YKK fights counterfeiting by cutting off legitimate dealers

As a result of a YKK-USA corporate policy established in late 2003, companies such as Adventure Medical Kits, which distributes the GearAid repair kits, find they can no longer purchase YKK sliders directly from that company unless they also agree to purchase the accompanying zipper chain.

As a result of a YKK-USA corporate policy established in late 2003, companies such as Adventure Medical Kits, which distributes the GearAid repair kits, find they can no longer purchase YKK sliders directly from that company unless they also agree to purchase the accompanying zipper chain.

SNEWS® first became aware of the issue following several emails from industry vendors, including Ted Ganio, vice president of Adventure Medical Kits (AMK), wondering what we thought of YKK apparently deciding that it would no longer sell sliders to any company that did not also purchase chain.

Ganio told SNEWS that YKK informed him it would not sell to Adventure Medical Kits after he recently tried to purchase sliders needed to stock the GearAid repair kits it sells through retailers around the country.

“I was informed that since we did not use YKK brand zippers on our first-aid and repair kit bags, YKK would not simply sell us the sliders we need to stock our repair kits — repair kits customers use to repair their failed YKK tent, jacket and sleeping bag zippers in the field,” Ganio told us.

We contacted Mike Blunt, vice president of sales for YKK’s western region, and he confirmed that YKK was not willing to sell sliders to any company unless that company also purchased chain from YKK.

“We have a huge problem with counterfeiting,” Blunt said. “We have product being held up in customs, customers returning failed zippers that don’t have YKK sliders or have YKK sliders but aren’t our chain and we can’t be a party to that.”

We asked Blunt how not selling YKK brand sliders to a reputable dealer to package in a product that consumers depend on to help them repair YKK brand zippers would help the company combat counterfeit goods.

“I have to protect all the customers who are buying our zippers, and we are in the business of selling sliders with chain. Our chain is sold in 200 meters rolls and then sliders in a bag of 1,000 or whatever the minimum is,” said Blunt.

We pointed out that it was highly unlikely that GearAid’s purchase of several thousand sliders per year actually drove the counterfeit market, to which Blunt responded, “I don’t know that they aren’t counterfeiting our products. When you sell sliders without chain, it is easy to buy cheap chain and then put our sliders on that and when the chain fails, the consumers look at us. It is very difficult to explain to a consumer that the slider is YKK, but the chain is not.”

The fact that Ganio has now managed to secure another third-party supplier for YKK brand sliders, albeit at a slightly higher per unit cost, doesn’t phase Blunt.

“I cannot control what a supplier does with our product once they purchase it,” Blunt said. “I can only control what I sell and who I sell it to. We assume our customers are using our products as OEM parts for manufacturing, but that is their business.”

Added Blunt, “I cannot prevent a customer from purchasing material from different sources and combining them, but we can at least make an effort to sell our products that are designed to meet our specifications as a unit. This allows us to warrant the quality of our product that ultimately reaches the consumer.”

Blunt pointed out that all Ganio had to do was start using YKK chain on the bags AMK makes overseas and YKK would be happy to sell it sliders as well.

And that is something that Ganio is unwilling to do.

“It is not that YKK is not a great product,” said Ganio. “If we were making a sleeping bag or a tent or a jacket, we would be using YKK. But we are in the business of producing first-aid kits, repair kits and the like, and the bags that contain those contents don’t need the quality of zipper at the cost YKK charges. Simply adding a YKK zipper to our bags would add $4 to the retail price of every kit. Would a consumer realize a $4 benefit from a zipper they open infrequently? No way.”

SNEWS®View: We understand the need to combat counterfeiting, and abhor the idea that overseas manufacturers are benefiting by knocking off product and hawking it in North America as the real deal if it isn’t. However, YKK’s solution to this problem not only doesn’t make any sense, it is also penalizing a legitimate dealer as well as potentially the retailers that also carry GearAid.

The fact is, parts for repair kits and complete packaged repair kits have been sold for decades. Granted, the numbers aren’t sufficient on which to build a retirement plan, but they are consistent. AMK said it sells approximately 1,000 complete GearAid kits per year. REI told SNEWS that its customers count on the repair kits REI carries and that REI does well with one kit — Zipper Rescue Kit — assembled by ZRK Enterprises. ZRK, for the record, purchases chain and sells it online as well as through fabric stores such as JoAnn’s, which is why it can also purchase needed sliders and sell them individually.

There are simply far too many ways for individual sliders to get sold sans “authorized” chain. In fact, since YKK can’t sell sliders and appropriate lengths of chain packaged together in ready-to-use units either, YKK’s weak attempt to control distribution is doomed to failure. Consider that each manufacturer, depending on whether it produced a jacket, a one-person tent, a cabin tent or a sleeping bag, requires different lengths of chain for each finished product, but essentially a fixed number of sliders. So, YKK sells rolls of chain, and large bags of sliders. If a manufacturer requests a roll of chain and several bags of sliders, they can have them. As a result, quite a few suppliers told us they end up with far more sliders than chain, and that they would willingly sell their extra sliders to companies like AMK if needed.

Now, let’s complicate this scenario: REI, which purchases large quantities of chain and sliders of all sizes to manufacture REI brand products, also puts individual sliders for sale on the retail floor, along with all sorts of other materials customers might need for field repairs like snaps, buckles and pins. As a result, individual sliders are still being sold, and products made with non-YKK chain still might end up with a YKK slider simply because a consumer has no way of knowing if a chain is YKK’s or not. Don’t believe us? Try to find a brand name on a chain anywhere — other than on the slider. Hmmm, maybe what YKK really needs to do is find a way to brand its lengths of chain, too? Nah, that makes too much sense and it would mean, gasp, that it could then sell chain and sliders individually.

In the meantime, Ganio is left to stock his repair kits with YKK brand sliders purchased from a third party, and YKK remains adamant in its refusal to sell to him directly unless he also agrees to purchase chain — doesn’t matter how much chain as long as it is the minimum. Scratching your head over this? You’re not alone. Not one supplier or retailer we spoke with could see the logic either.