Trying To Be Perfect In An Imperfect World
More and more suppliers are investing significant time and effort to developing compliance programs. Can these comprehensive plans guarantee that all these suppliers' products are 100 percent safe and compliant? I regularly hear these questions from end-buyers and distributors alike.
There seems to be an expectation of perfection that is being driven perhaps from end-buyers who do not have a full understanding of manufacturing processes. Regardless of industry, manufacturing can be complicated. This is especially true for the promotional products industry, which has so many under-developed supply chains and suppliers with little resources to actually oversee their manufacturing abroad.
I really enjoy having discussions with end-buyers on the challenges of trying to be perfect in an imperfect world. They come away from these conversations with a greater understanding of what supply chain excellence means and how to determine if a company has the ability to deliver excellence. Additionally, they have a much better appreciation and desire to do business with companies who are embracing this challenge rather than trying to minimize or ignore it.
There are industries, the pharmaceutical market for example, where the human cost of compliance or process failure is so large that there is a reasonable expectation of perfection. Companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Abbot and Merck along with many others spend tens of millions of dollars on process and quality control, as well as extensive FDA approvals, to bring over-the-counter drugs to market. The public expects these products to cause no harm and, for the most part, these products deliver on this promise.
However, in spite of this expensive commitment to perfection, failures happen. One of the more public and recent examples is the recall of McNeil Consumer Heathcare's liquid infant's and children's Tylenol®, Motrin®, Zyrtec® and Benadryl® products. The product recall offered cash refunds or coupons for replacement product later (I have two of these coupons), yet after 14 months Children's Tylenol is still not on the market. And this isn't the only incident. There have been others, such as heart pacemakers from Medtronic.
The reality in any industry is that there is no such thing as perfection. No one-not even companies that have proactive, comprehensive third-party audited compliance programs-is 100 percent safe and compliant every day until the end of time. These companies are not perfect, and they make no claims to be. However, the companies that have embraced compliance are simply the best and brightest of our industry and are true thought leaders. They have put their money where their mouths are and worked very hard to improve what they can control, and our entire industry is better for it.
And distributors are taking notice. They are turning in droves to suppliers who have elevated their performance. These distributors recognize that the demand for product safety and compliance is coming from their clients-and the need is accelerating. By providing a supplier-driven compliance solution, they are making a difference to their top- and bottom-line results.
Much damage can be done to end-buyers' brand equity if a product decorated with their logo causes harm or becomes part of a product recall. There are a few companies within our industry who have spent a number of years developing their compliance programs because they recognize the implications. They are fully aware of the challenges with manufacturing and importing from China and other developing countries, and they have made vast improvements in their supply chains as a result.
Should something slip through in spite of their checks and balances and vigilance, a product recall process is in place and is ready to be implemented. They have planned for the best and prepared for the worst. These are companies that you can count on to consistently deliver the kinds of performance that will help you grow your business with end-buyer customers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.qcalliance.org for more information.