Imitation is the sincerest form of robbery
The presence of the knock-off is something that’s managed to cause interference in just about every industry since the dawn of modern business. Well-planned tactical maneuvers in conjunction with an intelligent marketing strategy are often more than enough to get ones foot in the door--even if that means outright duplication of someone else’s design or formula. Regardless of the importance of the quality of a product, there will always be a customer base ready and willing to opt for a copy in order to save a little money. This is why you find a generic aisle in your local supermarket, stocked with painfully plain labels, devoid of any signs of professional touches, like studio photo shoots, vivid computer generated graphics, or wild claims of new and improved like their name-brand counterparts. The fact that these items are noticeably cheaper and effectively offer a similar result, they don’t waste time worrying about which style of packaging will appeal most to a particular demographic. An elementary compare to brand X and you save X amount sticker is enough to challenge your basic reasoning and, at the very least, tempt you into straying from your current brand. Don’t believe anyone actually buys anything from that aisle? In 2009, Nielson Research did a study on generic versus name-brand shopping and revealed that the quiet, private labels generated 22 percent of the market share. This is alarming to name-brand companies that no doubt feel that percentage when their year-end numbers are calculated. Are the generic brands in the wrong for offering an affordable alternative or are they merely using good business sense to make a home in a highly competitive market? Am I wrong for supporting some of these companies? It’s no doubt debatable, but for me, it’s tough to justify spending a few extra dollars for a name-brand plastic fork or hand sanitizer. Especially when the off-brand does an excellent job of allowing me to stuff my face with lunch at the office, or clean my grubby hands after crawling around on the ground during a photo shoot. I’ve never really thought about the effect that might have on the plastic utensil or hand care industry, but perhaps I’m somehow contributing to its demise. Oops.
The law of supply and "U MAD"
When it comes to the Honda aftermarket, there’s always been a stigma associated with any type of knock-off part. In the past few years, as some of the major players in the import industry have taken massive hits due to the struggling economic climate that’s left a scar on almost every type of business, the infamous knock-off has received even more heat. Always a hot topic on every Honda forum, the two sides have spent countless hours beating the proverbial dead horse in an attempt to get their point across. Recently, another war broke out online; I took note of a few individuals that seemed to be the most adamant about the threat of counterfeit products. A few of them were well known sellers on the various message boards, often carrying some very tough to locate Japanese goodies, including Mugen, Spoon, J’s Racing, etc. After a quick search on their profiles, some of the items they had recently posted for sale were intriguing. A Mugen valve cover, definitely tough to track down for sale these days, was listed at $1,200--double the street price from just a few years ago. A rare Mugen steering wheel, also a treasure too many, carried a price tag of $1,900, which was only overshadowed by a Spoon gauge cluster sporting a $2,200 price tag. Now, before the sellers send me a "U MAD?" jpeg, rest assured, this isn’t something that makes me angry, as I’m not in the market for any of the above. My Honda valve cover seals quite tightly, my gauge cluster reads accurately and in mph (you know, since I’m in the U.S. and all), and my steering wheel, though a little worn, can turn with even the best that Japanese tuners have to offer. However, the sellers actions piqued my interest, and caused me to question the motives of those righteous enthusiasts that seem so dedicated to ensuring that the industry isn’t overrun with cheap copies. I tend to think it has more to do with how much they can put in their wallet, rather than public safety, or the tainting of a precious market that generates an insane amount of money in the used parts world. Essentially off the books due to the person-to-person online sales, there’s really no way to determine how much money surrounds this niche area, but with so many people in search of rare, discontinued, and old-school parts, I’m willing to bet it’s substantial. Apparently I’m not the only one to notice the inflated pricing, as some have emphatically voiced their discontent at sellers aggressive price gouging. So I guess my question is, are they actually fighting the so-called good fight, or merely protecting a hidden agenda?
Save your breath
Regardless of how much you argue for either team, the bottom line is this: knock-off parts aren’t going anywhere. They were here when you first got into building Hondas, and they’ll be here when and if you ever decide you’ve had enough. Secretly distributing clever stickers that state how "your fake sh*t sucks," or berating those that rely on counterfeit goods (safely from behind your computer screen of course) will not put a stop to the counterfeiters. It affects every industry on the planet, not just the little bubble we live in. On the flip side, with so much emphasis on real versus replica, the bloated pricing will only get worse, and that old adage you’ve gotta pay to play has never been more true. If you want those ultra-rare items or you’re focused on building (yet another) Spoon or Mugen catalog car clone, you’re going to have to pay a hefty price for that coveted authenticity. But look at it this way, once you’re done with that shiny new doo-dad, maybe you can sell it for five times its value as well. One can only hope.