The Inevitability Of Change
Promotional products have been making headlines lately. Unfortunately, it's not in a way we want. First, "Jerry Brown bans official California trinkets." Then it got worse when "Obama spending cuts target federal agencies' travel, technology and swag."
This isn't the first time our industry has taken a hit. Look back to 2008 when the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) went into effect. Go back even further to 2002 when the phRMA code put many industry firms on life support.
While these may seem like unrelated events, they all have one thing in common: Change. Each of the above examples represents a change in our market. With all this change going on, we should be very practiced on how to respond—or, even better, avoid—these types of outside threats to the survival of our industry. But, unfortunately, this isn't the case.
The most common sentiments seem to be how these events are "unfair" or that people just don't understand the value of promotional products. Since when has politics or business been about what is fair? Perhaps we should spend less time lamenting the "unfairness" of these efforts and spend more time embracing change.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), a 19th century British politician, said, "Change is inevitable. Change is constant." While he made these remarks more than 130 years ago, they remain true today. People have always resisted change, and they'll continue to do so. But there is real risk to our industry if we continue to fight rather than evolve to meet the challenges of these changes.
Don't believe me? Let's look at some other industries as a preview of what we can expect if we do not evolve. Movie rental and newspaper publishing are good examples. The wired telecom industry is another. But what really stands out to me is the music industry, as it did not respond quickly nor strongly enough to the change in their marketplace when online music providers hit the charts. When was the last time you went to the proverbial "record store" (even that term is terribly outdated) to make a music purchase? But I bet you've recently picked up an iTunes card at any of your local grocery or convenience stores.
Since the current political and economic times appear to be accelerating changes within our market, it's time to take a very hard look in the mirror. We must start taking actions that position our industry to weather the onslaught—or better yet, add so much value that we preempt these occurrences.
There is way too much time spent maintaining the status quo, which, in fact, actively undermines the potential we have to put our industry in a better light. Instead, we must demonstrate how the promotional products industry can help build and protect customers' brands so governments and corporations do not think our effective advertising medium is wasteful spending. In order to rid the vernacular of terms such as "swag" or "trinkets and trash," we must add value.
Because there are such low barriers to entry, it is almost too easy to become a supplier or distributor in our industry. Perhaps this is how we got into this mess in the first place. At any rate, the absence of legitimate companies that have developed secure supply chains has put our customers' brands-and the industry as a whole—in danger. The absence of some type of prequalification to become part of our industry furthers the risk.
Before industry practitioners can claim unfairness or that we are misunderstood, we must get our respective houses in order. How? Well, a good start would be making sure we add value to our customers. This value can come via creative solutions instead of commodity purchases.
In the current regulatory environment, our value proposition also better include a supply chain that protects our customers' brands. Having a fully vetted, transparent and controlled supply chain actually adds value to both industry companies as well as their customers. Having a full understanding of the product safety requirements for the products we sell also creates differentiation. After all, we can't claim to add value when a client's brand is put at risk due to an under-developed supply chain. And that's something that won't change.
Brent Stone is executive director - operations for the 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.