"Surf's Up": Our Industry Is At A Tipping Point
This week, I attended the PPAI North American Leadership Conference (NALC) and inaugural PPAI Product Safety Summit, where it became evident the promotional products industry has arrived at a critical industry tipping point.
Wikipedia defines, and I paraphrase, a tipping point as "the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development." Journalists apply the term to almost any change likely to lead to additional consequences. Marketers see it as a threshold that, once reached, will result in additional sales. In some usage, a tipping point is simply an addition or increment that might not seem extraordinary by itself but that unexpectedly is just the right amount of additional change necessary to make significant impact.
The 2011 PPAI NALC seemed to pick up where the 2010 event left off, with a great deal of discussion on the need for our industry to evolve in order to more effectively compete while simultaneously protecting and growing our collective livelihoods. This year, however, there was a noticeable change in tenor of the discussions.
Every session included a chorus of feedback supporting a shift toward selling our value propositions and raising the industry standard. There was widespread recognition of the need for more collaboration between suppliers and distributors to resolve our common challenges. As one company president asked, "Why are we in a race to the commodity bottom rather than a race to the value proposition top?"
Product safety and compliance is one of those joint challenges, and the topic came up in nearly every breakout or general session. Unlike last year, there was less fear and little resistance to the concept with a greater understanding of the requirements and a growing sense of urgency to improve our industry's ability to deliver safe and compliant products.
Our industry has arrived at the "product safety tipping point." Distributors expect suppliers to get moving, and they are committed to rewarding suppliers that can demonstrate they are compliant as opposed to just talking a good game. Relying on testing or auditing alone won't work. While it takes time to develop a compliance program, there is a collective understanding that we have no choice. Safe and compliant product must be delivered if the industry is to not only survive but also thrive.
I heard one NALC attendee compare product safety to a surging wave that will not ebb; we will either ride it or be washed away. The surfers out there (not me, too fat) know that you must paddle before the wave hits if there's any hope of catching it. Surf's up, dude! If you are not already paddling as hard as you can, you are behind.
Brent Stone is executive director - operations 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 email@example.com or visit www.qcalliance.org for more information.