejected and returned, in bulk, to a dealer or reseller. I doubt any of the reputable blank makers in the U.S. would purposely mislead any reseller into believing that these are first quality product. Still, once the blanks wind up in the hands of the person buying them, those identification labels, or even just the knowledge of who the blanks were originally made for, can be used to defraud the consumer. Let the blanks change hands a few times, particularly if they are bought and sold in bulk, and the misrepresentation of those blanks becomes even more likely.
It's not just the consumer who loses in this instance - companies' reputations are on the line too. When a good number of blanks which are not first quality product, but have been represented as being so, suddenly fail to live up to the buyers' expectations, a company's reputation can be tarnished rather quickly.
This scenario is a bit tricky to solve, but there should be a method whereby the parties involved in manufacturing and eventually accepting or rejecting the blanks, can ensure that if seconds, blems or rejects are sold, they are marked in such a way that identifies them as being less than first quality product. Some sort of universal marking system needs to be developed and put into place. Something that would allow rod builders to know that what they are buying is less than a first quality product from any manufacturer. It may be as simple as some red spray paint shot onto and into the butts of any blanks that are rejected, culled, returned, etc. Something that would take too much time for any fraudulent reseller to remove, yet be quick and easy for the company the blanks were made for to apply. It wouldn't take long for any builder who bought a blank with the butt painted red, or the identification label plastered with red paint, to learn that this "mark" identifies the blank as somebody's reject, or at least something less than first quality product.
There is still another scenario in terms of blank misrepresentation and it is by far the scariest one for custom rod builders if not the blank making industry in general. We have entered a new era in counterfeiting. Right now, I can obtain unmarked blanks and easily, on my computer and printer, create a label that I guarantee you cannot tell from those of any major blank manufacturer or reseller. I can bag that blank with a header card that exactly matches that of any blank company, drop the fake decal in the bag, and sell the blank as a first quality product from the blank manufacturer. I can get any color blank I want, from a Winston green to a Loomis IMX natural buffed grey. I can sell this to a dealer, who then sells it to you. To make it even harder to trace, I can turn the blank through a few more hands to cover my tracks that much further. This scenario is scary, because it is almost impossible to prevent or stop.
For many years, wise rod builders have identified blanks which they received bagged with a factory header card and the manufacturer's label, sticker or decal either on the blank or included in the bag, as first quality product. This has long been the standard method used to ensure you are getting the manufacturer's first quality stuff and can expect it to perform and be warrantied as any first quality product should.
But as custom rod building continues to grow and some individuals see the opportunity to make money by passing off fakes, such counterfeits are going to appear. In fact, in some cases they already have.
Luckily for us, at least at this point in time, such clever counterfeits are in the minority of what we would consider misrepresented blanks. The first two scenarios which were outlined previously are the ones that are most common and cause the most problems. And both of those have solutions which lie in the hands of those who make the blanks.
Rod builders need to pay attention to what they are buying. If you are actually seeking a blem or second type rod blank, go right ahead, but be very careful in how you choose to represent that blank or a rod you have built on it, to anyone who you might sell it to. The fact is, you really don't know for sure what you have there. Don't compound the problem if at all possible. If you are buying blems or seconds, don't assume anything.
If you are buying a first quality product, it should have the manufacturer's nomenclature either screen-printed on the blank, or included with the blank on a decal or label of some sort. If it doesn't, you need to ask some questions.
It's also wise to keep in mind that when a deal seems too good to be true, there may be problems. Sure, there are good deals to be had and often you gain access to some first quality blanks which a builder who is getting out of the business just wants to get rid of. Same thing with a dealer who is closing out a line of blanks or is overstocked and needs to generate some cash flow or make some room. In these cases, good blanks can often be purchased at a great price. But you need to be careful - there is an equally good chance that someone could be trying to move something that isn't what you think it is, or what it is being represented as. No dealer or reseller should get angry just because the buyer wants a little more information on what he's about to purchase.
What about counterfeits that really do look like and are labeled as the real thing? Get to know your dealer. Buy from reputable dealers and resellers. Most of these guys aren't going to take the chance on obtaining blanks from questionable sources so it's not a stretch to trust what they are selling you.
Because their reputation is on the line, most blank manufacturers are more than happy to discuss any suspicions or problems you are having with blanks that are represented as being theirs. When in doubt, call and ask. If we all work together, we can make it tough for those with shady motives to operate within our craft and industry.
~ Tom Kirkman