Beware Phony Manufacturers

Author: John Honovich, Published on Feb 20, 2013

There's seemingly thousands of security manufacturers, making it incredibly difficult to figure out what's the best. Worse, so many of these 'manufacturers' are really 'relabelers' or 'custom configurators' that basically order off the shelf components from Asia and slap their logo on it.

You definitely want to know what your manufacturer truly is and you probably want to think twice about 'manufacturers' who are not really manufacturers. In a very popular recent IPVM discussion, we examined whether a manufacturer was 'real' or not, using a number of important investigative techniques. We share them below.

8 Steps to Investigate 'Manufacturers'

  • Check the Company's Website
  • LinkedIn Company Profile Check
  • Number of Employees Company Has vs Number of Products
  • Engineers / Software Developers On Staff
  • Patents Issued
  • Wayback Machine Check
  • Company Headquarters
  • Photo Comparison of Products

Company Website Check

True manufacturers typically:

  • List names of employees, specifically management team members with engineering backgrounds.
  • Keep an updated news sections with additions in the last 3 months
  • Offer multiple white papers / in-depth technical documents

If a company website is missing more than one of these, it is a bad sign.

LinkedIn Company Profile Check

Almost all manufacturers can be found on LinkedIn, typically in their massive company directory. You can find estimates of how many employees a company has and what positions they hold. For example, see LinkedIn company profiles for Axis, Pelco, Arecont, Milestone, Genetec, etc.

Look for total number of employees. If less than 10, that's a bad sign as manufacturing requires fairly significant teams to deliver even a single product.

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Number of Employees Company Has vs Number of Products

Often phony manufacturers will pretend to 'make' numerous lines - from PTZs to fixed cameras to IR cameras to DVRs to encoders, etc. The more lines a true manufacturer has, the more people they need. For every line a manufacturer says they make, they will easily need 10 to 20 employees, probably more. That's why when you see a 'manufacturer' with 4 or 7 or 13 employees, be careful. They may be a reseller or relabler in disguise.

Engineers / Software Developers On Staff

Moreover, look for engineering and software development positions. If they are truly building it themselves, they will have many. You can scan through LinkedIn via the company's profile page. It is a bad sign if almost everyone is in sales and marketing.

Patents Issued

True manufacturers typically have patents issued or in progress. This is to help protect their development efforts and are done even if the company never has any interest or plans to sue anyone. If your 'manufacturer' cannot produce any patent applications (or issued patents), this is also not a good sign. Use google patent search and enter in your preferred manufacturer.

Wayback Machine Check

The Internet Archive "Wayback Machine" keeps records of old website versions. You can often find out the history of a company using this. True manufacturers should show a steady increase in products added, rather than nothing one day and 5 new lines the next.

The Wayback Machine is a neat tool for lots of purposes. For instance, here's the Axis website in the year 2000 and here's IPVM in May 2008 (it was just a spider then and it was ipvideomarket.info).

Company Headquarters

When manufacturing, you need lots of employees and a physical place to put them. If your 'manufacturer' claims to have 8 different lines and their office looks like this on Google Maps, you might think twice.

Photo Comparison of Products

A common technique of pretend manufacturers is to relabel Asian products. If you suspect this, you can grab the URL of an image from their site and put it into Google image search (using the camera icon to search by image). Here's an example of a match from Google:

If your Western 'manufacturer' products match photos from an Asian manufacturer, you should strongly investigate who is actually making the product.

Conclusion

Gray areas exist and 'phony' manufacturers will do their best to spin you but if you walk through these 8 steps and find more than a few problems, you should be suspicious of how legitimate the 'manufacturer' is.

Comments (21)

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Are you going to create a list and "out" these guys? It seems like anytime I talk with a new mfg and they tell me development is based in Tampa that's a red flag for me lol

How about outsourcing & stamping your company lable & name on the product as though it is yours? We see many old technology s sold as state of the art, new in a repackaged container that looks like the real thing. New tactic for companys is rebranding someone elses products as thier own.

We carry a particular manufacturer's product out of China that requires us to re-brand. They will not let us sell as their brand because they want to simply remain as a manufacturer. But we definetely do not refer ourselves as a manufacturer.

There are several larger companies that re-brand as well. Honeywell for example, gets stuff manufactured from CNB and re-brands with Honeywell. Samsung gets stuff manufactured from Techwin. There is a big manufacturer out of Korea, named "Hitron", which happens to be on the security top 50, huge manufacturer who manufacturers stuff for alot of the big name brands, but hardly anyone knows who they are because their name is not marketed. Its a very common thing in the CCTV industry.

But labeling yourself as a manufacturer when you really arent is false advertising. Some people call themselves a manufacturer when in reality they are just glorified assemblers. Somebody slips a lens on a camera and bam, they are a manufacturer. Thats what I have seen.

Wish there was a "Like" button I could press somewhere. :D

I agree , this function allows a quick post of agreement .

No pun intended to the manufacturers: If I buy a crappy camera from one manufacturer and you relabel it to another distrubuter as a better product, change nothing, you still have crappy products .

No R&D, No Base Work to get product started. You just create another bad attitude towards another distributor.Now I have another listed bad product.

Name Brand Companys selling off their junk to others to recoop the cost. I agree with Sean, this happens alot, some good, some bad. Thats why there are so many off brands out there.

Sean, thanks for the elaboration and examples. Btw, I believe Samsung and Techwin merged and are one now.

Paul, a list? It would be really really long. Part of the problem is that a list requires detailed review and verification of each entry because we need to ensure it was accurate. Plus, there are grey area issues, where they maybe 'manufacturer' one of the lines they carry or claim they 'design' it and then debate what a manufacturer really is. That's why I created this checklist to help others do their own due diligence. I am happy though to check any individual 'manufacturer'. Any member should just start a discussion and ask.

Hi John,

It is true that we have to be cautious about what and where we buy but rebranding in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The question should be whether the rebrader is adding any value and offerng a quality product at a reasonable price. As I'm sure you know there are quite a number of large surveillance product manufacturers rebranding. I don't want to bring up current examples but some years back we used to distribute encoders from a German company called VCS who were eventually bought by Bosch. At that time Pelco did not have any IP products and they were rebranding the VCS encoders as Pelconet products. I am sure that the technician up on the ladder or the end user waiting for an RMA return did not care about this. And the service level Pelco could provide far exceeded the capabilities of the original manufacturer. And there are current examples of companies private labeling products for Asian manufacturers today that provide a much higher level of service than the orginal manufaturerss US based operation. So my ponts is that the value add is not only specific to a product but the supplier as well and the added value can involve many things including pre and post sales support, RMA service, stock levels, product knoledge base, financing, and the company's financial stability. At some level almost all manufacturers are rebranding. Ouside of Axis nobody developes their own chip. Most are using third party codec reference designs, image sensors, lenses, etc.. Non are bending metal and most contract out their final assembly. So I think we should be careful not to drop all rebranders into the same bucket.

Examples Galore, I used to buy products with great service warranties, No Questions Asked. Then the company merged with another company with a completely different metric of ideas and values , so they say your old cameras are out of warranty and you have to replace them with new. The customer does not care why or who , they just want good value for thier investment .

This does not cover all the other time wasted in the process, so I pull them out and I replace with new , so I find out that the documentation does not line up with the true specification s in the field. Then What?

If I but a quanity of these cameras at a good value from a reputable company and find that the company has changed hands and they out source to a different manufacturer where thier values dont quite match up . Then I have a 30% failure rate , what then?

This is what happens to the outsourcing market when relabling occurs and the bad cameras are transfered to the new company.

Just a FYI , weve come a long way in the industry for value & ROI and the majority of companys have a view of your best , is thier best interest in mind .

As a Rule this scenerio listed above does not happen too often .

Most of the Manufacturers are really good about Support,Warrantys,Service

You learn to stay away from the extreme deals and the low cost leaders and just buy proven good products that have been out there and tested .

Little quirks are pretty normal and each has its own type of querks . or little issues that you just have to work thru.

Thiers still a lot of junk out in the market .

25-30$ cameras with 320 line res. and analog recorders

Undisclosed Distributor, thanks for the thoughtful feedback. I agree, even within the group of 'non-manufacturer' manufacturers, there are differences. In particular, big ones, like Honeywell and Interlogix, typically pose far less risk than small operators. We get a scary number of questions about no name outfits claiming sophisticated original products when it's pretty clear they are a handful of guys relabeling Asian products and trying to fool unsuspecting end users.

Pretending to be a manufacturer is a very questionable strategy, no doubt. Purposely deceiving your customers is not good in general.

But I don’t see anything wrong about “house brands” or “private labels”. A lot of distributors have had them for years. Now, I see more and more integrators establishing their own “brands”, especially for lower priced offerings. It’s not too far from retailers having their own brand, like Kirkland Signature by Costco.

As mentioned above, there’s nothing bad with “true” manufacturers closing a gap in their product line with a re-branded product. There’re so many of such examples in our industry and elsewhere.

Boris, good point about house brands / private labels. Those are easier to understand, like your example of supermarket.

John,

You reference a relatively small company. The problem, as I see it, is that even some of the biggest names in the business "rebrand" many items. Pelco and Honeywell come to mind with little thought.

This has been going on literally forever. When Pelco replaced their CCC13xx-series cameras with the C10 series. we hated the replacements. After a bit of digging, I discovered that the XXX13xx series was rebranded from Fujitsu. I was so unhappy with the C10's, I had our supplier approach Fujitsu about buying direct from them. The answer they received is that Fujitsu will only sell through an ODM. When questioned who that was, they refused to answer.

Pelco finally admitted to me that the cameras were made by Fujitsu years after the switch.

As a general rule of thumb, I find you get the best quality and innovation in this order:

1. Real manufacturers who develop their own products / software

2. Mega rebrands who use others products but at least provide extensive QA, tech support, documentation, etc.

3. Small shops that try to trick users into thinking they are hidden gold innovators.

People keep mentioning "private labels" or "rebranding".

Personally I don't think there is any issue with that, and frankly you can make good money at it by providing an actual service. Nelly's is a good example. They are branding Dahua equipment and providing a US-Based, English-speaking, accessible outlet. They put in the effort to select and understand the most suitable products for their markets, and can offer support and assistance to their customer base. That is HUGE, (IMO). Dahua equipment might be great, but does a US-based integrator really want to call someone in an inverted time zone that probably doesn't speak good English (not bashing, it's just a fact) when they have a problem? What about if they need to return something, you have to air-freight it to China?

Private labelling can be a great value-add business, but the if equipment is not your design and if you at the end of the day have no influence over it, then it's misleading to call yourself a "Manufacturer" when you are really more like some form of a VAR/Exclusive Distributor/Importer (none of which are bad labels!).

Brian, well said. As long as they admit what they are and are clear about the rule, the buyer can make an informed decision.

Hi All,

For many years I was product development manager for a company rebranding and adding considerable value to the products we sold. Many of these points are made by Brian and Undisclosed Distributor in the posts above and are by all accounts delivered upon by Sean Nelson.

Traditionally we like to think of manufacturers as having a R&D Dept’, Production Dept’, Sales & Marketing, Distribution etcetera.

Many of the big players in Korea, Taiwan and China do not operate this traditional manufacturing model.

Let’s take one Honeywell PC based DVR for example. The base processing card and SDK (software developers kit) is made by UDP Technology. UDP sell this to other Korean companies, in this example it’s Win4Net. Win4Net take the basic SDK and develop it into a good DVR and approach companies like Honeywell. If Honeywell like the DVR but they want it to integrate with their access control product. For a fee and/or more usually a commitment to purchase X number of units a month Win4Net will make the modifications for Honeywell. Honeywell get to design the outer case and the GUI (Graphic User Interface) and put their name on it. This same DVR is sold under the LG badge with the changes made that LG wanted. The motherboards, processors, operating system, power supplies, hard disks, DVD writers, and cases are all made by other manufacturers. Even final assembly can be outsourced.

The majority of Chinese DVR’s start off as a basic board and SDK from a company called HiSilicon the other manufacturers develop this SDK to a greater or lesser extent and sell it as their DVR. Also to add to the confusion there are many manufacturers making what they call common housings. These are the basic cases / housings and can be bought and used by any manufacturer to put any combination of components inside. So you can get two identical looking DVR’s / cameras but with different components inside or the same HiSilicon board inside but different levels of development of the software.

Some of these manufacturers like Dahua want to work only with other companies like Sean Nelsons in particular markets, in other markets they will use their own name. When I first visited Hickvision they were like Dahua using their own name in the Chinese market and rebranding for other markets. At that time a sister company Skyvision would develop the software further for a fee.

Most of our DVR’s were from Korea with the software modifications paid for by us to suit our market. Later we started using Stretch Inc (USA) processors and developing the software in China for our market. Stretch makes the base component processor or cards and the SDK for many companies including some Asian based manufacturers like Everfocus, Google “Powered by Stretch”.

Korean companies like LG and Samsung invest in start-up companies and many may be in the same market space, they may be ex employees who want to start out without the corporate restraints. If the start-up develops a winning product then LG or Samsung will have the option sell the product under their brand. Usually the start-up can sell it under its own name or rebrand it for some other companies. Many of these start-ups do not want to get into the whole process of branding and distribution and are happy to continue developing the product and let someone rebrand, sell distribute and take care of all that goes with that process.

Many of the better companies rebranding these products are adding value to them from software mods to extended warranties and technical support. So who do you want to deal with, the original manufacturer like HiSilicon and develop the software yourself? One of the bigger better companies who will take that software and make it into a good DVR? These guys usually have monthly minimum order quantities of 500 pcs for 4 channel DVR’s and certainly not less than 100 pcs for their high end DVR’s but it’s usually 300 pcs for their 16 channel machines. Or go with the company that answers the phone when you are stuck on a ladder on a wet Thursday evening with a technical problem and will give you a direct replacement if there is a faulty machine?

Regards

Jim

Jim, thanks for the very thoughtful and extremely detailed post. I personally don't consider companies like Honeywell to be 'phony' manufacturers. The focus of this post was small shops with a few guys pretending to be manufacturers, spinning tall tales. While I am not a 'fan' of Honeywell's surveillance products, I agree with you they do provide tech support, QA, documentation, etc. that you typically would not get from an overseas supplier. That said, even better are companies who are full fledged real manufacturers in surveillance like Axis, Sony, Panasonic, etc.

Jim -

The sceneraio you describe is what I often see referred to as a "reference design", or slight variation.

In all industries it's very common that a company producing a particular technology component, especially if it is somewhat ahead of the curve, to turn their technology component (an image sensor, a compression chip, a graphics GPU) into a usable product to help build interest, and because this is often neccessary just to properly demonstrate their key component anyway.

These reference designs are then tweaked by various companies, either with their own internal people, or by the reference design owner/creator under direction from those companies. Eventually these "tweaks" become a product which is marketed and sold (hopefully).

I agree with John in that a company representing themselves as a manufacturer does not need to have "invented" or designed the entire product. But they *should* be offering something unique in the sense of changes, additions, enhancments, etc. over the base reference design or as-built product from the actual assembler (using assembler here to describe the actual physical company who built the physical platform or Gen 1 base).

A manufacturer will (should!) also have the ability to directly influence all or most aspects of the design (changing a UI, changing a case or packaging option, swapping components for more rugged versions or variants). Also, I think for what we call a "manufacturer" the majority of their products will be exclusive to them.

As others have pointed out, if you're a specialist in high-end thermal cameras with integrated missle launchers, but it turns out your customer base also needs a battery-operated CIF nanny cam every once in while, you'd toss your logo onto whatever the OEM's had available to fill that niche. But your "core" products would be comprised highly of your own designs and technology, and would not be available through other channels.

In our industry, the number of physical factories assembling CCTV cameras is relatively small. Many of the "name brands" do not actually physically build their own units, yet there is no dispute they are a "manufacturer". The same production line might build Brand A and Brand I cameras, but there is no "crossover" between Brand A and Brand I product technologies. Then there are all the Alibaba vendors who will silk screen a Hello Kitty logo onto anything you want and enable you to present the appearance that you have a unique line of Hello Kitty CCTV gear...

I have seen this time and time again personally. I'm not an electrical engineer by diploma, but I certainly know enough to be able to look at a circuit board and compare two "different" cameras and tell whether they are manufactured by the same factory. I've seen the same thing with plenty of wireless hardware as well. Sometimes the only difference (other than the name) is that their service is better/worse. I always think its nice when a manufacturer is willing to let you demo their product, because they are actually interested in getting feedback on the product and are confident enough to let it out into the wild.

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