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.

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.

Andy Hoffman tells CPSIA whiners to “grow up”

Pop-Tarts ARE Supposed To Be for Kids, Right?
Creative Commons License photo credit: CarbonNYC

Over at PopTort.com, consumer advocate Andy Hoffman says that opponents to the CPSIA need to “grow up”.

I shared this comment with Andy on his blog, but just in case he doesn’t see fit to mark my comment as public, I’ll repost it here. Feel free to join in with your own reply.

Here’s what I had to say to Mr. Hoffman:

You’re only missing one little issue, Andy.

This isn’t about greedy business owners wanting to avoid the lead law.

In a lot of cases, its about stay at home moms who squeeze a second income out of their cottage business and use that as a way to enable them to stay home and be a mom to their kids prior to their kids entry to school.

Some have managed substantial success, doing more than just squeaking by.

These moms (and others) who manufacture organic cotton onesies, tshirts and so forth for infants (along with a litany of other stuff) quite often started making these things *because* of the crap that is sold at WalMart and elsewhere that was found wanting in the environmentally-kind department.

Before you think that I too am just another whiner throwing a tantrum – be aware that I dont own or work for a children’s products business and NONE of my clients are in that category.

What the uproar is really about is giving small businesses who dont have the economies of scale on their side a means of testing that doesnt put them out of business.

When you manufacture (which often means “sew”) something for $6 and tell it for $12, you cant afford to spend $57 to test it. Anyone can see that math isnt going to work.

The big thing that many miss about this law is that it isnt limited to impacting those who make, retail or resell children’s products: it’s the ripple effect throughout the economy from there.

All of those businesses use accountants, lawyers, graphic artists, web site geeks, and so on. All of them will be doing less of that.

To get a full image of the ripple, I suggest you read the post linked to above (in his blog form) and take note that 80% (yes, EIGHTY) percent of the people in the room were standing when I was done asking them to.

If 80% of the businesses in your area are affected by a law that could easily be altered, it might be in your best interest to look at it without wearing the jaundice-tinted Consumer Reports hat.

Small businesses aren’t asking for an exemption and they arent asking for a different set of rules.

All they are asking for is the ability to use the component testing performed by the manufacturer of the lot of cloth, vat of vinyl, etc.

That allows everyone using that lot (etc) to absorb the cost, rather than every manufacturer having to absorb the full cost of the test for every line of items they make from that bolt of cloth and so on.

Thanks.

Your turn: Pay a visit to Poptort.com and let Andy know how grown up you are.

CPSIA: I’m from the government and I’m here to help

Way to go, Brownie
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown

One of the natural reactions to a CPSIA discussion with store owners, manufacturers, the press and other business people that I speak to about the Act is “Oh, the government would never do anything to shut down an entire niche of businesses, especially in this economy.”

Well, they would be wrong.

Take a long, hard look at the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1919 and reversed in 1933 (depression, anyone?)

Regardless of how you feel about the consumption of alcoholic beverages, think long and hard about how that hurt a specific niche of businesses (bars, breweries, dance halls, distilleries, night clubs and similar), and what the situation has in common with today’s CPSIA fiasco.

It isn’t just about the bars and the drunks. Moms and dads lost their jobs.

I’m from the government and I’m here to help you

Now, are you so sure that the Federal government – or more accurately, Congress – wouldn’t intentionally do something that might impact an entire industry – intentional or otherwise?

That’s what the CPSIA will do to the segment of the children’s product industry that doesn’t depend on massive manufacturing plants in China (clothing, toys, books, you name it).

It might push those overseas plants to adhere to safety regulations (a welcome change from the People’s Republic of Melamine), but it also grants them the power to decimate much of their competition – simply due to economies of scale that finished product testing costs will burden handmade manufacturers with.

The CPSIA *favors* China with its “step-wise approach”

You heard me right. Large scale manufacturers can afford to do the testing. They simply have to raise their prices a little. It’s the little guy, the stay-at-home mom, the cottage industry shop that employs 12 local people – they are the ones whose business gets hammered by finished product testing costs by lot.

“This step-wise approach will impose immediate changes to protect children while giving manufacturers additional time to develop controls to ensure that all children’s products are free of lead.” (see http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20071003152943.pdf)

The reality is that the legislation isn’t limited to toys – even though Rep Pelosi *repeatedly* uses the term toy when talking about the CPSIA. Toys are not the only thing the law controls.

And yes, 6 months might be time enough for manufacturers to “develop controls” – even the small ones – if you gave manufacturers the ability to use component testing for products manufactured after the law becomes effective.

A Scout is no longer Thrifty

If you still think it wasn’t intentional…. Look long and hard at the “simple, commonsense” effort Representative Waxman and Senator Feinstein made to be sure that trouble to make the law retroactive, covering to all children’s products ever manufactured.

Operative text from the letter: United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, California: This language unambiguously restricts not only the manufacture of these products following enactment, but also the retail sale of any childrenâ??s toy manufactured before this deadline.

Thrift stores? Not on their radar. Doesn’t matter if they don’t have any intention of selling lead-infused baby bottles, doesn’t matter if they are a specialty resale shop that only sells clothes made from organic US-grown cotton and wool: they can’t even take a chance, because they can’t afford to test anything given their margins.

Being thrifty could become a lot more difficult if the law stands as written.

I don’t even like “lead” pencils

Again, no one wants lead in stuff made for kids. Likewise, not everyone wants to close their business and go work at Wal-Mart or what not.

Yet that’s clearly the direction that the CPSIA is driving many small businesses because the economics of testing using XRF and digestive technologies couldn’t possibly have been considered in the sphere of homemade products and similar items.

They’re PROUD of what they’re forcing businesses to do, without a second thought to the smaller businesses that will be forced to close or cut children’s product lines because they have no way to reasonably test their products in an economical fashion.

One thing becomes clear when you did around for comments made by the lead (heh heh) proponents of the CPSIA: Small businesses and work at home moms weren’t even on their radar.

And they still aren’t. It hasn’t been that long since the CPSC’s spokesperson dismissed those working against the CPSIA in a derisive tone, calling them “mommy bloggers”.

Be careful. Those mommy bloggers just might buy a swift boat, if you know what I mean.

CPSIA thoughts from a manufacturer/retailer: Cut that line

Don't wanna leave!
Creative Commons License photo credit: kyz

This morning I received a private comment from a reader. He gave me permission to repost it here.

Hello Mark

In Europe they have a “no lead policy” based on roHS (Lead Free). All the US components I buy are roHS compliant so that they may be sold in Europe.

I can also sell in Europe by simply documenting my purchases. I can not afford to sell in to the children’s market any longer in the USA as testing costs would exceed the Gross revenue of our children’s products. As of Feb 10th we will no longer make little backpacks for kids.

This is like a dream come true for China and Walmart. In about six months all the kids will be wearing green clothes with little red stars. The toys will have the same color scheme of course the selection might be a bit mundane.

Dave Sisson CEO
Jandd Mountaineering Inc

Hopefully, the pressure that all of you are putting on your Congressional reps and Senators is helping behind the scenes. Likewise, our calls to the CPSC. This situation is sickening and the timing simply couldn’t be worse.

Do it yourself CPSIA Press Release

Tonight I wrote a press release for use with my local media, so please feel free to use it as is or with your own contact/business information so that your local media can get a feel for the local impact of the CPSIA in your area.

You can get the CPSIA press release here (pdf).

Constructive criticism is welcome, as is posting your version as a comment.

Energy and Commerce letter to Waxman/Rush re: CPSIA

Read for yourself…. http://republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/Media/File/News/1.21.09_CPSIA_Letter_to_Henry_%20Waxman.pdf

Not sure if anything will come of it, nor if it is a partisan smokescreen to simply say “We said to hold up, but you didn’t.”

Time will tell. If the letter is on the up and up and everyone’s intentions are honorable (yeah, I know<g>), then it might be good news.

Denial – Not a river in Egypt, an attitude about the CPSIA

Ian over at Aquinas and More Catholic Goods sent me some reaction he’s gotten from his wholesale sources regarding CPSIA.

As you might expect, they’re all over the board.

We have found that several of our vendors are in denial about the law and have flat out said they won’t get things tested because they already know that their components are safe. They have said they will send us a letter saying that everything is safe but aren’t actually going to get things tested.

Several have said that there is no way this can be enforced so they aren’t going to bother getting certified because everything is made here in the US.

Several others have said that testing will bankrupt them.

Retailers, what are you hearing from your wholesale vendors? Or have you bothered to ask?

Smoke, mirrors or an honest effort to fix the CPSIA?


Creative Commons License photo credit: L. Lew

Last week after I left for a winter camping trip with the Scouts, a letter to CPSC Chair Nord came flying out of the House from Waxman, Rush, Pryor and Rockefeller. I just got to the letter this evening, and it’s worthy of comment. 

You can read the Waxman-Rush letter to Chair Nord here.

Many of the proposals in the letter sound like they are listening, such as their suggestion that the commission approves component testing and that the CPSC’s commissioners get off their duffs and make some firm policy decisions. Having the general counsel issue non-binding statements with words like “may” when it comes to certain types of testing isn’t helping anyone comply with the law.

No one really wants exemptions and component testing is a good happy medium for many smaller vendors, but there are plenty of other decisions to be made, both by the CPSC and by Congress. Once Tuesday’s lovefest ends, it’ll be time to get down to real business – like fixing this law or temporarily rescinding it until it can be fixed so that it provides the safety needed without crushing small business. 

As Kathleen Fasanella suggests, “small business”  is in the eye of the beholder. That 500 employee small business designation by the Small Business Administration has long been a joke.

What I wouldn’t suggest is that this letter is an all-clear after the tornado. The pressure on Congress and the CPSC must remain if they are to take action that is of use to kids’ safety AND to small business.