Subscriptions eNews Send Us Files Login

Hearth & Home November 2018

Amazon: A Necessary Evil?

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Theft of intellectual property, aided and abetted by Amazon, is hurting the barbecue industry. Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, has the power to change that.

In the year since Hearth & Home first reported on the rampant counterfeiting of grills and accessories by overseas manufacturers, many more barbecue companies have come forward to reveal how intellectual property theft has decimated their companies’ sales, drained finances, caused physical and emotional stress, damaged their reputations, and in some cases, nearly driven them out of business.

It doesn’t make it easier to learn the problem is not exclusive to the barbecue industry. Counterfeiting is pervasive, worldwide, and targets every type of product from agricultural crops to technology to consumer goods. According to Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, “counterfeiting and pirating of pharmaceuticals, consumables, luxury goods, and intellectual property is the biggest single trans-national criminal activity, likely exceeding US $1trillion in retail value.”

The International Chamber of Commerce estimates illicit trade robs the economy of 2.5 million jobs and local governments of hundreds of billions in tax revenues, while posing a health and safety risk to millions of consumers. Forbes reports that by 2022, the retail value of counterfeit goods is expected to reach $2.8 trillion and cost 5.4 million jobs.  

FBI director Christopher Wray points the finger at Chinese companies as the biggest perpetrators of this illicit activity. In an interview with Norah O’Donnell on “CBS This Morning,” Wray calls economic espionage from China a “top priority” in the FBI’s overall counterintelligence mission. “They’re trying to steal our trade secrets, our ideas, our innovation,” he says.

According to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of 36 member countries working to improve economic and social conditions around the globe, over 60% of the world’s knock-offs originate in China. Others, such as “The Counterfeit Report,” a watchdog group dedicated to exposing and fighting counterfeiting, blame China for up to 90% of the world’s fake products.

According to “The Counterfeit Report,” 10 years ago, the majority of counterfeit goods made it to the U.S. via containers on cargo ships. Today, unscrupulous businesses peddle fake products through online marketplaces and ship them directly to consumers, making it harder to identify and seize the items. Globally, the biggest online source of illicit goods is Chinese-based Alibaba, and its off-shoot AliExpress, both classified as a “Notorious Market” by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the government agency responsible for developing, coordinating, and negotiating international trade. To reach U.S. consumers, counterfeiters sell on eBay, Facebook, Groupon, and even Ace Hardware’s Internet site, but their online channel of choice is Amazon.

Victims of counterfeiting in the barbecue industry say Amazon is complicit in the theft of intellectual property. According to one manufacturer who did not wish to be identified, Amazon purposely sets up competition between the site’s “direct-sales retail” division, where legitimate manufacturers sell their own legitimate products, and its “marketplace” division, where third-party-sellers peddle products – often fakes – at lowball prices.

TOP: A screenshot of Smokeware’s official Stainless Steel Chimney Cap on Amazon.
BOTTOM: A screenshot of a counterfeit copy under a different name.

Illicit vendors manipulate the system by selling at lower prices so they are listed highest in search results and score the coveted Buy Box position. It’s difficult for consumers to distinguish the dishonest sellers because fake products frequently carry the “Prime” badge and the implied endorsement of being “fulfilled by Amazon.” Even when counterfeit sellers are booted from the site, they often reopen under a new name within days. Because Amazon shields its contact information, it’s difficult to identify and locate fraudulent manufacturers to deliver cease-and-desist orders.

“The situation is getting worse and has been devastating to my business,” says the barbecue manufacturer. (He is one of a number of manufacturers Hearth & Home spoke with who did not want to be identified for reasons that range from a condition of settlement against patent infringers to concerns over biting the hand that feeds them.)

According to CNBC.com, Amazon’s counterfeit issue “goes largely undiscussed by CEO Jeff Bezos and ignored by investors and analysts,” noting, “very few (merchants and manufacturers) are willing to speak on the record out of fear of retribution from Amazon.”

According to the Denver Post, “In trying to provide the lowest-cost option for virtually every product on the planet, the company opened the doors to merchants from across the globe with little respect for intellectual property, despite an anti-counterfeiting policy that prohibits the sale of inauthentic items. That’s enabled manufacturers and third-party sellers, largely from China, to take advantage of cheaper production and labor costs to compete on the Amazon market.”

The situation is expected to get worse. According to eMarketer Retail, Amazon’s marketplace sales are exploding and now account for 68% of sales on the site, compared to 32% for direct sales. It says that, by 2019, marketplace sales are expected to account for 70% of Amazon’s e-commerce business. eMarketer Retail reports 69% of consumers prefer to shop at online marketplaces because it’s easy to compare brands and prices, make purchases from multiple brands, and pay for everything in one transaction.

“The thing people need to understand,” FBI director Wray says, “is that this has an impact on everyday people. It has an impact on American businesses. It has an impact on American jobs. It has an impact on American consumers.”

Indeed it does.

Chad Romzek, Owner/Creator of Kick Ash Basket, and his wife Tracy.

The Fallout

Chad Romzek loved cooking on the kamado grill he first purchased in 2009, but wished there were an easier way to clean out the ashes and salvage remaining chunks of charcoal for the next use. When his online search for such a product came up empty, he developed his own – the Kick Ash Basket. The heavy-duty wire basket holds charcoal in the base of a kamado, and when cooking is finished, it can be lifted out, the ashes shaken off, leftover coal pieces saved, and returned to the grill ready to be reloaded for the next cook. The product also improves airflow and facilitates fire lighting, according to the manufacturer.

In 2013, with what he calls a “pork-butt business plan” (i.e. low-and-slow), Romzek took his design to a Wisconsin-based manufacturer and ordered 100 baskets, only to discover he had based the size on a discontinued kamado model. Undeterred, he invested in retooling, ordered another batch and started a Facebook page to promote it. Sales of the basket grew steadily through grassroots publicity, word-of-mouth, and recommendations on blogs, social media, and kamado forums. Romzek introduced new models to fit a greater variety of kamado brands and sizes, eventually leaving his job as a mechanical engineer at Kimberly Clark to join his wife, Tracy, working at their company full time.

Romzek took the patented baskets to HPBExpo in 2016, where he found an enthusiastic reception among retail buyers. During the course of the show, however, he discovered that two baskets had been stolen from his booth display. “Whether it’s a coincidence or not, six months later knock-offs started showing up on Amazon,” he says. “We reported to Amazon that the counterfeit products violated our patents and that they were potentially toxic. Our baskets are made from stainless steel, but the knock-offs were coated in powder-coat paint that could emit off-gasses when burned under a hot charcoal fire.”

Romzek says Amazon was “pretty responsive” and shut the counterfeit sellers down, only to have new ones pop up time after time in a vicious cycle. He and his patent attorney theorize these counterfeiters, and others like them, use after-market software to track legitimate products’ sales and reviews on Amazon, and once they hit a certain threshold, start copying.

“They’re heartless,” he says. “They steal our intellectual property and ask for forgiveness later. This year we’re down 10 to 15% in volume. Some of this could be due to declines in the kamado grill business, but a lot is due to knock-offs. I have easily spent $30,000 this year on getting and defending design and utility patents. It’s very expensive. The other part that sucks is that we have established relationships with retailers and customers, but they see counterfeiters selling product well below the retail price – even below wholesale. We like having relationships with retailers because they can explain the product and have a passion for cooking that’s missing in an online sale. But some consumers want to pay the least possible and like the convenience of shopping online.

“How do we convince them that there’s a difference; that our product is better, our service is better, we offer a three-year warranty? Do we pull out of Amazon? Amazon is the Beast – a necessary evil. They’re not helping us; we can’t even get someone on the phone. We keep trying to stay ahead of the counterfeiters by developing new products. But how do you make a product Amazon-proof?”

That’s a question with which many manufacturers are wrestling.

One barbecue industry manufacturer, who did not want to be identified, says he has lost in excess of $100,000 in sales and spent $20,000 in legal fees as a result of the issue since December 2017. Counterfeiters aren’t just knocking off his company’s products, they are copying his brand name, packaging, and website information. The situation came to a head when he started receiving dozens of complaints about disintegrating product, missing instruction manuals, and even misspellings on packaging. Though none of the products in question was his, the manufacturer honored the warranty on the counterfeit goods at his cost.

Amazon eventually shut down accounts for six of the counterfeit sellers, but in doing so, the online giant also closed the legitimate manufacturer’s listing. To make matters worse, Amazon comingled his authentic inventory with the counterfeit products in its warehouse, so when consumers ordered from rightful authorized sellers, it was a Russian roulette-style crap shoot whether they would be shipped a real product or a fake. The fiasco cost him $15,000 in lost sales and product replacement.

“The counterfeiters are ruthless and prey mostly on the little guys,” the manufacturer says. “If we had the sales that were going to counterfeiters, we could have hired another employee and even paid more taxes to our community.”

An after-market cart that holds a kamado grill, by Mike Chance.

Mike Chance.

Mike Chance, founder of Innovations by Chance, a company that develops and manufactures clever, problem-solving, after-market accessories for kamados, says sales of some of his patented products are off by as much as 50% due to intellectual property theft. He says the simple design of his patented Grate Rack, a device that attaches to a Big Green Egg Nest to hold the grilling grid while lighting or replenishing charcoal, has made it an easy target for counterfeiters who offer inferior-quality fakes at low prices on Amazon.

“I sell primarily to brick-and-mortar retail stores and distributors, but some consumers only want to buy online, so we work with one authorized Amazon reseller who respects the pricing policies we’ve set to protect our independent dealers. Otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom,” Chance explains.

The fallout from counterfeiting is proving to be a race to the bottom of his checkbook. “It costs $700 to $1,000 every time we have our attorney write a letter to Amazon,” he says. “Amazon will take the counterfeiter down, but it reopens the next day under a different name. These counterfeiters sell through Amazon, and Amazon warehouses and fulfills the orders, so the way I see it, Amazon is in receipt of stolen goods the same way thieves warehouse stolen Gucci bags. It’s crazy that Amazon gets away with this. They don’t care that it’s happening, because they get paid either way.”

It took Richard Looft, an award-winning stage and film director in Sweden, nine years to take his Looftlighter from idea to prototype to market, but less than one year for knock-offs to appear. A German company initially counterfeited the patented device, designed to ignite charcoal and wood quickly and efficiently by forced hot air. To date, Looftlighter has been knocked-off by 23 companies from the U.S., Denmark, Netherlands, China, and other countries, selling on Amazon, eBay, and even Ace Hardware websites. The illicit lighters, some even copying the Looftlighter name, logo, and exact descriptive copy, are of dramatically inferior quality and perform poorly.

Richard Looft demonstrating his patented design, the Looftlighter.

“As Oscar Wilde said, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” says Looft. “I guess this is evidence that we have a popular product, but it is hurting us and has had an impact on our sales, for sure. We have paid a lot of money to lawyers working on this issue, and it’s very expensive. We are a small company and a family business. We are taking steps to combat (counterfeiting), but we have to find different ways to fight, like educating consumers about our quality and warranty so they trust us.

“If we put all our time and money into fighting this issue, we won’t have enough left of either to invest in new product development, marketing, or sales. We need to be spending our time selling our product and building our brand. If we have a strong brand it’s like having a strong body with a good immune system. Hopefully, we can fight the virus.”

Andrew Irvin, owner of GrillPartsSearch.com, sells a wide selection of exact-fit replacement parts for most of the top grill brands, and has invented and patented an innovative, adjustable, universal replacement burner that he licenses to grill manufacturers who make it under their brand names. He started small in 2006, building a website, and packing and shipping orders out of his garage. He gained customers by offering a price-match guarantee if they found replacement parts of equal quality selling for less.

In 2015, the lure of Amazon proved too hard to resist, and Irvin began selling on the site. By 2017, he started getting calls from consumers saying they found parts online for less – far less, in fact, than Irving could buy them for wholesale. Turns out “dozens and dozens, if not hundreds” of Amazon sellers were peddling low-quality copies of the authentic parts he was sourcing from American-based suppliers. He gave up trying to explain this to customers and stopped offering the price-match guarantee. “We’d lose money at the prices they were selling at,” he says. According to Irvin, 27 sellers are infringing on his licensed, patented, universal burner.

Andrew Irvin.

“We are a small company and we’ve had to cut staff over this,” he says. “My staff is made up of friends, so it hurts us and it hurts their families.” To add insult to injury, Irvin says Amazon suspended his own company’s account and froze more than $5,000 in funds for orders that had already been fulfilled, over what he describes as a minor issue with a handful of tracking numbers. “We try to get it fixed but no one from the company ever replies,” he says.

Matt Merritt of Smokeware feels Irvin’s pain. The inventor, manufacturer, and authorized seller of his own and other entrepreneurs’ unique grilling accessories, says his company does over $1 million in business on Amazon annually, yet has no dedicated contact person for his account. “All calls (to Amazon) are handled by a call center in a foreign country, with a different representative every time you call,” he says. “You have to send a letter and the process takes weeks to resolve.”

Matt Merritt.

He knows that through experience. His “Lifter,” a handled apparatus designed to easily insert or remove a kamado’s cumbersome heat-diffuser plate, was knocked off within months of its placement on Amazon. “Chinese companies were selling low-quality fakes on Amazon for less than I could make it for,” Merritt says. “They copied our design and were even using our product images.”

He says selling his product under patent-pending status, rather than waiting the three to four years for patents to be issued, made it easier for counterfeiters to do damage. “Once the patents were granted, I could go back to seek recourse, but I couldn’t identify the companies because Amazon protects them by concealing their identities. Amazon has created a legitimate way for stolen goods to be sold in the U.S. without recourse.”

Merritt also blames Amazon for adding fuel to the counterfeit fire by painting a theoretical bullseye on products’ backs. “Counterfeiters don’t have to do much work to identify which products to knock off because Amazon actually suggests products they should make,” he says. “Amazon proactively contacts sellers to say, ‘XYZ Product is under-represented on Amazon.’ They literally recommend specific products for these crooks to target. The counterfeiters jump on it and sell their knock-offs at low prices. Prices (on the legitimate product) go down, margins erode, and soon legitimate manufacturers and sellers can no longer afford to make it, and the real product is wiped out.”  

The Smokeware Lifter allows safe and easy removal of the heat difusser plate – another product that was knocked-off.

An adjustable burner that was knocked-off.

Amazon: A Partner in Crime?

Critics say Amazon has no incentive to clean up its act because it is paid fees for every item sold, whether authentic or counterfeit, by its two million affiliated sellers. By fostering cutthroat competition among companies that sell on the site, Amazon ensures the lowest prices for the consumers that buy on the site, thereby earning shoppers’ respect, loyalty, and repeat business.

In fact, for the past three years, consumers have voted Amazon the number-one most reputable company, according to Harris Poll studies. Shoppers turn to Amazon as a product-research tool, trust its user reviews, and appreciate its convenience, good customer service, quick delivery, and hassle-free returns. Many rely on it as the go-to source for all types of goods at low prices. According to eMarketer Retail, nearly half (46.7%) of all online product searches in the U.S. begin on Amazon today, compared with 34.6% that start on Google. These figures have reversed from just three years ago.

But, as great as Amazon may be for consumers, manufacturers and retailers are not feeling the love. According to Bloomberg.com, “Amazon has become a verb because of the damage it can inflict on other companies. To be ‘Amazoned’ means to have your business crushed because the company got into your industry. Fear of being ‘Amazoned’ has become such a defining feature of commerce, it’s easy to forget the phenomenon has risen mostly in about three years.”

Forbes called Amazon “a cesspool” of counterfeiting, fraud, fake reviews, data hacking, and bribed employees.

The company’s tentacles have a wide reach, disrupting nearly every industry. It already offers an Amazon credit card and is reportedly creating an Amazon digital bank that would be a gateway to ATMs and banking kiosks at Whole Foods and elsewhere, and would provide access to data on customer finances and spending, according to eMarketer Retail. Data is also reportedly the reason behind its exploration of the home-mortgage business. According to Bloomberg.com, mortgage applications would allow Amazon to mine information on consumers’ personal assets, bank accounts, 401Ks, employment information, credit scores, and more.

Amazon’s Alexa Fund, its $100 million venture-capital arm, has teamed with other investors to fund a company making sustainable, prefabricated homes using digitized production that cuts construction time by 50% and costs by 10 to 25%.

The online retailer is increasingly entering the brick-and-mortar retail realm. Last year, Amazon purchased Whole Foods with 490 retail locations in North America and the United Kingdom. It has opened dozens of Amazon Pop-Up stores in malls and at Kohl’s stores, and just launched the first Amazon 4-Star Store in the hip SoHo area of New York City, offering a selection of some of the best-selling, 4-star-rated, new-and-trending products from its site.

It is partnering with Good Housekeeping magazine on a 2,800 sq.ft. pop-up store at the Mall of America from October through December this year, displaying 40 Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval items in room vignettes so consumers can visualize how the products might be used in their homes. Plus, it just announced plans to launch up to 3,000 “Amazon Go” cashier-less retail stores by 2021, utilizing cameras, sensors, and a smartphone app to automatically track product selections and charge purchases to shoppers’ credit cards. A Reuters news agency report says Amazon Go “is widely seen as a concept that can alter brick-and-mortar retail.”

“Amazon Go” Beta Test Store on the Amazon Campus in Seattle, Washington.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports consumers’ Amazon accounts have been hacked by unscrupulous counterfeiters in order to post fake 5-star reviews in the consumers’ names on products they never purchased. Posters on Amazon sellers’ forums tell stories of fake negative reviews being hurled against legitimate products to make the counterfeit options look better. It’s a growing problem and Amazon has reportedly booted more than 1,000 sellers and manufacturers for “reviews abuse.” Knowing how influential reviews are in purchase decisions today, it is a significant issue.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a study from Marketplace Pulse showing one-third of the one million active sellers on Amazon are from China, with 250,000 of them having entered the marketplace in 2017 alone. According to the article, Amazon holds conferences in China regularly to promote its site and invite Chinese businesses to sell on the platform.

Entrepreneurial Amazon “experts” have even launched consulting businesses, hosting hundreds and hundreds of classes to teach Chinese companies “what Americans want” and how to sell to them effectively on the platform. “Many of the (attendees) have small factories producing for foreign brands and now want to cut out the middleman,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper also reveals that unscrupulous Amazon employees in China are illegally selling data the company collects regarding sellers’ sales volume, members’ buying habits, reviewers’ email addresses, and other proprietary statistical information. Some employees also are reportedly accepting bribes to “game the system,” including removing negative reviews – the going rate is $300 per review with a minimum of five reviews, according to the article. It says, “Potential internal corruption is the latest challenge Amazon faces in upholding its platform’s integrity, after problems with fake product reviews and counterfeit merchandise.”

Why Not Just Quit Amazon? It’s Not that Simple.

The reasons for wanting to sell on the online site are compelling. Amazon just hit the trillion-dollar value mark and its 2018 sales topped $258 billion, up nearly 30% from last year. Fifty percent of all U.S. e-commerce dollars will be spent on the site by the end of 2018, up from 44% in 2017. A June 2018 study by Bizrate Insights found that 41.5% of U.S. Internet users had bought something on the online marketplace in the past 30 days. A survey by Dering Hall even found that 84% of design professionals turn to the Internet to source products.

The company has more than 100 million Prime members worldwide, who each pay $119 per year to subscribe. An estimated 56.4 million U.S. households have a Prime subscription today, a figure that is expected to reach nearly 65 million by 2020. On Prime Day 2017 alone, members ordered more than 40 million items, a 60% jump over Prime Day 2016.

According to eMarketer Retail, brands are often willing to relinquish some control over their products and direct relationships with consumers for the opportunity to reach Amazon’s huge consumer audience. In fact, Amazon reports more than 300,000 small U.S. businesses started selling on its site in 2017 alone.

“You feel as if you don’t put your product on Amazon, you’re missing an opportunity to be found by consumers,” explains Brad Barrett, founder and CEO of GrillGrate, a grilling grid accessory. When his product, packaging, and even the instruction booklet were knocked off within months of first listing on Amazon, he responded by backing off the site. “We purposely didn’t emphasize or try to grow our Amazon business because of the issues, but now I think that has hurt our sales,” he says.

“We are looking to hire a data ninja to manage our Amazon marketplace business and try to protect ourselves as best as possible,” Barrett continues. “In years past, the railroads carried goods. Today, the Internet is the train that controls the flow of goods, and Amazon is the equivalent of a modern-day robber baron. Unfortunately, it’s almost become a cost of doing business.”

Progress in the Battle

The counterfeit issue is getting more attention in national business, trade, and consumer media. Watchdog groups such as “The Counterfeit Report” provide consumer education and awareness outreach, and also offer services and support to U.S. and global companies to combat counterfeiters and fakes. Data analytics company Fakespot uses patented algorithms to analyze online product reviews on sites such as Amazon, and to weed out fakes to ensure consumers are making purchase decisions based on authentic reviews. Consumers can paste the link for the Amazon product listing on the Fakespot website or app, and Fakespot shares a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F for the product or seller in question, based on the authenticity and reliability of the reviews.

The Wall Street Journal reports that European Union antitrust authorities are investigating Amazon’s treatment of merchants that sell through the platform, and are looking into whether the company uses the data it collects from all transactions and merchants on the site to gain unfair competitive advantage. In the U.S., some policy makers also are calling for a reshaping of the country’s antitrust laws to regulate Amazon’s tactics and ever-broadening tentacles.

President Trump has criticized Amazon for hurting both traditional retailers and the United States Postal Service (USPS), through a long-standing treaty that deeply discounts U.S. Postal fees for international mail. According to “The Counterfeit Report,” it’s actually cheaper for a business in China to ship a package to the U.S. – about $1.50 for a one-lb. package – than for an American business to mail it across the street. The Inspector General’s Office estimates the USPS lost $308 million between 2010 and 2014 delivering international mail under this arrangement.

In August this year, the Chinese government passed a law holding the e-commerce marketplaces – not just the merchants who sell on the platforms – accountable for the sale of counterfeit goods. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2019, and levies fines up to $291,000 per infringement.

Amazon policy prohibits listings that violate intellectual property rights, and federal, state, and local laws, however, many feel the company has paid little more than lip service to the issue. Amazon is criticized for lax enforcement, placing policing responsibilities on the shoulders of intellectual property owners, and doling out punishments for violators that amount to little more than a toddler’s time out.

A step in the right direction might be Amazon’s new Transparency program. Launched in spring 2017, participating companies register product SKUs with Amazon and purchase (from Amazon) secure, 26-digit, alphanumeric Transparency codes for every product unit the brand manufactures within that SKU, regardless of whether it will be sold through Amazon or another channel. Companies then have these individual numbers printed on labels, and affix the barcode labels to every package. Amazon scans packages for registered Transparency codes at its fulfillment centers to distinguish between legitimate and counterfeit product in its warehouse to “ensure only authentic products are shipped out to customers.” In addition, shoppers can use the Transparency app any place they shop to scan and authenticate a registered product.  

Amazon charges for identifier codes: reportedly five cents per unit code for SKUs with fewer than one million units, and three cents per unit code for SKUs between one million and 10 million units. On top of that, manufacturers incur the costs of making and applying the labels. One barbecue accessory manufacturer who just enrolled in the program estimates it will add about 12 cents to the total cost of each product unit and increase his manufacturing lead times by about two weeks.

Amazon calls the Transparency program, “a transformational service for IP rights owners to protect their customers and fight counterfeits.” According to the website, over 100 brands from Fortune 500 companies to startups are currently participating in the program, noting, “Since onboarding, we’ve received zero counterfeit related notices of infringement for products enrolled in Transparency.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaking at the Amazon Spheres grand opening in Seattle, Washington.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Seattle city council.

Some barbecue industry manufacturers are hopeful about the program; others, such as Merritt of Smokeware, are critical. “Amazon has created a counterfeiting situation that is eroding U.S. companies, and they have the nerve to charge us for the code numbers?” he asks rhetorically. “Every single thing is a new source of revenue for Amazon.”

Merritt has considered putting a lobbying effort together to press Congress to require that all foreign companies selling in the U.S. have registered agents in the U.S., with full disclosure and contact information about the companies they represent. “Right now, our only recourse is to go through Amazon and ask them to take down the listing, and even if they do, another opens a few days later,” he says. “Amazon might eventually react to an issue, but they don’t do much to prevent this stuff from happening. Requiring a registered agent would allow us to identify corrupt companies and ensure they follow the laws, pay taxes, and respect intellectual property rights. It would be easier to take action against violators.”

Some have considered starting a Change.Org petition to draw attention to Amazon’s business practices and create consumer awareness about the extent of counterfeiting on the site. Others have contemplated pooling resources to take out a full-page, open letter to Jeff Bezos in the The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other high-profile newspapers.

Greg Blonder, Ph.D., a barbecue industry expert, entrepreneur, and holder of 100 patents, suggests barbecue manufacturers – even competitors – form a consortium and establish a website selling only vetted, authenticated products direct from the manufacturer or authorized seller. “They could charge manufacturers to list on the site to cover administrative and marketing costs,” he explains. “Small companies don’t have time or money to defend themselves against these giants, but they gain strength by working together. If you put a lock on your house, hopefully the bad guys will go to the next house. Otherwise, the parasites win.”

“Counterfeiting is a drain on U.S. wealth and jobs,” Merritt says. “It’s wiping out U.S. companies, innovation, and entrepreneurship. We’re handing our assets to China on a silver platter called Amazon. The situation is a disaster. It’s rectifiable, but Jeff Bezos won’t protect U.S. companies’ intellectual property until he’s forced (to do so).”

More Stories in this Issue

Perspective: Stealing the Work of Others

One year ago, in our November issue, we published an article (“Stealing Creativity”) by Lisa Readie Mayer on the counterfeiting of products that is rampant in the barbecue accessories business. It’s also a problem with barbecue appliances, and certainly with other products in the hearth, patio, and barbecue fields.

» Continue

Professor BBQ

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Greg Blonder takes a scientific approach to outdoor cooking, and destroys some fallacies along the way.

» Continue

Unsung Heroes

By Mark Brock

Manufacturers' representatives in the patio furnishing industry, as in other industries as well, are the glue that holds everything together – if they do it right.

» Continue

The Cookbook

By Bill Sendelback

Alex Soubliere creates a best practices operations manual for hearth retailers, along with a hands-on help program that he supplies.

» Continue

Clean and Care

By Mark Brock

Outdoor Elegance creates a program that generates new revenues while building relationships.

» Continue

2018 September Business Climate

In early October, Hearth & Home faxed a survey to 2,500 specialty retailers of hearth, patio, and barbecue products, asking them to compare September 2018 sales to September 2017. The accompanying charts and selected comments are from the 2,003 useable returns.

» Continue

Parting Shot: Woven Cement

Berlin-based designers Studio 7.5 collaborated with Parisian 3D printing experts XtreeE to create a series of continuously printed concrete benches with a woven pattern.

» Continue