Differentiating Quality Still a Challenge for the Promotional Products Industry
As hard as tangible differences are to detect, the critical quality initiatives behind the scenes are even more invisible. Many industry players are now following guidelines like the PPAI Code of Conduct and strict standards from certification organizations like QCA and FLA. These quality commitments include factory audits to verify compliance with child labor laws, social accountability, environmental stewardship, product reliability testing, QC inspections, supply chain security and third-party tests for product safety regulations. The costs of these quality efforts are substantial—one Top 40 apparel supplier told me recently that he spends $500,000 per year on compliance—but none of these efforts are apparent from ESP, SAGE or Google searches. Yet every dollar spent on quality—higher grade materials, better construction, QC inspections and product testing—contributes to the reliability, integrity and compliance of the product—and ultimately, a more compelling statement for the end-buyer.
For distributors with years of experience the challenge of selling quality against cheaper lookalikes is nothing new. They know their suppliers well and which ones have performed reliably year in and year out. These professionals understand that quality oriented suppliers are not likely to take on a product unless it has been tested and meets their standards. But not everyone in the industry has this experience and many rely on ESP and SAGE for sources, searches that focus on price comparisons, not quality comparisons.
Aside from the challenge of educating our own industry is the challenge of educating end buyers, many of whom are young marketing professionals who find lookalikes through Google with little attention given to compliance or quality. It's not that these buyers are irresponsible; they just don't understand the supply chain risks. Yet if one of these lookalike products results in embarrassment, an injury, a recall or becomes fodder for a Prop 65 bounty hunter, our industry would take the hit and pay the price.