There is so much concern, suspicion and red flag discussion circulating on SWF.uk, Facebook and other media outlets that I thought I'd chip in with some insights as someone that has spent the last c20 years involved directly in design, manufacture, purchasing and production of goods.
To clarify this, my CV, which I'm happy to share if ever requested has seen me working in the UK retail industry, as well as the UK and Far East manufacturing industry and now, currently running the Buying and Merchandising team for one of Europe's largest tourist / historic properties organisations, so I feel that I can speak with a certain level of authority on how things actually work in the world of designing, manufacturing, buying and supplying items to the UK from the far East as well as across Europe.
I am openly writing this with a high level of concern at the potential destruction of hobby history, as one or a handful of people, who have done what they consider due diligence and some form investigation over as much as 6 months or even a year and made a decision that red flags need raising on certain items. These people are indeed experts in part of what they are saying and the knowledge they have is not in anyway being attempted to be diminished by some facts that I am going to outline, but it will, I hope at least start to have some people that are still open to other opinions, think a step before destroying something suspect and in turn calling it fake.
In the current UK buying world and I'm talking to supply multiple shops (100+) or to wholesale and sell onto smaller independent shops there will be a team of buyers and merchandisers. The buyers don't actually buy anything despite the title, they chose and select items and create collections and work with designers to have lines manufactured. They negotiate the price too and in principle outline a potential order size or breakpoints of how much for how many.
Within this, as many of you will know, there is a multilayered sampling process. Sampling can be simply having pre-produced items sent in from a factory or supplier, or of course sending out designs and specifications to a supplier/factory to have something bespoke made. At this stage finishes are agreed, tweaked and signed off. These samples are usually stored for the lifetime of the product or disposed of as newer iterations are created and subsequently signed off. In a very organised organisation, the samples are labelled, dated and actually signed, in others they'll be stamped or sticker or of course, they are just shoved, unmarked in a box that someone has written ' 2018 samples' on it... it really is that loose and it always has been no matter how big a company you work in or which field of retail it is too.
Many Buying teams do not keep the pre-production and amend samples at all, they're taken home, given to charity (if safe of course) or sold in staff sales and monies given to charity etc. There will though usually (but not always) be a production item pulled for warehouse stock on delivery and that is stored or at least checked.
This in itself allows a number of ‘one off’ items to exist in many stages of the pre-production process, right through to potential one offs that were of production look and feel at first glance, but actually hold minor differences that over 30+ years would look the same until properly analysed and appraised and in turn ‘red-flagged’.
So, the product is signed off, time for delivery... this is where the actual buying takes place and this is done by the Merchandising team (some environments call it Distributors or Allocators), essentially though the Merchandising team hold the money and are the ones who spend it. They are also the ones that are tasked to protect the business' profit line by buying the right volume at the right time to manage and fulfil the demand of the consumer as well cover stock for any online offering sale/promotions etc. They also hold the main responsibility to ensure that dead or toxic stock exist the business ledger in good time at a price that doesn't overly detract from the profit (margin) they have accrued through careful purchasing in the first place.
OK... so how does any of this link to suspect items or red flags? Well this is where it gets interesting...
So, we have a teddybear (I'll stick to a toy product for the example as I was working on one last week), it launches in April 2018, it took from the previous May to develop, goes back and forth from the Far East (FE) in design concept, basic samples have come over, nose shapes have changed, different labelling has been chosen and then the bag and header card is selected and agreed. The price is agreed and in late August it is finally signed off as a product. The line goes over to the Merch team, they discuss at length with the Buyer how much to invest, forecasts are completed and again signed off the cash is set aside from the open to buy (a term applied to the amount of cash available to the team both in stock on hand and in live / placed orders), then the Purchase Orders (POs) are sent to China and the manufacturing starts.
Broadly speaking the manufacturing process across most items (toys, ceramics, clothing etc) is 10-12 weeks, followed by 4 weeks 'on the water' and the a week allowed for customs and delivery within the UK to the distribution centre or warehouse (the first one stock barely touches the sides of these days, delivered in allocated out, the latter is a longer term holding system). This stock SHOULD be cycled by the teams on a first in first out system, but in all honesty it rarely does outside of food and drink when a line is in high demand.. "its in the loading dock, book it in, put it away in its pick location and instantly pick it and send it, we can worry about finding the older version later" or something similar is always happening, so timelines are never clear or clean.
So, our teddybear has arrived in the UK, its in the warehouse and now waits to be allocated. The merchandising team see its there, they have created a forecast based on previous sales of similar (like-line) items and they arrange an initial allocation. Depending on the individual shop's capacity and sales history, each shop in a retail estate will receive a different (or tiered) package. That package once sent is unlikely to be moved around shop to shop UNLESS something goes very awry.
April rolls around, the teddy is selling really well in the first couple of weeks, everyone is happy, the shop is happy as the teddy is helping hit their sales target, the buyer is happy because the product they spent 8 months or more working on is a success... oh wait, not everyone is happy... the merchandiser is shitting himself... he can see there is, thanks to the great sales line, already only 18 weeks of stock left, they hastily sent over a new PO, even larger than the last one to the supplier in China to cover a longer sales period (due to the re-forecast demanding even more stock per day too) and beg for a slot in production to gat more teddies ASAP so the consumer, buyer and shop manager all stay none the wiser of the pending loss of sales and out of stock that is looming.
The factory in China though is fully booked, the teddy can't be delivered in the normal time line, there's going to be a 3 week delay, so as much as a month OOS. The Merchandiser stresses how important the company business is and agrees to discuss how they can cut the time with the supplier. The supplier offers three options:
1) use a stock item (so normal rather than bespoke nose), its literally 3mm difference, will anyone notice; it will only be 1,500 units of a line that it turns out in hindsight, will sell 10,000 a year for the next 5 years.
2) let the Chinese factory subcontract the bag and head card to a sister company, again its a tiny difference, the black ink will be a little greyer, but no one will notice as its just packaging, the item inside is the same, it will only be 1,500 units of a line that it turns out in hindsight, will sell 10,000 a year for the next 5 years.
3) airfreight the item at the Merchandiser's cost, reducing margin
There is always a fourth option, resource an interim version in the UK or Europe to reduce lead time, but this drives down margin again and of course would have significant differences.
None of the above produces a fake, but the ones that have had changes (4/5 options) would all raise a red flag, circa 30+ years later...
so, and I want to be explicitly clear here, across 7500 lines there will be at least 5-6, but usually over a dozen lines that this happens to every year in an average company that is dealing with c100 stores. This is today, with exceptional IT, communication, and by the nature of being 30 years or more later, more experienced teams of staff... things sell at different rates, weather means ice-cream sell one day and umbrellas the next, that’s retail.
Now go back 30-40 years, does anyone actually want to tell me factually that Kenner and Palitoy never had these issues, issues that for the last 20 years of my career I have seen again and again across multiple different retailers, had to deal with as a manufacturer etc. Can anyone actually prove without any doubt that Kenner and Palitoy never had a factory openly, or (and lets be honest here) unknown to them subcontract to another factory when stock ran low or the original factory was massively oversubscribed.
How many of these subcontracted items might have survived out of the entire run, how many oddities are we seeing as a red flag rather than their true history?
A sticker on a baggie like the Woolworths ones will most likely have at least two if not a dozen different versions in its lifetime of production; in my company we reprint our 'great value books' corner flash stickers (they fit top right on a 'The Works type book to show the bargain price) at least 3 times year and every time we use the same printer, but every year at least one batch is slightly differently type set, the colour isn't a perfect match; they're the cheapest stickers we can get to see the cheapest products at the highest discount while delivering the highest margin.
I'm not saying in writing this, for one minute, that everything written by Frank Mewes is wrong, it's absolutely not, broadly speaking the baggie guide was invaluable for me when I started collecting again and had some to identify, I'm not saying that everything in the Woolworths pack thread is wrong either, but I am being very open in suggesting that things happen in production, things that are known, things that are unknown, things that can affect small volumes, one of (or 5/6 of) a kind items, things that could affect a whole batch of items, that are different from all other known examples can appear in a lost shipping case or a blackhole collection…
I would suggest that in all cases some are most likely fakes, of course they are, but I would also state that they are absolutely not all fakes just because they are not what has been seen before, in a known example (production or pre-production) in the same way that a Palitoy 12c recently discovered isn't fake either, if it were a baggie though... might it be?
Please be careful in the decisions you make, the conclusions you come to and the fingers you point... most of all in anything you are actively destroying based on one or a few opinions and not maybe the fullest understanding of how the manufacturing and buying process really works,
Last edited by SAVORY100
on Sat Sep 01, 2018 8:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.