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Looking for feedback from this board please

Lee_2
Lee_2 Member Posts: 48
    I wanted to bounce this by the members of Heating Help to receive some feed back from the people who purchase and install manifolds when installing heating systems because in reality, YOU are my customers.

    Not long ago, in a two week period, we received several phone calls from customers stating they had defective manifolds and wanted to return them for replacements.  These phone calls were perplexing because there were several at once.  Turns out that upon their receipt, not one of them were ours.

    They were imports, stamped from China, which since September of 2009, seem to be flooding the market.  Customers were notified that they definitely weren’t my product, but I sent them a Speedheader replacement instead.

     Having our hands on these imports gave us the opportunity to “dissect” the competition and not to our surprise we found that with the exception of the price, there is no competition. All Chinese products, Metric pipe threaded with US NPT revealed the throat of the thread is deeper, resulting in a thinner wall.  I received one manifold that the thread had snapped off during installation. Another one had pin holes in the trunk of the manifold and the seam was on the other side.  Outlets were not aligned and most alarming to us were the welds.  One outlet had three leaks because of an inferior weld.

    Now I know many plumbers and mechanical contractors probably assume that a manifold is a manifold but they aren’t.  After researching why my customers were buying these imports I found that it’s not about quality, it’s about the almighty dollar.  The funny thing is that you’re really not saving that much.

    You and/or  your employee spends several hours installing a boiler with an import, you fill the system with water and find out that your manifold is leaking.  You install a boiler only to find that the outlets are off alignment.  Now you have to shut down the system and remove the damaged manifold.  Now you’re disgusted, you’ve lost money and you’re soured on steel manifolds.  Not only are you disgusted, but now my credibility is lost to you as an American manufacturer.  And surprisingly enough, it’s not just me...there’s a lot of companies in the US who are facing this same situation.

    So being the nosy female that I am, I ask the people on this board WHY?

Why do you pay the same price for an import product when you can get American products? Is it because you can outbid someone on a job, because the price is cheaper or is it because it’s “just a steel manifold” and who cares?  I have a new motto for my company.  Keep buying imported products and the next job loss might be yours.  Don’t you think this is something to think about?

Comments

  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,490
    For those of you who don't know Lee,

    this is her company: http://www.earthlee.com/



    She's one of the best in the business and she asked my permission to post this. I think she's asking a very good (and timely) question.
    Retired and loving it.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,490
    One of the things I always notice at AHR

    is how the Asians will gather around a product and photograph it from every angle. The following year, I'll see what appears to be the identical product, but this time it's in a tiny booth with two people, both ready and eager to export. 
    Retired and loving it.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,914
    Looking at this from the viewpoint of a customer

    (and if you call me a consumer, may all the evils befall you) it seems to me there are several factors involved here -- of which I suspect the dominant one is price.  Surveying the world around me, I find that most often either the consumer or the contractor is interested in price almost to the exclusion of all else -- almost like teenagers, but not the same thing!  When it is the consumer, I take the rather jaundiced attitude that he (or she) gets what he paid for.  There is an education factor here, in that a really good contractor can sometimes (not always) persuade a private party to pay a bit extra for quality.  It is rare that one can persuade a business to, and one can almost never persuade a governmental entity to (it's that low bid thing).  It is worth the try.  However, sometimes it is the contractor who is the problem, not the client: I've known a few (none from the Wall, so this doesn't apply here!) who are more than happy to use a lower price (and quality) part when they can -- not so much that they can underbid, but so that they can up their profit.  Couple that with a client who doesn't know the difference -- or who has come to expect dubious quality in everything -- and you have a real problem.



    All of which is not to say I have a clue as to what to do about it, except to hold you standards and quality and hope that there are enough Wall types out there!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,490
    Good points, well made, Jamie

    From what I'm reading, though, part of Lee's problem is that the people are returning the junk products to her, thinking that they came from her. The surface duplication is that close. This practice makes everyone look bad. What to do about that? I mean other than what she's doing here. 
    Retired and loving it.
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    I do not know if I am a typical consumer or not, ...

    In about 1976, when I bought this house (my first), I did some plumbing work and went to the nearest big-box store to get the necessary plumbing supplies. I did not go there because of price, but because they had plywood, plumbing fittings, and all that other stuff on one place. Or so I thought.



    At the time, most of their plumbing fittings were Italian (but not from the Italian Quality Manufacturer that seems to be well known for good plumbing fittings). Later, the fittings there were Chinese. But both were lousy. Things did not fit well, things did not line up well, and gate valves would not close properly and seized up in only a very few years.



    Luckily, I discovered a real plumbing supply house that sold American products. And the surprising thing to me is that they did not really cost more. And things fit. And the vacuum breaker valves I bought from them lasted about 25 years before they started to stick. And they had everything.



    Unfortunately, there is now only one good plumbing supply house left near me. The others are gone, no doubt because of the big-box stores that compete (on price) with them.



    It is sad, but if people are not willing to buy quality, quality products will disappear from the marketplace. And then, the few of us who only want to pay once, and do the job only once, will suffer, as we pretty much do already.
  • NRT_Rob
    NRT_Rob Member Posts: 1,013
    foreign piracy

    is a job for the state department. but perhaps there is a way to go after the importers?
    Rob Brown
    Designer for Rockport Mechanical
    in beautiful Rockport Maine.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,490
    Since the cheap stuff is coming back to Lee,

    I suspect that what's going on here is that supply houses are stocking both Lee's products and the Chinese knock-offs. I don't know if they'd offer the knock-off at a cheaper price, but it would be pretty lousy if they didn't, in my opinion. The fact that the cheap stuff is coming back to Lee suggests that the contractor is paying full price and thinks he or she is getting the better product. Otherwise, why send it back to Lee?



    I wonder if this goes on with other products, and if so, how much of it is going on?



    Again, I'm just speculating, but if this what's happening, it sounds to me like some unscrupulous supply houses are playing the contractors.
    Retired and loving it.
  • djthx
    djthx Member Posts: 52
    Getting to the bottom of this

    shouldn't be so difficult.  Who are the ones doing the returning?  Are they the professionals, consumers, or the supply stores?  Maybe the supply stores are buying what they think are legitimate goods, and are consequently returning - what they consider to be - defective products.  Shouldn't Lee refuse to accept these fake goods, or at least inform the returners that the goods are fake.  If the products look as good as the legitimate ones, maybe the suppliers, or even the wholesalers don't know (though I find this hard to believe.) 
  • heatboy
    heatboy Member Posts: 1,468
    Is there a patent....

    ... on Earthlee headers?  Are serial numbers utilized on each piece?  That would certainly seem to help differentiate the Earthlee product from others.  If for no other reasons than returns and product tracking.



    Were these headers bought from a wholesaler and are they ones that returned them or was it an individual?
    heatboy



    The Radiant Whisperer





    "The laws of physics will outweigh the laws of ecomomics every time."
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    foreign piracy

    I think it is really for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,914
    Trade marks etc.

    Heatboy is right, but I presume Earthlee already does this?  Each unit should have, permanently marked on it (like etched, stamped, forged -- whatever) the trademark (registered) and at least a model number and date of manufacture, if not a serial number.  Pain in the neck, but so is getting back knockoffs which aren't yours.



    Which doesn't solve the underlying problem of cheap knockoffs.  But that is something which has been with us for a long time, one way or another.



    JD had an interesting point, too, one which I've been wrestling with: loss of supply houses or, in my situation, a change in policy.  We have a very good supply house not too far away, which used to be quite happy to sell me the odd part I needed (I'm a building super) from time to time.  No more.  For some reason they will only sell to a fully licensed, State registered contractor (having your own license doesn't help, before someone suggests that -- you have to be a State registered contractor).  No explanation.  But now what do I do?  There are a few internet sites (real handy when something needs fixing now or sooner), but they're a hassle.  There's the big box, of course, but that's junk.  Suggestions?  I can impose on a friend of mine who is a State licensed plumbing and heating contractor, but that isn't fair to him.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Brian_19
    Brian_19 Member Posts: 115
    Wholesalers

    Sometimes I can't buy Quality American products. My supplier will not stock certain items that are American made. Some of this is due to manufactures rep politics. I see wholesalers make decisions based on who  the rep is rather than the product itself. 

     Most of the imports cost me the same but the wholesaler is making a larger profit margin or, even more enticing, a big kickback at the end of the year. Keep in mind I always make every effort to buy American made products when I can. I would never knowingly buy a foreign product over an American product.
  • Lee_2
    Lee_2 Member Posts: 48
    Answering two posts

    I don't sell direct to the consumer or professional.  I only sell to the supply houses and rest assured, they know exactly who they are purchasing manifolds from.  Since I've been in this business I have always replaced my competitors product with one of my own for two reasons.  I want the professional to see what a quality manifold looks like and to be honest, it's just my practice.  There is the ulterior motive that I can cut the competitions product down the middle and look at their welds and examine the entire product.  I learn quite a lot from that.  I do inform the supply house that they sent me a manifold that is not mine.  Speedheaders are clearly marked and even if the label is removed, there is no doubt between an imported product and my product.  Anyone can look at two manifolds and know which one is the import.  (See attached pictures of welds from domestic and import)



    Also, there is no patent for these because they are simple and basic with so many shapes and sizes, they claim it cannot be done.  You can however, file for a patent and tie legal matters up for ten years.  This has already been done by companies who sell the imports.
  • Jed_2
    Jed_2 Member Posts: 781
    deja vu

    This sounds very much like what happened to Kitec, even to the "defective return" stage. Where's Kitec now? Yes, maybe there were other influences in Kitec's case, but this scenario was a factor, I believe. How sad.



    Jed
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,490
    The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    It sounds to me like some wholesalers are buying both the good and the bad and passing off the bad as the good.



    That's ugly.
    Retired and loving it.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,490
    I'd hate to see this happen to Lee.

    She's put her heart and soul into this business. 
    Retired and loving it.
  • heatboy
    heatboy Member Posts: 1,468
    edited March 2010
    Playing both sides of the fence.

    I imagine Lee knows which wholesalers are trying to take advantage of her good nature.  Carrying two lines that resemble each other this closely (relatively speaking), only leads me to believe it's not the only product they do this with.



    I won't get on the "Buy American" bandwagon because products that I use are from all over the world.  The best technology isn't always here.  For me, price has always, and hopefully will always, be somewhere down the list of reasons I buy this or that.  Earthlee is a fine product.  I have used them and will continue to when the need arises.  I also use Calleffi for mounting pumps and it is a good product also, so buying American doesn't really apply.
    heatboy



    The Radiant Whisperer





    "The laws of physics will outweigh the laws of ecomomics every time."
  • heatboy
    heatboy Member Posts: 1,468
    Relationships

    What someone carries/stocks is quite often due to relationships formed.  As a contractor, I walk the fine line also, so I see the dilema wholesalers get into.  If you have been around a long time, you have made friends inside the business and you want to be good to all of them.  They can be forced to "spread the wealth" when it comes to product lines.  Am I really defending wholesalers?  Holy crap.



    A couple of my friends either work for or rep Watts.  At the same time, I have friends that work at Taco.  They both offer some of the same pieces.  What do I do?  Walk that fine line of getting products from both.  Price has nothing to do with what I pick from either.  It's all relationships!
    heatboy



    The Radiant Whisperer





    "The laws of physics will outweigh the laws of ecomomics every time."
  • eluv8
    eluv8 Member Posts: 174
    Lee

    That weld is a thing of beauty, makes my welds look import and I am American(I do very very little welding). True craftsmanship from someone who cares. Refreshing.



    Thanks for the post, you have brought to the front of the wall a problem many of us deal with daily. Not necessarily import versus domestic, but companies who have great products and care about their customers and those who don't but offer cheap products that ultimately fail and leave customers wanting or worse. It can be difficult to distinguish between the two upfront, however as you have shown its easy to tell the difference over time.



    I may be out of my mind but I am guessing if the company had received their faulty product back they would have blamed the install and the customer would have been out o luck. Just guessing.
  • Lee_2
    Lee_2 Member Posts: 48
    This too will make you chuckle

    Last week I received one of my own Speedheaders back from the wholesale supply.  They stated it had been "damaged during shipment, probably dropped". Well, that happens sometimes because shipping companies have bad days too.



    The manifold arrives, we look at it and my husband says "this didn't drop, it would be bent in".  Upon further investigation we notice red paint inside the manifold.  He reached over for his Ridgid 18" pipe wrench and slowly slid it into the trunk of the

    manifold.   The plumber or his assistant had used the manifold as an extension on his wrench as a lever.  The lever had pushed the manifold out and distorted it. Presto, it fit the misshapen manifold like a glove.  True to form, I replaced the manifold for no charge but told the wholesaler he should think about charging his customer.



    Another use for Speedheaders :)
  • Sal Santamaura
    Sal Santamaura Member Posts: 526
    edited March 2010
    Most people in the US...

    ...are perfectly described by the phrase "know the price of all things and the value of none."  As a result, we have Home Depot and Walmart everywhere.  It's a downward spiral and I don't have any good suggestions how to stop it.



    For that small minority of homeowners who would like to ensure that quality US-made products (manifolds, black pipe, etc.) are incorporated into our new heating systems, here are two questions:



    * What's the best way to specify that in contracts?

    * Can a contractor, even if interested/willing to comply, ensure they're doing so when sourcing materials?



    Lee, I think you should embrace the Internet and sell direct to contractors.  With on-line ordering and next-day delivery, you can do just about everything a supply house can for those who install your manifolds, probably making enough additional profit to more than cover the e-commerce expense.  If the middlemen are causing this problem, cut them out of the loop!
  • TonyS
    TonyS Member Posts: 849
    Asian Culture believes

    That there is no intellectual property. They believe that all knowledge comes from "GOD" and an individual is just the messenger not the owner. That the knowledge is provided for all of mankind. They truly believe this and you are not going to change it. I guess they have a valid point, especially when you look at patents on life saving drugs that the poor cant afford.
This discussion has been closed.