The Demise of Quality

Counterfeit goods built in foreign countries are cheaper, but are they as good? Let's face it: If quality products are what you want, you can't beat the good Ole'' USA. The problem, however, is that it is getting harder and harder to find them. The reason? Counterfeit goods built primarily in foreign countries now overrun America and Americans are flocking to purchase the cheaper knock-offs.

Story originally posted by: Cowboy Publishing Group

“We try to carry the best product and equipment that we can,” said Jim —- of Ryon Luskys of Fort Worth, “Things that are built by someone who knows what they are doing and who takes pride in their work. But the customer’s desire for something cheaper is forcing out that quality work.”

The American consumer drives the market and while today’s consumer wants the look of the elite, he wants to pay shoestring prices for it, even in the equine world where copies are prevalent from bits to stirrups and from blanket pads to saddles.

But, are copies bad? Is an original product something to value if a knock-off will do the job? It all depends.

It depends on how important your money is to you, because surprisingly some knock-offs really knock off your wallet in the long run. It depends on how important your safety and health are to you, since regulations and honesty are seldom values of counterfeiters who are more concerned with something looking good than performing well. It depends on your morals; it depends on how important your job is to you, and – Heaven forbid – it might even depend on how important your life and that of your family is.

First, your wallet.  

While counterfeiting has always been around, it is no longer a snot-nosed kid these days. Rather, counterfeit products are often the work of well-known businesses operating right here in the United States. Recognizing quality, the owners purchase the product, then have exact replicas made by sending that product overseas where material is cheap and labor is cheaper. They then run big ads in Western magazines flaunting their copies while espousing their own “creative ideas.”

The old cliche, “you get what you pay for,” however, is usually true. Take for example the saddle. Each saddle has a life expectancy and the cost to build that life expectancy is proportionate to its selling price. While a quality piece of equipment will definitely cost more in the beginning, many of them not only retain their value, some even increase in value with passing years.

Cheap products, however, don’t last, and certainly don’t increase in value. Rather, they require continual replacement, and thus continual hits on the old wallet. Each year adds a little inflation to that price as well, and before long, it’s easy to have spent more replacing the cheap stuff than buying excellence in the beginning.

“Foreign saddlemakers don’t study to find out what makes a good saddle,” explained Jim, “and besides that, there are so many variables to getting a good ride, from how a saddle fits a horse to how it fits a rider. Saddles built in Mexico are cheaper, but they are often put together with staples and they also run on an assembly line, so no one person sees the whole thing. Some foreign saddles are built to last five years, some you do good to get a year out of, while the handmade saddles our craftsmen build last 40 years.”

Not only can the continual replacement of the knock-offs eat away at your bank account, so does the cost of just supporting the counterfeiters with your purchasing. Last year The World Health Organization noted that “bogus car parts add up to $12 billion worldwide and counterfeited medicines could be costing the pharmaceutical industry $46 billion a year.”

So what does that mean to you? It means that large companies are spending big bucks to fight encroachment, and guess who pays that bill. According to research, General Motors has seven full-time employees to hunt counterfeiters, and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer has five in one foreign country alone. To stay in business, GM and Pfizer and dozens of businesses just like them have to trickle that cost right on down to the American consumer – who purchased the bogus goods in the first place. Granted, few Western businesses are financially able to hire employees to track down the bad guys, but they still have to fight for what they created if they, too, want to stay in business.

Actions speak louder than words.

As long as there are people with low ethical values and morals, however, there will always be counterfeit products. In fact, counterfeiters caused the invention of the patent. Counterfeiters are thieves, stealing another person’s idea, which is like stealing their car or their wallet, and while Americans abhor that, stealing an idea has become somewhat an acceptable practice.The proof is in the purchasing. For example, most parents would be highly upset if their son or daughter was caught stealing, or was even a party to someone else’s theft, which is called accessory to a crime. An individual can earn prison time as an accessory just like the actual thief. Yet these same parents will knowingly purchase knock-off products, in reality becoming an accessory to the crime of the theft of an idea, and perhaps even to the original designer’s livelihood.

“As with anything that involves money, the temptation for people to put their money alongside their patriotic mouth is, is a constant struggle,” remarked saddlemaker Nick Pernokas of Stephenville, Texas.

Indeed, parking one’s conscience can be an easy thing to do, and often overflows into the work world where Joe American, although not willing to verbally admit it, has created a double standard between what he demands for himself and what he does for others. Doggedly, he demands minimum wage or above, company insurance, sick leave and extended vacations. Yet, after getting what he desires, he doesn’t see a need to help keep American businesses open, but rather purchases copied products. It’s the personification of actions speaking louder than any words.

The price of skin.

Even if a consumer desires quality, counterfeit products aren’t always that easy to recognize. You might want to check your Blevins buckles, originally made in Wheatland, Wyo. Unfortunately, companies are selling knock-offs of that buckle right here in America, but the knock-offs aren’t made exactly like the originals. For your safety, you might want to take a close look at your buckles.

Don’t know who made your saddle? It might not be wise, then, to ride that horse at top speed. When the cinch breaks, or a staple holding it together comes loose, or the glue disintegrates, that fall could be mighty tough. Trouble is, you’ll never know when it’s going to happen. But it will. Statistics say it will.

Trainer Ronnie Nettles, owner of Nettles Stirrups can attest to that.

“One day a trainer called the office highly upset, having unknowingly purchased a pair of knock-offs that looked just like ours, and in fact, were represented by the business he bought them from as being ours. He realized his mistake when his 2-year-old rubbed against the fence arena and popped the stirrup in two. He was so mad, he drove over an hour that afternoon to the ranch to get a pair of stirrups, and I don’t think he’s ever been back to that store.

“He also brought the knock-offs for me to see,” continued Nettles. “Our stirrups, even without the bolt, can’t be pulled apart, so I took the bolt out of the knock-offs to check its strength. Before I had barely pulled on it, the laminates just fell apart. I wouldn’t want to trust my life to that.”
Shoddy workmanship is a major problem with counterfeit products. The foreign worker knows the American consumer can’t return faulty merchandise to him, so consumer safety isn’t high priorities for the worker. According to research, yellow highway paint has even been used in fake painkillers to get the right color. Taking those pills could cost a person more than just some skin.

And so could the use of shoddy Western equipment. Does the country where your tack was made require the glues, etc., to be of high standards? Do you feel safe putting your child on a horse whose bridle reins were made in a foreign country known for using cheap material?

More alarming, say police, is the connection of counterfeiting to the underworld, according to Ronald K. Noble, Secretary General of Interpol. “Organized crime thrives on counterfeiting. So does terrorism.”

Costing you your job?

Besides the structural encounter that Nettles had with a knock-off of his Nettles Stirrups, while attending the Denver Market the following January, he had a financial encounter with a Chinese counterfeiter representative.”This guy stopped by our booth and showed us stirrups that looked just like ours, and tried to get us to let him supply us with stirrups. He could sell them to me for $9.00 a pair. Here in the United States, I can’t even put the tread leather in a pair of stirrups for $9.00!”

“But think about it,” he added. “While they are ripping me off, the businesses buying those knockoffs are ripping off their customers since they mark those knockoffs up quite a bit.”

Nettles is just one of numerous Western product manufacturers affected by the theft of his design. Saddle maker Nick Pernokas, a long time advocate of the American craftsman, has combined quite a list.

“Saddle maker Don Leson designed a new closed-cell saddle pad that was thin enough to conform to a horse’s back,” began Pernokas, “and found counterfeit versions being sold at the Denver market.

“Tom Balding, the bitmaker, spent years perfecting his bits with his trademark ball bearing hinge and now there are imitations. Gary Gloden, the blacksmith, used his skill to create all sorts of hand-forged products including a handmade horse-head hoof pick. The hoofpick took off; it was the ideal small gift item for a horseman. One day Gary went in the local Western store and saw a stack of almost identical hoofpicks from China.

“Jeremiah Watt, the toolmaker and saddlemaker had designed a lot of unusual hardware that can be incorporated into a saddle. He walked into a tradeshow and saw his designs with a Chinese label on them.”

These are just the tip of the iceberg of Western products being copied. There is no doubt that copies hurt the craftsmen, but what is the possibility of them affecting your job security, even if your job is cleaning the office in downtown Chicago at night.

The answer is in the “trickle down” theory. Think of it like a string of falling dominoes. If the craftsman can’t sell his product, he can’t hire employees, nor buy the products or use the services offered by other companies. Before long other companies have to lay off employees, and those people then must limit their purchases, and the cycle continues.

“Since the shoe business has moved overseas, many tanneries have closed in the Midwest, taking away American jobs and making it more difficult to find non-mainstream leathers like latigo,” said Pernokas. “Think of all these people that we don’t even know, out of work based on the brand of shoe we chose to wear.”

Bottom Line: The demise of quality.

The American artisan spends months, perhaps years developing a dream. He pours his lifeblood into it and usually his last dollars, polishing, pruning, working until his dream is born. He is not against competition, because after all, competition is a part of the American spirit.American competition is on equal soil, though. There is no equality for a craftsman to compete against knock-off products. First, the artisan shouldn’t have to since it’s stolen merchandise.

That said, though, neither can he compete against them, since there is no equal soil. Few foreign country businesses offer minimum wage, insurance and company benefits. Neither do they use exceptional materials, nor cover research and development, marketing, advertising or pay American taxes.”When they take our product ideas, using the American talent resources and just make the product cheaper using cheap labor, there is no competition in the market.” said Larry Mathes, ——– of “Cowboy Sam. “It isn’t free trade or fair trade; it is theft. The people doing this aren’t doing Americans a favor by selling us products at a lower price. They are stealing our money, jobs and our way of life. Why should the artisans attempt to come up with new products, put in the thought, the investment in time, talent and finances, only to be ripped off and have it all stolen from them?
Ask any of the artisans whose products are now freely copied and they admit that such theft, coupled with lack of support to fight it, has not only hindered their livelihood, it has also discouraged the desire to continue developing new ideas. So what happens to industries such as the Western industry without the artisan?

Nick Pernokas has seen firsthand what happens.

“The talented people who create these products will go under financially, and then they go get a real job like a plumber, or electrician, where they will no doubt make more money. Then we all suffer.”

Should the average American Joe be concerned about what happens to the craftsmen?

It really all depends on how well he treasures his own money, how well he treasures his own job, even his own skin.

It really all depends on how he treasures the American way of life.

Gala Nettles can be contacted at 1087 Nettles Lane, Madisonville, TX 77864, by calling (936) 348-6541 or by FAX: (936) 348-5839 or by E-Mail: