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China Competition Consumer Advocacy CPSIA Homemade products Leadership Management Marketing Politics Retail Small Business Social Media

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.

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Consumer Advocacy CPSIA Homemade products Management Retail Small Business

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.

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China Competition Corporate America CPSIA Homemade products Leadership Manufacturing podcast Politics Retail Small Business

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.

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CPSIA Homemade products Management Media Montana Press releases Retail Small Business

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.

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CPSIA Homemade products Politics Regulation Retail Small Business

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.

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China CPSIA Homemade products Manufacturing Politics Regulation Small Business

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.

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Competition CPSIA Creativity customer retention Homemade products Ideas Improvement Management market research planning Positioning Retail service Small Business Strategy

4 more ways get ideas for new products/services

[audio:https://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/FourWaysToGetIdeasForProducts.mp3]

Part 2 in our series, “What else can you use to generate ideas for new products and services?” hits the streets today. Slide over here if you need to see part 1.

Last time, we talked about listening to feedback from your customers (rather obvious, but if everyone did it, I wouldn’t have to say it), and we talked about ways to learn about new trends / methods / products / services in your niche as well as how to borrow ideas from other niches.

Today, I’d like to give you four ways to come up with even more ideas. It’s especially timely for the CPSIA-impacted businesses who might be losing a revenue stream (such as 12-under kids clothing).

You might think that these are oriented solely toward service businesses, but they really apply to both products and services.

Think about your ideal customer’s day. 

Walk through it in your mind, step by step. If you aren’t sure about their day, do you really know enough about your customer’s business? 

Look back at each step. What can you do to smooth their day, take away the roadblocks and annoyances? How can you turn that into not only a one sale, but a repetitive one? 

Think about how your business can help them improve their efficiency, safety and profitability

For example, if your products/services involve safety risks to the employees who use them, how can you help them reduce or eliminate accidents and injuries? Training? Improved products? Their insurance firm might reduce their premium if they see documented steps to reduce risk. 

Direct marketing expert Dan Kennedy has a saying: “If I wake up at 2 am thinking about you, you’re in trouble.”

What has the customers in your market tossing and turning at night in today’s economy?

Is that different than what costs them sleep in a middle of the road economy? Maybe so, maybe not â?? but that’s the sort of thing you need to consider when coming up with ideas. 

If something is keeping your customers awake at night, it would be in your interest to find out what it is and do something about it. 

What are the top three things that frustrate your customers every single day?

How can you take those things off the table? If you can’t do that for some reason, keep going down the list of frustrations until you can. 

Take at least 5 minutes today (preferably more than that) to mull over at least one of these things. Do a different one tomorrow. Keep a list. DON’T DISCARD ANY IDEA. Prioritize them, perhaps, but don’t discard them. You never know when the seed planted by a “bad” idea grows into something spectacular.

Jim Rohn talks about harvesting in the fall because you planted in the spring and cultivated in the summer. It’s time to start planting, even though there’s snow on the ground (at least up here, anyhow).

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CPSIA Homemade products Manufacturing Media Regulation Retail Small Business Social Media Video Web 2.0

CPSC’s Vallese interview review re: CPSIA

Tonight I managed to get around to looking at the raw footage of CPSC spokesperson Vallese’s interview with KBAL (Baltimore) regarding the CPSIA.

The reporter did a nice job of trying to pin her down on specific issues. It was a shame that the interview ended without a discussion of component testing or homemade products for kids.

The whole interview was more or less about the impact on thrift stores.

A few quotes stuck out in the seven minute video.

“That law is not defined”

The reporter asked Vallese how thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army are supposed to deal with the CPSIA. Vallese replied that testing is not required by thrift stores and resellers, but that  “there is a lead level limit of 600ppm that has to be met”.

When pressed on how a thrift store is supposed to figure out what to do (in the face of that apparent contradiction), her comment was “that law is not defined”.

I felt it was too bad that the reporter didn’t ask her “How do you enforce a law that is not defined?”, but she did continue down a parallel trail, pressing the CPSC spokesperson for a usable strategy for thrift store businesses.

“a level of confidence”

At that point, Vallese indicated that the business owner needed to arrive at a “level of confidence” regarding the lead content of the products they are selling. The reporter clearly wasn’t satisfied with a partial reply and repeated the question a bit differently.

Vallese replied “they simply need to make a business decision at a level of confidence that the products that they are selling meet the law.”

When asked how they could determine if items met the law, the reporter pressed on, asking what Vallese would suggest to arrive at an acceptable “level of confidence”.

Vallese’s response offered three alternatives:

“they can look at it and make an informed decision”, “they can call the manufacturer”, or “they can test”.

Gee, that’s pretty helpful. I’m no lawyer, but I’m guessing that isn’t something I want in my arsenal when I go to court:

Well, I looked at it and made an informed decision. I tried to reach the manufacturer of this 9 year old item (who was in the Philippines) but they didn’t reply. I didn’t have $38,000 for a XRF scanner and I can’t afford to send every piece in my store to Jennifer, so Vallese’s ‘informed decision’ was the only option I had left. Have mercy on me, your honor!

“screening but not a deciding measure”

That opened up the discussion of testing (again, a shame that the issue of the cost of testing did not come up).

When the reporter asked about testing technology, Vallese indicated that the suggested screening technology is XRF.

When pressed about how the CPSC uses XRF, Vallese indicated: “We use XRF technology as a screening tool but not a deciding
measure.”

Wasn’t that useful? You can use it, but we don’t make decisions based on it.

“mommy bloggers spreading misinformation”

Oh yeah, there was also that “mommy bloggers spreading misinformation” comment.

<Captain Kirk voice>Must. Use. Restraint.</>

As I noted a few days ago: Motrin and many others have learned this lesson the hard way. They could have avoided all that simply by asking the nearest married man.

Husbands like myself already know the “DONT TICK OFF THE MOMS” rule. Not only has the CPSC torqued the so-called mommy bloggers AND the moms and others who own businesses affected by the CPSIA, but they’ve called them out by specifically insulting them.

I think there must be a tad too much lead in the paint in the CPSC offices. Maybe that’s why Vallese resigned.