Jan 22, 2020
Pruner maker points to counterfeits sold online

Anna Claire Novotny from Buttonwood Hollow Farm in Chatham, New York, has been using Felco No. 2 secateurs for many years. You might say they’re a fixture of her life as a grower.

Her parents still use original Felco shears from the 70s and 80s. Her father gave her husband and her each a pair of the shears as wedding gifts.

“They’ve been a part of my life, a symbol of good craftsmanship, and a necessary tool for us,” she said.

So, imagine her surprise when she ordered another pair online and opened up the box to find a knockoff – “a counterfeit, and a poor copy at that,” she said.

She’s not the only one to feel that sense of horror.

Ryan Amberg, Felco business development manager, said the company started to hear about the counterfeit Felco shears in the fall of 2018 through the holiday season. The company, which has tracked dozens of complaints since then, in the fall of 2019 started a program offering to replace the counterfeits with genuine articles at no charge. Growers can send in their suspected counterfeit and have it replaced free of charge if it’s determined to be a fake.

Although Felco does have a line of pneumatic and electric pruning shears, the most commonly copied are the classic models: The iconic Felco No. 2, and more ergonomic models such as the No. 6, and two that are often used in agriculture: The No. 7 and No. 8.

Customers are often professional pruners or gardeners. And it’s difficult to overstate their disappointment upon seeing the edge on what was supposed to be a Swiss-made, quality tool quickly fold over. Customers like Novotny are passionate about their tools. A grower from the Finger Lakes area of New York has an image of the shears tattooed on his forearm, according to a photo he posted on Facebook.

“They know these products are built to last, generation after generation,” Amberg said.

There are a few ways to spot fakes. For instance, the counterfeit blades are often attached with a screw on the inside of the blade while Felco blades are always attached to handles by three pins, never with screws. Felco tools have a clear, fine logo stamped deeply into the aluminum handles, while the counterfeits have logos that are laser-cut, sloppy and even have spelling mistakes like “ELCO” or “FILCO.” Other ways to spot the fakes – and the details of how to exchange them – are available at www.realfelco.com.

The problem’s complicated by the fact that there are also real Felco pruning shears sold alongside of the counterfeits on mainstream e-commerce sites. Felco deals with about 2,000 retailers in the United States, some of whom sell online.

“We do not work with Amazon directly, but we do know there are retailers and wholesalers that do work with them,” Amberg said.

Felco’s not the only manufacturer to struggle with counterfeits sold online, for instance, the Birkenstock footwear
brand has had a similar problem, he said. It’s unknown who exactly manufactures the counterfeit pruning shears, although they do seem to be Asian-made, probably in China or Taiwan, Amberg said.

“Folks are getting ripped off,” Novotny said. “I’m a huge fan of Felco. I give them as gifts, and I recommend them to other farmers. I want these frauds stopped.”

An estimated 3,000 customers have unknowingly purchased counterfeit pruners on Amazon, according to Felco.

“We immediately reached out to Amazon to attempt to resolve the issue, but have been unable to settle it satisfactorily. Counterfeit tools continue to be sold on Amazon, even as recently as this week, and some customers have returned counterfeits only to receive a replacement counterfeit product from Amazon – that just doesn’t live up to our customer expectations,” said Stephan Kopietzki, Felco chief commercial officer.

The replacement program is expensive for the company, but Amberg said it’s necessary to protect customers’ longterm loyalty to the brand.

“It’s something we felt we had to do,” he said. “This legacy that Felco has is one of the last of its kind in the tool world to manufacture things for a lifetime, (to manufacture) generational tools. This kind of product doesn’t exist as often as it did 40 years ago. Now we have a bit of a throwaway culture in certain tool markets, and Felco really stands behind something that, you replace the blade, you replace the spring, the nut, the bolt and you keep this tool over 10, 20, 30, 40 years even. We see this counterfeiting scenario as a direct threat to brand integrity and we want to make sure our customers know we stand behind them, and we make a long-term commitment to them, just like we do with our tools.”

Customers who believe they may have a counterfeit tool should visit www.realfelco.com, download a free shipping label, and mail their counterfeit tool to FELCO. If the tool is determined to be counterfeit, FELCO will ship a new, genuine FELCO tool back to the customer at no charge.

— Stephen Kloosterman, associate editor; Photo at top: Counterfeit FELCO 2 (top pruner) compared to the real pruner. 

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