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Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery

Published on 6th June 2021
Rohit Behani

Partner & CEO

In 2008, we at Tekno Valves introduced key-operated soft seat design cylinder valves, KHO-10, for industrial and medical gases in the Indian market after getting approvals from BAM and PESO.

The design was offered as a safer, efficient, and better alternative to the single spindle key-operated metal seated valves used in the industry since the early 1960s with little differentiation in design across various competitor offerings. The timing synced with the revolution in mobile phone technology and the introduction of smartphones, and the decade witnessed customers and consumers becoming more open and eager to change. However, most customers in the gas industry were habituated to treat cylinder valves as commodities. They ordered based on price and quality perception rather than design features and the lowest cost of ownership. Good communication through product catalogue explaining the benefits was vital to convince our customers to give our new model a try even if we knew we had a superior product at the same price point.

Being involved in preparing marketing document for our cylinder valves since 1996, I encountered a dilemma as to how much information we should provide in our product catalogue.

We aimed to provide as much detail as possible, including material of construction of each component, sectional drawings, dimensions, design comparison and online access to the detailed third party type testing report. At the same time, we were concerned about giving out too much information to our competitors too easily.

A few years back, we came across a sample valve manufactured by our competitor based in New Delhi. They had not only entirely copied our valve design but also marked our series name KHO-10 in their valve body forging.

Do we get angry? Or should we be flattered?

Our inclination to always give out more information than the norm in the gas industry is reinforced by believing that if our competitors are so focused on what we are doing, they can't be too focused on their own business. However, sometimes I wonder if I am saying this to feel better since we can do little to stop the copying. Or I am saying it to soften the blow that comes from the hurt from the competitors' actions or justify our detailing of information.

Fortunately, while it's easy to copy in business, it's much harder to replicate success.

When we dismantled the competitor's sample, we observed that the competitor had provided a "bevelled shape" thrust washer, not because it is needed in the design but because the cylindrical thrust washer in our design becomes "bevelled" once the gland nut is tightened.

While being passionate about learning and taking inspiration from many different sources is one thing, the wholesale copy is another side of the coin.

I now feel (and I was also guilty earlier) that companies waste more energy worrying about the competition than their customers. We are more likely to perish by our indifference to customer service than at the hand of any competitor.

When we work hard to develop brand loyalty over many years, customers aren't going to jump ship when they see a cheaper alternative from a copycat.

We control our business and have the power to re-invent it. Improving our business, products and services in our hand and,

"Imitation is the sincerest form of mediocracy."

Reach me at rb@teknovalves.com

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