By Karen R. Smith

“Water is the most important product in the entire world,” Rob Samborn, Director of Sales and Marketing for HM Digital, began. “Demand is ever increasing. Oil is a distant second by comparison and in the near future may well be a thing of the past!”

Samborn’s vision is certainly good news for the water industry at first glance. But as sales increase, the number of knockoffs also rises. This has prompted Samborn to begin a new campaign: to unite reputable manufacturers from across the water industry in an alliance against intellectual property infringement.

Unlike many firms in the US water treatment industry, HM Digital, Inc. began as a global OEM, coming to the US market in a later stage of growth. From the company’s inception in 1987 as Heemang Electronics, Inc., the Korean-based manufacturer of water testing instrumentation designed and sold products to companies around the world. They quickly established a reputation for excellent value. Today, an ISO-9001 certified factory in Seoul is one of two facilities; the second factory, in Qingdao, China, opened in 2005.

It wasn’t until 2000 that the US office was opened in Los Angeles, Calif. “From here, we provide marketing, customer service and distribution to a host of locations around the world. Today, all of our products are co-designed between the US and Korean offices,” Samborn explained.

While the company offers a line of testing instrumentation and monitoring equipment as well as OEM services for customized products and private labeling, most in the industry will know HM Digital best for their inexpensive, handheld TDS meters, which are the most widely used in the world, according to Samborn. They have been sold in over 60 countries to date.

The privately held corporation has a single, simple goal: to provide needed products that are excellent in quality at a competitive and accessible price. They hold international design patents and the recent trademarking of their marketing slogans, ‘How pure is your water? ®’ ™ and ‘Your first step to the perfect water’ TM will be bolstered by new product releases and other news in 2008.

Although the old adage says imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, when it includes misrepresenting products to consumers, it’s counterfeiting and the theft of intellectual property and a violation of patents and trademarks. Samborn and HM Digital are now on the front lines of that particular battle. “We are fighting to protect our properties, but it’s broader than that. The entire water treatment industry must act to stop these unscrupulous criminal companies – because it is the whole industry that suffers from these knockoff products. That’s what led me to contact other manufacturers,” he explained.

As the breadth and scope of these crimes became apparent, Samborn realized the time had come to unite manufacturers. He is forming an alliance with the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating these crimes by aggressive action in unison with the industry’s trade organizations, show promoters and media, in conjunction with reporting to government trade departments and taking legal action where necessary.

Though the alliance is only in its initial stages, Samborn is hoping that other companies in the water industry, regardless of whether or not they are competitors, will agree that this is a fight that can be won. “Many people – ourselves included – have long thought it extremely costly and nearly impossible to fight Chinese knockoff companies. We have a factory and office in China and even we have a tough time with it! But by joining forces and pooling our resources, we can win this battle!”

A sales professional with entrepreneurial and international experience, Samborn had no water industry experience when he joined HM Digital five years ago. Charles Lee, the company’s Managing Director, brought Samborn on originally as a consultant. “I quickly realized that it was a golden opportunity and signed on full-time as the Director of Sales and Marketing. I’m proud to say that since I came on board, HM Digital’s sales have increased by more than a factor of 20, though that is attributed to the hard work of the entire company.”

Deciding to join the company was easy, Samborn says. “There is no question that the water conditioning industry can only grow. Water issues are in the news almost daily, and the public’s interest in their water quality is increasing. As for HM Digital, everything that consumes, lives in or uses water can benefit from quality testing and monitoring, which is where our instruments come in!”

Samborn invites other manufacturers to contact him in regards to the alliance. He will happily explain his ideas in full. “The more companies that join the alliance, the stronger we’ll be,” he says.


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