By Ben Sandman and Jamie Millar

It’s an unfortunate reality the Australian marine industry is rife with unscrupulous individuals ready to pounce and attempt to replicate a successful product – be that a fishing lure, a trailer boat, a motor yacht… or even a professional service business!

While the adage states: “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, the truth is this contemptible act creates an exasperating situation for the company being copied.

All the hard work and effort that has gone into developing and establishing a premium product is often quickly undone when a fledgling business enters the arena with a blatantly-copied, albeit inferior, product.

This tiresome situation isn’t unique to the Australian marine industry and is commonplace in many industries the world over – at every industry’s detriment.

Apart from aggravating the established company, this obnoxious behavior serves only to devalue the industry as a whole, as the innovators who have been working hard to take an industry forward eventually tire of it and leave it behind for the imitators to squander.

In this light, how can the Australian marine industry progress when its leaders are moving-on to bluer waters in an attempt to escape the pesky toadfish?

The good

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with healthy competition. All respectable businesses welcome and encourage it.

As all astute business owners and managers will attest, competition from a product/service that has been fairly and independently researched and developed will assist in improving their own businesses.
Innovators set new standards and challenge the rest of the industry to keep up.

It’s not uncommon for these people to work together, sharing their knowledge with other like-minded businesses. The mentality behind this is that rather than protecting their own small slice of the pie, if they work together the pie will get bigger and their slice will organically grow.

Some people choose to work independently too, and they keep up with these standards by focusing on their own businesses, reviewing how they’re doing things and how they can improve them.

Others, unfortunately, lack the intelligence and ability to do things differently and attempt to imitate those at the fore.

The bad

Imitation spans all sectors of the marine industry – and we’re not necessarily talking about low-cost offshore manufacturing. There’s a lot of sub-standard business going on in our own backyard.

No matter where this low-level form business is occurring, the copied product/service will always be significantly inferior, due to the fact no additional thinking has been applied to its development.

In an industry as small as ours, where everyone literally knows everyone else, the imitators (through their ignorance) are actually making a mockery of themselves by ripping-off established companies.

Further, the resultant poor-quality product is a sure-fire way to quickly bastardise a product/service genre as a whole – which, in turn, affects the whole industry’s growth.

As a specific example, we refer to our own niche of PR/marketing/communications. While there’s a handful of very competent professionals in the marine industry, there’s an increasing number of toadfish who don’t have much of clue – no matter what experience they claim to have or who they purport to know – other than the ideas and processes they’ve poached from the professionals.

Ultimately, once a company has had a bad experience with one of these imitators, it often sees all the other businesses within that sector tarred with the same brush.

The ugly

There have always been – and probably always will be – businesses that have welcomed onboard an imitation product. In most cases it’s because the copied product might make the company a quick buck, while in others it’s due to the company’s lack of understanding of a particular field.

It’s the latter why many marine businesses are being unwittingly burnt.

By the time some of these businesses come to the realisation they’ve been “had”, many of the industry’s leaders will have moved on, leaving a somewhat poorer industry in their wake.

In the face of the marine industry’s current hardships, if the innovators head wide in search of bluer water – and many are already well on their way – the question must be asked: what/who will be left?

The confronting answer: a cesspool of directionless toadfish, floundering in their incompetence without anyone left to copy.

If this was to occur, the Australian marine industry would surely stagnate.

The solution

There is no single answer to this problem.

To start with, though, it’s up to the businesses in our industry with clearly defined corporate values and objectives – businesses that are committed, that respect the industry and other legitimate businesses – to believe in those values and the importance of quality, excellent service and business integrity. Believing in, and standing by, these values is the first step in dominating the imitators.

It’s also critical to maintain a range of strategic communications with all stakeholders – whether suppliers, investors, customers or media – to maintain and earn the trust of those who are prepared to invest their hard-earned dollars in the Australian marine industry’s offerings – and not just buy on price or because they don’t know better.

At the end of the day, you get what you pay for… and quality (as long as it’s around) will always win. 

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