Senate may drop the soap (maker)

About six years ago, there was a big fuss about the CPSIA, a law that was written to sharply reduce lead in clothing, toys and other items made for children under 12. Why lead? Lead poisoning causes developmental and neurological damage in young children, including by breathing dust from peeling lead paint.

I made some noise about the law as originally passed because it would force the makers of handmade childrens’ items out of business – and a lot of those businesses exist here in Montana. It wouldn’t have put them out of business because their products contained lead, but because of the costs of per-batch independent lab testing to prove they were lead-free.

The law passed unanimously. Imagine that happening today.

It passed in response to the recall of millions of lead-tainted toys in 2007-2008. However, there was an uproar from makers of small motorcycles and bikes. Lead appears in tire valve stems and other unlikely contact areas, which left them subject to the law.

The publicity resulted in a number of public forums with elected officials. In a response to my question during the Kalispell MT forum, my U.S. Representative lied to my face that he didn’t vote for the bill (the link shows otherwise). He then took the side of the youth motorcycle manufacturers (rightly so, I think) and said he’d fix the poorly-written law he’d voted for.

The law eventually got fixed, mostly, via an amendment exempting both small volume (often handmade) manufacturers – the ones who couldn’t possibly afford the testing requirements of the original law – and those reselling items they didn’t manufacture. While it didn’t save thousands of small handmade manufacturers from their losses prior to this amendment, it did stop the bleeding.

I say “fixed, mostly” because the law was amended to allow Mattel to perform their own lead testing rather than use independent labs other manufacturers must use by law. The irony? The slew of lead problems that provoked Congress to act involved millions of toys manufactured by Mattel and their subsidiaries.

What’s this got to do with soap?

I share all of that for a couple of reasons.

One, there are parallels in the CPSIA story to a new bill that could affect manufacturers of handmade soaps, lotions and the like, Senate Bill S.1014, the Personal Care Products Safety Act.

Two, there are a large number of handmade manufacturers of soap, lotions, creams, lip balms and scrubs in Montana, including my wife’s business.

Three, when the press microphones are on, there’s a high likelihood of horse biscuits along the lines of “I voted for it before I voted against it” or “My vote was a shot across the bow“, so have your biscuit filter ready.

S1014 is on the agenda of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which is full of high-profile personalities, including two Presidential candidates. The needs of your small business or your employer may not mean squat in the context of Presidential candidate image makers advising these people.

Handmade manufacturers on alert

As in the CPSIA situation, an industry group has worked to provide exemptions for small handmade manufacturers. The Handmade Cosmetic Alliance (HCA) has for months tried to educate and reason with the bill’s authors and suggest that they include small manufacturer exemptions like those found in the 2011 Food Modernization Safety Act (FSMA). Despite that, these small handmade soap, lotion and cosmetic manufacturers will be held to the same standards that makers of prescription drugs and medical devices meet.

Most of these 300,000 (!) small manufacturers use food ingredients found in grocery stores, even though customers don’t eat them or use them to treat a medical condition. We’re talking about olive oil, oatmeal, sugar, coconut oil, etc. My wife buys olive oil for her creams off the shelf at Costco.

This law will force them to pay user fees that will result in higher consumer prices, plus it will add more paperwork burden by requiring them to file per-batch (10-50 units) reports. For the more successful homemade product makers, this could result in 100 or more FDA filings per month. Everyone has time to do that, right?

It’s almost tourist season. Many of the products tourists buy and take home are made and sold locally, and thus feed local families in your area. Speak now or …

Where were you when the iPhone and Kindle were being designed?

Indian Sign
Creative Commons License photo credit: truedudi

As we discussed yesterday, anti-competitive businesses sometimes do “unfair” things.

Occasionally, they commit illegal acts to gain an edge. Commonly mentioned examples include bribing officials to get contracts or have them look the other way on enforcement or quality issues.

Sometimes the unethical things are illegal, such as refusing to sell spare parts to repair shops that compete with the manufacturer’s repair department.

The CPSIA/Mattel inspection situation is an example that surely makes you wonder. Legal (perhaps), but unethical handling by both Mattel and the CPSC.

Ultimately, competitive behavior has two sides. Let’s discuss a few examples…

Where were you when Pittsburgh, Tokyo and Guangzhou were investing in internet and manufacturing infrastructure?

  • Were you talking about how your infrastructure/facilities were “good enough”?
  • Do you (or did you) laugh at the quality of products that say”Made in China”? Do you find better alternatives locally?
  • When other companies moved call centers to India, did you follow suit in order to cut costs? Or did you follow suit because they provided better service to your customers?

Where were you (and what were you up to?) when Apple was designing the iPhone? When Amazon was designing the Kindle?

  • What – besides stare and/or cuss – have you done to respond to those “threats”?
  • If you aren’t the most strategically advanced vendor in your market – what have you done about that this year? Next year, will you be in a higher position strategically than you are now? How will you get there?

Where were you in the 90s when Amazon was investing in the long term, developing their e-commerce platform and despite their youth, doing e-commerce far better than anyone else? Note: “investing in the long term” often called “losing tons of money” on Wall Street.

  • Did you spend any time figuring out how your business could incorporate e-commerce – or if it even made sense to do so?
  • When the Kindle came out, did you buy one to better understand the competition that just popped you in the mouth with a right cross?
  • When Costco and WalMart started offering best sellers at or below your wholesale cost, did you complain about unfair competition or did you do something to make your business a better place for readers to buy books?

Where were you over the last 30-40 years as Wal-Mart laid the foundation for today’s domination? (and then continued to improve upon it – and did so right in front of your eyes)

  • Were you making it easier to buy?
  • Were you making it easier to park and enter your business?
  • Were you making is easier to pay your invoice, shop, ship, get a refund, repeatedly place an identical order, or talk to customer service?
  • Were you giving your customers more reasons than ever to come to your store instead of the local box store?
  • Did you start to build(or enhance) a high-value relationship with your customers that no minimum wage employee in a blue vest could *ever* break?

Where were you when Mumbai built business centers out of slums, trained tens of thousands of workers, and built a modern communications infrastructure?

  • Were you enjoying your existing legacy, built 40-50-60 years ago? (Ask Woolworth where that got them).
  • Were you letting your city or your manufacturing plant rot while holding out for another government bailout or sweetheart contract with a government entity?
  • Did you spend more on lobbyists in the last 5 years than you did on educating your employees?

Where were you when colleges and secondary schools in China and India were ramping up the quality and technological level of the training they deliver?

  • Were you complaining about your school taxes or local school boards?
  • Were you complaining about the parking problems caused by the local university?
  • Were you whining about the foolishness of having a local community college?
  • Did you sigh in disgust after interviewing yet another unqualified prospective employee?
  • Did you complain to your CPA or another business owner about the cost of training your staff?
  • Were you still running Windows 95 in your schools?
  • Were you ignoring the fact that most of the local school’s students are more technologically savvy than their teachers or administrators (much less their parents)?
  • Have you ever looked at the budget for your local school board? For that matter, do they make it readily available?
  • Have you thought to yourself “Yeah, but we can’t do that here, this is *your town’s name*?”

When things go south

When things go south, our culture (I’m speaking of the U.S., primarily) is to find someone to vilify…to blame. Generally speaking, we must point the finger at someone because it can’t possibly be our fault.

You’ll be glad to hear that I can save you some time there.

If you insist on laying blame, the person who can pull you out of it is the same person can blame: You.

Tomorrow, we talk about that and the ROI (return on investment) of blame.

After 3 days, we’re finally going somewhere positive and useful with all of this.

Watch out for those kids

They just don’t know any better and they’re the ones Seth is talking about here.

They don’t know that you’re supposed to dominate your industry and they are supposed to respect your dominance just because your daddy or great-grandpappy started your business 50 or 100 years ago.

They don’t know that they are supposed to adhere to 2, 20, or 200 year old rules that rule your market for reasons no one can remember, much less explain.

All they know is…they can do it better. And without all your baggage.

That’ll be $40 for 2 bags, sir.

But…not all of them have that baggage. Some see past what everyone else is doing.

Like Toys ‘R Us. Yeah, a nationwide box store.

We’ve talked about how the CPSIA has dealt a tough hand to small lot, one-of-a-kind (OOAK) and handcrafted manufacturers of toys and childrens’ clothes (and a zillion other things for kids under 12).

Most of the noise has come from small businesses, even though the big stores have to deal with it too. They have some upside vs the little guy because their lot sizes are large and they can wield power with suppliers. (Or they’re like Mattel and get an exemption…but we won’t talk about that today)

Despite all the inane things that a lot of these big chains do, this one was different.

They were smart enough to do this.

Most big box stores don’t have the brass to do that.

Be different AND better

For example, when most big box office stores have a big sale whose volume is controlled by how much stuff you can cram into a sack, they exclude a bunch of stuff – usually expensive stuff. And they only let you have one bag.

Guess if I wanted to buy enough expensive stuff to fill 10 bags that might tick em off? I guess I’ll just get it somewhere else.

If they had a trade-in sale, they’d normally limit it to 1 item and require purchase from a specific list of replacement items.

Not Toys ‘R Us.  Their trade-in event appears to have no limits.

Just like those 3 kids who just decided to start a company…in your market.

Watering down your message

Apocalyptic Elegance
Creative Commons License photo credit: NyYankee

While grumbling to myself about the effectiveness of the “Making CPSIA testing economics reasonable for small business” population (my name for a number of “us”, not a name this non-group group has adopted), I continue to be disappointed in the actions being taken by Congress to repair the Act.

With that, I think it’s a good time to announce that the political posts here will cease.

I’ve created another blog that is designed specifically to address political and regulatory issues faced by small business.

Why?

I simply don’t want to dilute the message that Business is Personal has stuck to for the last 4 years (yeah, I forgot to mention we had a birthday – what the heck am I thinking?) and frankly, I’ve done exactly that over the last several months.

While it has been a positive for the blog’s traffic, it isn’t the reason why BIP exists. I thought briefly that maybe it should be, as it resonated with a lot of folks (blog traffic has tripled since I started talking about CPSIA).

Despite that, I’m taking that message elsewhere. It’s off topic, mostly.

When I have that “elsewhere” ready to unveil, I’ll let you know. It won’t be too long.

The force is strong with this Congress

For decades, I have avoided getting involved in politics mostly because it has a way of seriously annoying me.

As I hope you’ve noticed, I’ve also avoided getting politic-y here at Business is Personal – maybe with the exception of discussions regarding the CPSIA.

Despite my best efforts, Congress is working overtime to pull me into their world.

And then this morning, I’m talking to a prospect who asks “Do you get involved in politics much?” Hooboy:)

Never fear, however. BIP is not here to be political. I will avoid it at every possible occasion.

Regulation is necessary

Regulation is necessary and anarchy is a pretty bad alternative. The problem is that Congress seems to be working overtime to destroy small businesses, intentional or otherwise.

Those that deserve it, so be it. Most do not, IMO.

It seems fairly obvious that we can legislate the loss of jobs a whole lot easier and faster than we can create them via legislation.

Almost 30 years ago, the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) was put in place to protect small business from a “substantial impact” from new rules put in place by agencies as a result of new Federal laws.

The name sounds all nice and cuddly, doesn’t it? “Regulatory Flexibility Act” Awwww:)

The law requires an analysis of any new agency rule to make sure that it wont significantly harm a substantial number of small businesses. Agency rules implement the enforcement of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President.

Problem: New rules can avoid the analysis if the enforcing agency’s head “certifies” (by publishing a statement in the Federal Register) that rule won’t adversely affect small businesses.

For example, the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) recently entered official comments into the Federal Register regarding several important CPSIA issues.

One of the things in that Federal Register entry is the RFA certification statement that says the CPSIA “doesn’t impact small business”. In that link, see page 10479, section G where they make all things right with the small business world by simply saying small businesses (even those “evil mommybloggers” who own businesses<g>) won’t be affected.

My Kingdom for Safe, Modern Food!

A new challenge for some small businesses might be HR875, which has an easy-to-like name: the “Food Safety Modernization Act“.

Not even Mr. Peanut would try to convince you that we don’t have food safety work to do.

Like the CPSIA, this law appears to target large food processing facilities, corporate farms, imported foods and so on. After all, you don’t hear about thousands being poisoned from foods purchased at the local farmer’s market.

Just like the CPSIA doesn’t differentiate between moms who sew outfits for my granddaughter and big Chinese factories that import a few thousand container loads of mass-market clothes per year, the FSMA (HR875) doesn’t differentiate between Tyson, Conagra and the guy who owns 9 chickens so he can sell eggs once a week at the local farmer’s market.

Not even the USDA-certified organic farmer escapes the FSMA’s reach.

All your chickens are belong to us

No, that is not a typo.

Finally, there is the new animal radio ID labeling regulation currently National Animal Identification System that is winding through Congressional committees.

Yes, I regularly remind you to measure everything, so I can see the good coming from this.

Except…

The problem with the NAIS, as with the CPSIA and the FSMA, is in the cost of implementation when you compare a large corporate farm to someone who organically (or not) maintains even one head of livestock or 9 chickens.

The point of all of this? You need your trade association. If you don’t have one, start one. If yours stinks, get involved and make it better.

No, it won’t be easy, though fixing an org is easier than starting one.

Working as a Wal-Mart greeter is easy. Pushing the Staples Easy button is easy. If you wanted easy, you wouldn’t have started / bought a business.

These laws can just as easily impact your employer as they can you as a self-employed person, so you’re going to be subject to some of them one way or another.

Get involved.

The CPSIA, Glenn Beck, the Chicken and the Egg

Am I the last so-called journalist in this country? (stupid question, I’m not even one of those<g>)

You may or may not know I write a business *opinion* column once a week in the Beacon – and that isn’t even my “real job”.

What am I talking about? Yes, the CPSIA again.

Rob over at CPSIA Central emailed today and said that Glenn Beck wasn’t covering the CPSIA because Glenn or someone on the show staff says “there’s no public outcry”.

Really? Is that the minimum daily requirement to get a journalist to write a story? I must’ve missed something.

Per Rob’s request, I wrote a letter to the Glenn Beck Show in hopes that they would realize that THEY (the press) are quite often the catalyst to creating that public outcry.

Here’s my letter to Mr. Beck:

Mr. Beck,

My understanding is that you feel there is no reason to cover the CPSIA story on the Glenn Beck Show because “there is no public outcry”.

I suppose that Watergate wasn’t worth covering for that reason, and nor was Iran-Contra or the Lewinsky story, et al. Part of what causes a public outcry is that journalists learn about stories that the public SHOULD learn about and/or SHOULD be upset about – and proceed to educate them via their media.

Isn’t that part of your job?

Honestly, it might be that you just aren’t listening in the right places. You’re a busy guy. You can’t possibly be everywhere and hear about every little story that affects tens of thousands of businesses across the US.

In addition, I suspect a lot of the lack of attention stems from the idea that this really only hurts “mommy businesses” – and the perception is that these “mommy businesses” really don’t do much but keep moms out of the mall and give them a little something to do when baby is taking a nap.

Because those perceptions are so dead wrong, I ask that you do three things:

First: Read http://www.rescuemarketing.com/blog/2009/01/13/strategic-cpsia-awareness/

Notice that this ISNT just about “mommy businesses”, but it reaches out to a substantial piece of the business community.

Second: Google CPSIA and see what you find: 985,000 search results. No outcry indeed.

Third: If you’re really interested in learning more about the CPSIA, read http://www.rescuemarketing.com/blog/category/cpsia/, http://www.thesmartmama.com/bg
http://www.fashion-incubator.com just to get started.

Thanks for listening,

Mark Riffey

Rescue Marketing

406-249-0307

By the way, if you feel like joining the fray, Mr Beck’s email address is me at glennbeck dot com.

Warm chocolate chip cookies and the big difference between you and them

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/WarmChocolateChipCookies.mp3]

Almost every day, I stumble upon someone looking for a way to differentiate their business from their competitors’.

Far too often, they try to compete almost solely on price.

Since I’ve beat the dont-compete-solely-on-price drum in the past (eg: all those WalMart posts), so today we’re going to take a different tack.

Is it the steak or the sizzle? Or maybe something else?

Ever been to Sizzler, Western Sizzlin’ or Ryan’s Steak House?

Likewise, have you been to Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Charley’s, Shula’s or Chicago Chop House?

Which would you prefer if you had a coupon for a free meal, or if someone else was buying?

My money is on Charley’s (followed very closely by Ruth’s) – though I have to admit I haven’t made it to Shula’s as yet.

Why? Because everything about the place is simply amazing. The steak, the experience, the service, and so on.

One of the best moments I’ve had with my dad was after a photography trade show (yeah, back in the software company days), where we found ourselves sitting at the bar in Charley’s near the Tampa airport.

If you eat at the bar (almost no one seems to), you get to watch the chefs fire the steak – away from the quiet luxury of the dining room – and you still get incredible service, quite possibly more attentive than the service in the dining room if that’s possible.

What about retail?

Over the last several months, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the CPSIA situation.

Despite widespread knowledge of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act by some store owners, I see very few of them using it as a competitive advantage.

Maybe they’ve been too busy spending time trying to get their Congressional reps/Senators to change the bill. OK, maybe that’s a reason, but it isn’t an excuse. You know the difference, right?

Here’s an example: If you have a newborn and you walk into an upscale handmade baby clothing store and see a sign that says “All of our fashions for babies are tested and certified safe according to the CPSIA”, isn’t it obvious that it plants a seed in the mind of the persnickety shopper?

IE: “Shouldn’t everyone’s stuff be tested and certified safe?” Hmmm. Remember, in a store like that – the persnickety shopper is absolutely the one you *want* in your store.

If you wanted to get really aggressive about it, add “…Do the other stores you frequent care as much about your baby’s safety as we do? Ask them about the CPSIA and their testing and safety certification of the fashions they offer for your child.”

Fresh from the oven

If you have a choice, do you want warm, soft chocolate chip cookies made from scratch that are fresh out of Grandma’s oven, or do you want generic store-brand “chocolate” chip cookies that you know might have been baked a month ago?

I’d bet that you’d prefer the warm cookies from Grandma’s oven.

What about your business, product and service can create a chasm that wide, making it *that* easy to make a decision between your product/service and theirs?

Make a point of focusing on it. Educate your clientele to call attention to it so that they expect exactly what you do/sell if they find themselves elsewhere. You want to be the standard that everyone else has to meet.

Sorry Buster, but Grandpa’s mess kit is off-limits

Hop On Pop
Creative Commons License photo credit: ginnerobot

Yes, today is the day that the CPSIA – the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act – takes effect.

Today is the day that manufacturers, resellers and retailers of products for children start to see the reality behind all the discussion going on for the last several months. 

Some even call it “National Bankruptcy Day” because businesses all over the US close tomorrow rather than take a chance on selling an item that could generate a $100,000 fine.

Today is the day that anything for kids with 600 parts per million of lead (600ppm) or more is considered a banned hazardous substance, whether it was made today or 200 years prior. 

No, I’m not kidding.

Abel had it coming either way

That’s right. There is no grandfather clause for lead or phthalate content. It’s retroactive back to a few days prior to the arrival of the first at-risk children: Cain and Abel.

Even books printed prior to 1985 are likely to be considered “banned hazardous materials”, as most of the ink used prior to 1985 print them contained small amounts of lead.

That first edition Little Women that you were going to hand down to your granddaughter? Better wait till she’s 13. 

Confused yet? You aren’t alone. Many businesses of all sizes are confused.

Confusion reigns

Even the Feds are confused. The CPSC recently issued a 13 page small business guidance document for those wondering what to do about the CPSIA.

When I say “recently”, I mean one day before the CPSIA takes effect.  That leaves you with plenty of time to react, doesn’t it?

At the bottom, that CPSC staff-created document says that it might not be applicable to reality because the commission has to officially approve whatever they put in that document. And you know from history that non-binding doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost you anything.

Want a little irony? Even an enthusiastic consumer advocate organization like National Resources Defense Council, a fan of the CPSIA, doesn’t understand that they are liable for the “onesie” that they sell on their website. They also don’t appear to care about trademark law, as “onesie” is a trademarked term in the children’s product market. But…they think these things don’t apply to them because they didn’t manufacture the item.

About their liability re: the CPSIA, they are dead wrong.

CPSIA – Closer to home

Me? I wonder about all those antique volumes for sale on ebay and specialty websites. That 1910 version of “Handbook for Boys” that was written by Lord Baden-Powell – the founder of the Boy Scouts.

That mess kit that your grandfather used in WWI or when he was a Scout. 

Both are illegal items for the 12 and under set. Can’t sell them. Can’t donate them. Can’t export them. That’d be “Commerce”, which is what is covered for these items. 

Still not too late to contact your reps and Senators. There is a stay on testing in place, but there isn’t a stay on liability, nor on the law itself. Only Congress can make that happen.

Update: Link to small business guide was changed by CPSC so it has been changed here as well.

DeMint gives CPSIA instructions to small business owners

Look what happens when you step away from the CPSIA bonfire for a couple of days to get some work done…after all, *someone* has to bail out the country, may as well be me.

Senator DeMint from South Carolina is working on some legislative fixes to the CPSIA, but more importantly, in his blog he describes the steps you must take to get support for his changes. 

His common sense proposal to change the CPSIA is also covered in that same blog post. Clarity – a little shocking.

Once again, I’m asking you to call your senator’s WASHINGTON office (not the local, in-state one) as DeMint instructs.

CPSIA 1 year stay granted: Proof of the might of social media for marketing

The letter to the Commission is here and the press release is here.

Good news. Buys some time to get the darned thing right.

Thank Kathleen Fasanella for getting it started, but also thank social media

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that the power of social media is what made this happen.

Not directly, but as a viral means of getting the word out and getting a grass roots effort on fire.

Via Twitter and blogs, a fairly small group of advocates found the people and motivated them to call, fax, email and write to Congress and the CPSIA.

Now, if this is proof enough for you, maybe you can find a way to use it as a marketing tool.