Product Safety: Are We Missing The Point?
I continue to read with interest the many articles and ongoing debate on the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008. Not only has Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Nancy Nord shared her thoughts about a recent Wall Street Journal article, but consumers are also weighing in with articles such as this one by Ken Bingenheimer that addresses how the CPSIA has negatively impacted many different product markets.
There is little question that the CPSIA was poorly defined, has had many unintended consequence and has been a burden on small business. Attempting to hit undefined and moving targets has been challenging and expensive for companies trying to comply. Any clarity in definitions, standards and timelines would be most welcome by all. However, in all of the debate and conjecture, one thing remains clear: the promotional products industry continues to miss the point on product safety.
While some may wish it were so, product safety is not going away. Why? Because Fortune 1000 companies demand safe and compliant products. Whether specifically purchasing promotional products or generally buying other types of marketing items, Fortune 1000 customers expect their vendor partners to enhance and protect their brands—not put them at risk.
And here's where the promotional products industry is missing the point: Product safety is an opportunity. It gives us a platform to grow our value proposition, proactively meet the demands of the Fortune 1000 and combat the "trinkets-and-trash" reputation by understanding what is required and better providing these solutions to all end buyer customers.
The news of a country-wide product recall from a Fortune 1000 company may be juicy front-page fodder, but it sends shivers down the backs of marketing and procurement executives. The seemingly never-ending parade of product recalls is certainly testing the axiom that there is no such thing as bad press. Our customers have so many choices on how to spend their marketing and branding dollars; why would they continue to do business with an industry containing so many underdeveloped supply chains that every purchase puts them at risk of being the next front-page headline?
Fortune 1000 customers are becoming more proficient at vetting their promotional products supply chains, and this is where the opportunity wrapped up in the product safety challenge lies. Companies that do the best job of providing proactive, comprehensive compliance solutions stand out from the crowd. They differentiate themselves in an industry where it is truly challenging to differentiate. This type of differentiation allows companies to better meet their Fortune 1000 client needs, which results in enhanced relationships, greater confidence, growing trust and reliance, and ultimately in increased revenues. Each week, QCA Accredited Suppliers report feedback from their distributor customers indicating they are seeing a growing number of Fortune 1000 customers who are making compliance and product safety an even greater factor in their sourcing decisions.
Granted, not every customer cares. Although product safety should be a concern for everyone, many main-street-America end-buyers do not recognize the potential damage to their livelihood as a result of putting their company name on a bad product. Ironically, smaller businesses may actually have more at risk as they may not have the financial resources to survive a product liability lawsuit.
In the current business climate, how would our industry weather a product safety injury such as the infamous Reebok charms? How many follow-up articles would be published about companies eliminating promotional products from their marketing budgets? And how many more hoops would those companies who survive then have to jump through to make even the simplest sale?
Rather than fighting this issue, the promotional products industry can enhance our reputation by embracing it. Our customers have choices. Let's give them options that seek to cause no harm and enhance their brands rather than putting their hard-won brand equity—and the future of our industry—at risk.
Brent Stone is executive director - compliance for Quality Certification Alliance (QCA), the promotional products industry's only independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping companies provide safe products. A Six Sigma Black Belt, Stone has more than 25 years of in-depth supply chain management experience with extensive expertise in process design, development, improvement and management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.qcalliance.org for more information.