The Time is Now
There is no question that the subject of product safety and compliance has begun to be mainstream in the promotional products industry. I'd be remiss if I didn't, right off the top, offer a tip of the hat to our colleagues at the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) and their Product Safety Aware Initiative. They certainly have made every effort to elevate the conversation amongst its members.
At the same time, here at QCA, it's our job to have conversations every day about what it takes to do the right thing for the right people-and that is our collective end-user clients. While I still feel a little foot-dragging from some of the old guard, I think the tide is turning toward the recognition that the buyer is more than just a signature on the purchase order, that the job of purchasing has become as much about protecting the brand as it is about promoting the brand. To that we say, "The time is now."
For those suppliers and distributors looking to work with bigger clients, there really is only one choice. And that is the decision to either proactively run toward the problem, or run away from it-and perhaps away from the client in general. Make no mistake-when meeting with a client and discussing their promotional products needs, it is not easy to lead with a discussion of product safety. The issue of safety is an ever-changing landscape. It's complicated and-equally as important when it comes to conversations with clients-it likely does not involve the lowest-priced item when it is time to source products that suit their needs. But I believe more and more people (and, by association, your clients and prospective clients), are realizing that when it comes to doing the right thing, it's either "Pay me now" or "Pay me later."
You can lead them down the path of buying safe and compliant products that are not the lowest price point items, but which will offer protection to their brand, to their reputation, and to their end-users. Or you can compete on price, sell them low price, potentially risk-laden promotional products and perhaps both have to pay the price for that decision later.
In the long run, it is exponentially more prudent to work to convince your customers to invest a little more in safe products up front, rather than rolling the dice when it comes to risk. Making sure your conversations with clients include the benefits of opting for safe and compliant products over less expensive and potentially less safe ones sure beats having an end-user client embroiled in a recall, associated public relations nightmares, possible lawsuits, and a definite loss of customer goodwill. These conversations can go a long way toward building strong, lasting relationships with your clients that are mutually beneficial. And safe.
Fran Ford, president at QCA-accredited supplier Castelli North America, Sparks, Nev., points to the longtime industry barrier to entry problem. "Today, we are our own threat to our existence, little emphasis is put on existing supplier members to prove their social or environmental stewardship," Ford said. "Until we start tightening the requirements for entry into our business, we will continue to put 'a loaded gun' into the wrong hands."
It's hard work to deliver consistently safe and compliant products. If it was easy, everybody would do it. If it was easy, it also wouldn't provide market differentiation and a real chance to get a leg up on competitors when it comes to end-user clients who are increasingly interested in protecting their brands.
This week we added our 33rd active accredited supplier to the QCA membership. We're proud to announce the addition of Mason, Ohio-based Vitronic, a top 40 supplier with more than 100 years of experience. "Vitronic recognizes the importance of managing the supply chain and ensuring product quality, safety, and social compliance," said Lori Kates, president of Vitronic. "With state and federal regulations being updated, as well as higher standards being demanded by our client base, we knew it was a good business decision to dedicate the resources necessary to complete the challenging QCA Accreditation Program."
Between accredited suppliers and current supplier applicants, QCA is now working with 41 companies. Along with the 12 members of our QCA Distributor Advocacy Council, we are working collaboratively to improve the sustainability of the promotional products industry. If you would like to help make that change, or learn more about it, reach out to me. I look forward to hearing from you.
Jeff is executive director of the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA). Prior to that, he was responsible for developing safe and compliant brand merchandise for Michelin. He has worked with brands in publishing, consumer products, broadcasting and film for over 30 years. Follow Jeff on Twitter, and QCA on Facebook.