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 …

Tell your fish story, Mr. Limpet

Salmon

During a recent trip to Oregon, our journey took us to a dockside seafood restaurant in Newport.

As you can see from my photo, this restaurant offers fresh local seafood in addition to meals made with the local catch.

Take a close look at the sign used to describe this salmon.

We know that the fish was caught locally by a real person who had to reel it in, on fishing vessel (“F/V”) that employs local people. The sign tells us it wasn’t farmed, pitched into a freezer with 30,000 other fish, much less frozen and shipped in by truck or rail from 2,000 miles away.

The sign’s details drive home that this slab of salmon is fresher and thus (probably) better than salmon in the chain grocery down the street that has a sign saying “fresh salmon”. You know details about this particular fish’s path to the refrigerated case that you rarely know in an ordinary grocery store that doesn’t really specialize in seafood.

I’ll bet that if I had asked the lady behind the counter about Two Sisters, she could have told me about them.

Fresh and local is a particularly critical for fish and produce, but the effort to describe whatever you do in rich, honest detail is critical – particularly if you’re selling against commoditized products and services that tend to be compared solely by price. The goal isn’t to be flowery and cover up what you do with fancy wallpaper – it’s to help someone who cares understand why your stuff is what they really want.

Your why is just one more thing that makes you stand out because it resonates with what’s deeply important to discerning buyers.

What about what I do?

Emphasizing the upside of using local food should be an obvious win, but this sort of thing is no different for those who sell furniture, vacuum cleaners or whatever it is that you sell.

If I talk to your staff or visit your website, am I going to get why you sell what you sell, vs just selling any old thing? Do I get a feel for what’s important to YOU when you choose (or manufacture) a product, or deliver a service? Do I know what drove you to offer these services and why it might be more important to you than to me that you “fix” whatever issue my life, business or vehicle has?

I spent about 20 minutes listening to a vacuum guy compare different units for me the other day. I’m bad about listening to salespeople whether I plan to buy that day or not, because I want to hear and assess their pitch.

I got good info about the results, lifespan and repair expectations I could expect when choosing between different types / brands / quality levels of vacuums (all important stuff). I didn’t get much about why it was important to him that I make the right choice. Oddly enough, I got exactly that from someone about 30-40 years his junior – his son.

Enthuasiasts

You all know an enthusiast, and you probably are one about something. Enthusiasts will explain why you might value certain things or experiences as much as they do, either to bring you into the fold or just to explain why they care.

Coffee people will explain why a burr is superior to a grinder. People who are into furniture will ask if it is built using eight way hand tied springs. Skiers and snowboarders will wax on about tuning and wax.

Those things matter to enthusiasts who don’t want their beans scorched, crave holding an edge in the steep and deep, and want a repairable couch that will sit as nicely in 25 years as it does today. That’s why the link above explains the furniture manufacturer’s construction methods as well as WHY they use them.

The story behind what you do and how you do it is often as important as the products and services you offer.

It’s particularly critical if you’re in a high quality, high value market. If you can’t explain why you care and why your customer should, the next comparison that people will tend to make is price.

Unless you’re the box store, you’re likely to lose that comparison.

What does a new business owner do first?

Recently I received an email from a reader who said my blog made them feel like they had come in during the middle of a movie.

Why? Because they’re at the startup stage in their business, while many of my posts focus on existing businesses.

Fair enough. Let’s talk about startups.

The overwhelming load at startup can freeze you in your tracks. You’re just starting to learn how to market (usually). You may need to know where to find less-expensive supplies, how to introduce your product to customers and how to price what you make/do.

Best of all, you’re trying to figure out how to do all of this on a limited budget without feeling like your investment is as fickle as a bet at the horse races.

It’s a tall climb. It feels like there’s so much you’re supposed to do before you start and the list gets longer on opening day.

What Nike would say

The key is to start.

People freeze in pre-launch because they’re worried about everything being perfect…which frequently breaks your focus on starting. You may have heard this described as “perfect is the enemy of good” (or “of done”).

Don’t you need business cards first? Or a fancy color brochure? Or a sign? No, no and maybe. Where a home-based manufacturing or service business is concerned, the answers are likely no, no and no.

Permits: You need to take care of whatever permits, licensing and tax registration requirements exist in your state/community/neighborhood. Not optional.

Business cards, stationery, brochures, etc: I still don’t have a business card. I just haven’t gotten around to it. In my business, people who meet me almost always know or have heard of me – and that’s intentional. I make it super easy to find and contact me, yet I haven’t met many of my clients face to face. If you sell what you make on the internet, you might not meet your customers except at a trade show (trade show prep is another post). You may absolutely need a business card – but it shouldn’t stop you from opening the doors.

Is it an attractive model?

You might be just starting to figure out how to price your products and services. Typically, people in a new business start as low as possible, thinking that’s their “in”. Price should never be your only competitive edge. One edge, sure. Only edge? Never.

Setting a price depends on your business model. If your business model doesn’t makes sense financially on day one, it might never make sense.

Start by determining your fixed and variable costs. Fixed means “expenses incurred even if you don’t sell a thing”. Variable means “expenses that change as sales volume changes”. Of course, you’ll want to have some money left for your salary, taxes, utilities, marketing, support/service, and profit margin.

This requires knowing your numbers. Knowing what every supply costs, knowing how much time processes take so that you know your labor costs, whether you or someone else is performing that labor. Use a yellow pad, spreadsheet, whatever. Don’t get tied up by the mechanism. Start.

Note: Profit is not salary. More on that another day.

Don’t forget the locals

Everyone looks on the net for quality supplies at low prices, but don’t forget the locals. You might be surprised to find that you don’t need to pay always-rising shipping costs (because “free shipping” isn’t free) to buy beeswax from three states over because there’s a beekeeper in your community who can deliver it *today*.

You might have to buy online at first, but never stop talking to customers and friends about your supply needs. Find online communities of people who make similar products or serve similar customers. For handmade goods, the communities at Etsy.com are good and there are others out there in every niche. People in these communities are surprisingly helpful and will tell you things a website/catalog wouldn’t ever mention.

Feed your mind

No matter how insane my schedule, my daily ToDo list includes a page from Peter Drucker’s and John Maxwell’s daily readers. They’re a great centering read to start my day. Don’t underestimate the value of this.

Next in this series, identifying who’s just right for your porridge.

URL the Cat

Oh Happy me !!
Creative Commons License photo credit: rainy city

Last weekend I spent some time visiting my youngest son at college in Western Oregon.

While there, we visited the Portland Saturday Market, which is full of homemade goods from art to clothing to food.

While many of the booths offered business cards that had a website on them, a very small percentage of the booths displayed a website address.

I didn’t see a single QR code.

Extending your reach

After talking to several of the booth owners, I got the impression that many were showing up every Saturday or Sunday at the market and “letting business happen to them”. That’s why I mentioned the booths not displaying a website address or a QR code.

It’s right to be focused on making sales that day, but you want to make it as easy as possible to remember your site, share it and come back for more – even if you can’t make it to Saturday Market.

Lots of tourists visit the market, so it’s important to engage them once they’ve gone home rather than limiting your market reach to “people in downtown Portland on any random Saturday”.

None of the businesses we bought items from asked for contact information so that they could keep us informed about new products and the like.  No question, it would have to be asked in the right way given people’s dislike of spam but that CAN be done.

A motel in Eastern Oregon once asked me, “Can I get your email address so that we can contact you if you leave an item in your room?” Who *hasn’t* left something in a hotel room? It strikes dead center on the “well, of course, I don’t want to lose my stuff” nerve. Simple and smart.

Purrrrr

There was a bright spot at the market in addition to some really great art and hand-made products: the booth for “The Spoiled Cat”, where a woman and her daughter were selling catnip pillows,

The sides and back wall of her booth were plastered with laminated 8″ x 10″ photos that her customers had sent in. Each photo was of a cat mauling, loving, hugging and/or generally having a ball jonesing on their catnip pillows.

Some of the photos were hilarious. That booth stood out to anyone in her target market – cat owners and friends/family of cat owners.

Exactly what it should have done.

Is that what your booth does?

If you want to sell honey, don’t forget the biscuits

Earlier this week, one of my younger Scouts did a presentation on beekeeping to the troop.

His family keeps bees and sells some of the honey as a hobby, so he had some knowledge of the topic and how the bees are handled – but if you are going to talk about a topic like that in front of a group of 11-17 year olds, you gotta come loaded for bear, right Winnie?

Lame puns aside, he did a nice job of talking about how beekeeping is done.

We talked about how they start a hive, where the bees come from, what jobs each type of bee does (sidebar: all teenage boys find the job of the drones a bit fascinating), how the honey (and wax) is made, how many times you get stung, how the honey is harvested and all the cool equipment – including the smoke puffer gun thing, the honey extractor, hot knife and of course, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man beekeepers suit.

40 gallons of sticky-sweet fun

And then it got interesting. Someone asked him what they do with the honey, and how much they have.

His answer was “About 40 gallons stored around the house”, and he wasn’t sure how much they made each year. Someone asked again, “So what do you do with all that?”

“Eat it”, he says. Oh, and we sell some too, adding that he brought a few bottles if anyone wants some.

At this point, I’m thinking “We’re gonna have tasting and its going to be all over fingers, faces, hands and of course – the floor”.

But I was wrong.

That young man was wiser than his years.

He brought freshly-made biscuits, which he laid on the counter and sliced in half. Everyone who wanted some got to slather honey on em before they gobbled them down. These are teenaged boys we’re talking about. Any sort of food is an endangered species around these guys.

Once the honey-fest was over, lots of moms and dads got asked to take some home as a result (not something we do normally, but this was a special occasion – we had BISCUITS!).

What do they sop up your product/service with?

Your turn: What would be the biscuit that transforms the sale of your honey? (whatever your product or service might be)

In particular, think about stuff like this before a presentation, trade show or similar group event. Create the feeding frenzy, even if you sell something like fuel filters. Think about what would make your demonstration make people think “I GOTTA HAVE THAT!”

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.