FENTON • After watching thousands of counterfeits of its pet shedding tools flood online sites, FURminator is biting back.
Inside FURminator's Fenton headquarters, puppies stroll the hallways, and its product packaging shows pictures of Golden Retrievers romping through meadows. But the 7-year-old company is taking on an aggressive stance when it comes to knockoffs.
FURminator's arsenal of weapons includes private investigators who look for rogue China factories, online monitors who scan the Internet looking for knockoffs, and U.S. customs officials who help the company stop imports of counterfeit products.
"The question anymore isn't: will we find you?" said Olivier Amice, FURminator's president, who was hired in January. "The question is: when will we get you?"
FURminator has had some recent success with its expanded efforts to stop counterfeit sales, which Amice estimates siphon away more than $10 million in sales a year from the company. FURminator's tools sell for between $35 and $73. Knockoffs online can be found for as low as $12.
In August, a seller of counterfeit FURminator tools at a market in China was arrested and fined. The seller, according to FURminator's investigators, had a truck with 5,000 counterfeit grooming tools. After the arrest, the seller's supplier in China stopped making the tools.
Over the past three months, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials seized 12 shipments of counterfeit FURminator tools with a value estimated at $150,000, after the company worked with officials to identify the products.
And in federal court, FURminator won a $150,000 judgment this year against a Minnesota seller of counterfeit tools. The company also filed a lawsuit Oct. 14 in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District, against nine people who live outside of Missouri who the company alleges are infringing on its trademarks by selling brushes on Internet sites eBay and Amazon unlawfully.
Filing lawsuits and global policing were not in the company's original business plan. Angie and David Porter founded FURminator after Angie Porter developed a tool to help in the deshedding process at her pet grooming salon, Groomingdale's. The company got its start after it brought in $30,000 in sales in three days at its first trade show appearance in 2003.
FURminator has since emerged as the largest manufacturer of dog and cat deshedding brushes, and the product is sold in more than 30 countries.
Its revenue increased from $700,701 in 2004 to $25 million in 2007. For that three-year period of sales growth, it was named one of Inc. magazine's fastest-growing companies.
The privately held company, which employs 30 people, no longer releases its annual revenue figures, but Amice said its growth has spurred imitation.
"The counterfeit problem is a byproduct of our success, and it's getting out of control," he said. "It's a huge distraction for us."
The company regularly buys products labeled 'FURminator' from websites to study what the counterfeits look like. True FURminator products are only sold at major retailers such as PetCo and PetSmart, or from the company directly.
Roger Yount, FURminator's vice president of product development and branding, said the company is rolling out new products this fall that are more difficult and costly to copy.
It increased its product line this fall from four tools to 17, in part to make it more difficult to duplicate the entire line. The new products include tools for cats and dogs, as well as small animals such as rabbits and ferrets.
The counterfeit products use inferior materials that break easily, which can be an issue with pet safety, Yount said.
The company also is revamping its website to add information about counterfeits, following the mold of other companies such as purse maker Coach Inc., making it possible to report a counterfeit product directly to the manufacturer.
"FURminator has done a good job with its efforts so far," said Donna Schmitt, chair of the International Anti Counterfeiting Coalition's board of directors and senior trademark counsel at Town and Country-based Energizer Holdings, a global manufacturer of batteries, flashlights and shaving products.
FURminator's employees have attended programs on combatting counterfeits held by the IACC, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit industry organization that recently formed a task force on addressing trademark infringement in China.
Schmitt said many companies, including Energizer and FURminator, are working more closely now with U.S. Customs, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to identify counterfeits. In its last fiscal year, U.S. Customs officials confiscated counterfeit goods worth $260.7 million in 14,841 seizures.
The IACC also provides training to its members on working with U.S. Customs.
"Your brand is one of your most valuable assets," Schmitt said.
"Quality is something we have to protect, so consumers get a quality product and a safe product."