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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

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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Thinking outside the box store


Several of my friends are in the artist community, both here in Montana and elsewhere.

Many of them are photographers like you’d suspect, but some paint.

I don’t really look at myself as an artist even though I’ve been a photographer in one form or another since I was a kid.

Recently, one of them told me that she was able to rent mall space for her photography studio due to an innovative program in the St. Louis area.

The economy has put a lot of pressure on malls across the nation. Vacancies are way up, and the situation is no different at this mall.

One mall thought differently

The mall’s management could have sat back and whined about their situation. They could have let the mall traffic dwindle and left those spaces vacant. That might have impacted them legally, depending on their contracts with anchor stores.

But they didn’t. Instead, they came up with an innovative program that helps their cash flow, helps the local art community (and the small business owners – the artists) as well as keeping traffic up in the mall.

You can review a TV station news video about the project here.

Think outside the box store.

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Does your staff *really* know enough to sell your product, even to early adopters?

iPod Touch Unlock
Creative Commons License photo credit: DeclanTM

Yesterday, I was in a box store (cuz no one here in Columbia Falls carries the items I needed) and sauntered by an iPod Touch on a whim.

We’ve talked a few times about the productivity that some custom iPhone applications would have for your business. You might not know that there are no Montana cell carriers that can offer the iPhone (yet), so the iPod Touch is a reasonable alternative if cell-driven applications aren’t important to you. 

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t entirely a whim:)

As you might expect, a salesperson walked up to me and asked if I had any questions. Trouble was, I actually did:)

I suspect that I’m not your typical user of tools like this and I don’t think he was prepared for my not-too-mainstream questions. 

I asked about syncing the iPod Touch’s contacts and calendars list with my Outlook. He wasn’t sure if that worked or not, but he thought it might. 

As you might imagine, I don’t spend $300 on “I think it might”. 

Next, I asked if it does do syncing with Outlook, does it require iTunes to make that sync happen.  He wasn’t sure. 

Note: I’ve since found out that both of those questions are true. It does sync to Outlook and it does use iTunes to make that happen.

Are you ready to service the early adopters?

The problem: If you’ve read Freakonomics or Crossing the Chasm (written for software companies, but applicable to all businesses IMO), you know that the early adopter types are instrumental in exposing new products like iPhones and iPods (and new services) to a much larger group of potential customers. 

If your staff isn’t prepared to deal with the not-always-mainstream questions that these early adopters have, it’s likely that they will lose the sale. 

These days, many people walk into the store with model numbers, prices and specs in their phone or on a note. They know what their choices are. Reviews and every other possible piece of info is available to them BEFORE they arrive at the store. 

What this means is that when the prospective buyer enters the store, it’s less about selling them the item and far more about helping them choose *which* item fits them best. 

You don’t know what you’re missing

The scary thing is that you’ll never know about the customers you lost because a question like this didn’t get answered.

All it takes to make this a really expensive problem for you is something like this:

One owner of a business (or the owner’s tech guru) walks into your store and asks the same type of questions (and perhaps more). You have no idea that their business has 100 salespeople and technicians in the field. You have no idea that they want to find out if the iPod Touch would work for their remote staff as a custom business application they’ve discussed for deployment on the iPod Touch or iPhone.

Depending on which model they were going to buy, that’s a $30,000 or $40,000 sale. 

This sort of thing happens far more often than you’d expect. 

Training your sales staff is expensive, but not training them is even more costly. Even if two or three of your staff are “ultra-trained” and can be the resource for the remaining staff, that would be an improvement.

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The Parrot Says You Can’t Do That

Close parrot
Creative Commons License photo credit: jsgphoto

Obama made reference to it Tuesday during his Inaugural Address, acknowledging that many say he can’t do all the things he’s got on his agenda.

Maybe so, maybe not.

Admittedly, his obstacles are substantial.

Some might assume they are insurmountable, specifically those 500 or so people in the Capitol building.

The thing is, that’s  just the kind of situation that often makes people succeed well beyond their own expectations, much less the expectations of others who have counted them out.

Ask Joe Namath, Roger Staubach or John Elway about being counted out.

On second thought, do that later. I’m not here to talk to you about those 4 guys – I’m here to talk to you about you.

Got obstacles?

Who’s counted YOU out? Neighbors? Friends? Family? That little parrot on your shoulder?

Your obstacles probably shrink in comparison to the ones faced by Presidents, but they still might be daunting for you.

So what? Act in parallel and make em all wrong.

What exactly do I mean by parallel?

Most people act sequentially. They think “I’ll do this project, then this project, then that project.” We’ve been taught that way, at least most of us. Learning anything different is often something you stumble across. A failed project acted on sequentially is like a losing season.

Most really successful people tend to act in parallel. They often have a dozen or more projects going on at once. If one of them sticks to the wall, fine. If not, those other 11 projects will pick up the slack. A failed project is just one of the many things they’re counting on, rather than an entire losing season, it’s more like an incomplete pass.

Sure, you’re wondering how they get it all done. How do they juggle a dozen projects when one is enough to drive you crazy?

I promise you one thing: it sure doesn’t happen by accident.

How do they get parallel without going postal?

  • They have a mentor. Even *billionaires* have mentors, coaches, confidants or mastermind groups. Don’t imagine for a minute that Bill Gates plays bridge with Warren Buffett just for fun, nor that Buffett does because he can’t find anyone else to play cards with him. Look Tiger Woods can spank any golfer on the planet, yet he still has a coach to help him keep improving. Who do you have?
  • They have systems in place to relieve themselves of tedious crap. I’m talking about the same stuff that bogs down your day, interrupts you during productive stretches (you DO have those, don’t you?) and create piles of minimum wage labor on your desk – work that you end up doing yourself.
  • They’ve surrounded themselves with people as smart or smarter than themselves. Their ego isn’t driving the bus. Quite often, they do this to relieve themselves of time-consuming manual labor – often technical skills like copywriting and web design.

Acknowledging the theme of the day, Abe Lincoln is quoted as saying that if he had 8 hours to cut down a tree, he’d first spend 6 hours sharpening his saw. What sharpens your saw?

Jim Rohn says that “You become the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with.” No, that doesn’t mean you should go stand in a circle of supermodels<g>. Seriously…Who have you surrounded yourself with?

Get Parallel. Show the parrot who’s in charge.

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Where to get ideas for new products and services

I love the idea..
Creative Commons License photo credit: apesara

One of the questions I hear with regularity is “Where do I get ideas for new products and services?” Of course, the most obvious place would be “Your customers”.

It isn’t that easy though. If every business waited for their customers to ask for that next amazing new product, a lot of great new products and services wouldn’t come to market nearly as soon. Some might not ever come to market.

Did one of Apple’s customers ask them for the iPod? Not likely. 

What’s the biggest problem your customers have that you aren’t doing anything to solve?

Sometimes you need to be ahead of your customers’ thought process.

If you’ve positioned your business well, you are the authority in your market (and if you aren’t, you should be working on that).

You are the one that everyone looks to for the newest information in your market. You are the one that everyone looks to for the newest products that help them with problems they didn’t realize they even had.

But how do you do that?

Staying on top of your market means reading about trends and new discoveries in your industry’s publications. It doesn’t matter if that means a trade paper, a blog, a podcast, a video or a monthly conference call, you simply have to not only keep up but stay ahead of the “also rans”.

What more business owners should do is spend time reading about trends and new discoveries in complementary business niches. The really aggressive folks should be looking at these things in niches that appear to have nothing to do with their business.

For example, if you sell bicycles in a specialty retail shop, what would be the point of reading about the newest strategies used by those who retail kayaks or rent high-end digital SLRs, telescopes or ice climbing gear?

Simple â?? the customers who spend money in those markets are also inclined to spend money in your specialty bike shop.

Looking at ideas that worked in non-complementary markets has value as well. What can you take from successes in a completely unrelated niche, bring to your business, massage a little and make your own?

Plenty, if you put a little thought into it.

How many businesses have drive-up windows these days?

Do you think coffee shops, libraries or dry cleaners were the first? Nope. Oddly enough, the first drive up window appears to have been at a bank in 1928.

20 years later in 1948, In-and-Out Burger claims they opened the first drive-up window at a restaurant. Why it took the restaurant business 20 years to pick up on that is anyone’s guess.

Sometimes, you might be replacing a product line instead of simply adding a new one to widen your reach. In extreme cases, it might be about survivability.

For example, if you’re one of the many businesses that is threatened by the CPSIA, you’re looking at eliminating product lines for kids under 12. Presumably, you have items for kids over 12, but that isn’t always the case.

What else can you use to generate ideas for new products and services? We’ll talk about other ways shortly.

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6 month old raises awareness for CPSIA

CPSIA makes me mad!Over Christmas, my grandpa told me all about the CPSIA. Big people probably know it as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Do you have any idea how long it took me to learn to say that without messing it up? Those are big words for a 6 month old, even a cute one like me.

I learned the big words from my grandpa. He came to see me over Christmas and I overheard him talking to my great-grandpa about this new law.

When they talk while they’re holding me, I look up at them and bat my big blue eyes. It makes them talk funny to me. When they go back to their conversation they think I’m not paying attention, but I am.

I could tell you their checking account numbers, but I wont. We girls know everything about our men – even the grandpas.

The CPSIA is like a poopy diaper that’s leaking around the edges. It irritates my bottom and it gets all over everything. It gives me a world-class case of diaper rash. So bad that not even Gold Bond medicated powder makes it feel better.

Why the poopy diaper?

Well, my grandpa gave me lots of reasons to be cranky by talking to great-grandpa about the CPSIA when I was in the room. He said they forgot to think about the nice mommy who sits at home and takes care of her kids. In her spare time, she made my little homemade baby booties.

He also told my great-grandpa about all the other moms who make nice stuff for babies like me. Pretty dresses, books, booties, furniture, and a whole bunch of things for older kids like my cousin Daniel.

Grandpa talks about XRF

Grandpa made me laugh, but I didn’t let him notice. He only thinks I can smile right now. I heard him talking about all the things that small retailers and kids product makers could do to get attention from important people about this CPSIA thing.

A couple of his ideas sounded like good ways to get the local media interested in the CPSIA. He said they really like stories with irony. I’m not sure what irony is, but hey, I’m only 6 months old.

Grandpa said the press likes stories about politicians. I like it when grandpa tells me stories. There’s always nice people and animals in them. Politicians must be nice people if the press likes stories about them.

One idea he talked about was getting someone to use a XRF scanner to test all the kid toys in the gift shops in the Senate office building, House, Smithsonian and other Federal buildings that tourists like to visit.

Another idea I heard him talking about was getting a Senator to pose for a video or photo while giving a flag to a young kid – and then testing the flag with that XRF thing. He sure says “XRF” a lot these days.

It sounded like the thought he wouldn’t be able to take the XRF thing into those fancy buildings, but he said they could just buy some stuff inside, walk out front and test them while on video. He said to be sure and have some local press on the scene.

He didn’t explain what all that XRF stuff meant, so I urped on him just to remind him to explain everything. A girl has to know what her grandpa is up to.

Grandpa’s meeting

After he cleaned up the spitup, grandpa talked about what to do in a meeting of people who weren’t aware of CPSIA. He said something about a chamber of commerce meeting. At the beginning of his meeting, everyone in the room is sitting down having lunch. One at a time, they stand and introduce themselves, then they sit back down.

When he got up to introduce himself, he asked for the group’s patience to go through a quick exercise.

He asked them these questions:

  • If you make or sell toys, shoes or clothing for kids, please stand up.
  • If you write, illustrate, sell or distribute books, please stand up.
  • If you make or sell diapers or diaper covers, please stand up.
  • If you make or sell home furnishings, bean bag chairs, bedding, cribs or anything else for a child’s bedroom, playroom or nursery, please stand up.
  • If you work in a library, please stand up.
  • If you sell used childrens’ books printed before 1985, please stand up.
  • If you have a gift shop in your hotel, campground, resort or bed and breakfast, please stand up.
  • If you create, sell or rent outdoor gear or backpacks for kids under 12, please stand up.
  • If you create or sell jewelry or accessories for kids, please stand up.
  • If you create, illustrate, make music for, sell or rent electronics or video games, please stand up.
  • If you run an antique store that sells anything for kids under 12, like toys and clothes, please stand up.
  • If you write, publish, sell or distribute school supplies, educational materials or science kits, please stand up.

He pointed at the group standing and said, “All these people are affected by the new children’s product safety law”, noting that he had left some brief info on their lunch tables to look at after the meeting.

He told them that as of Feb 10 if they had anything in their stores that didn’t have a CPSIA compliance certificate, they could be fined $100k for selling non-compliant items – even if they were already in inventory before Feb 10th.

I’m not sure what that inventory thing is, but it sounds expensive. I need to ask for one when I learn to talk. Grandpa loves to buy me stuff.

The other shoe drops

Grandpa’s questions got worse. He asked everyone in the room to look around at the people standing.

He said “If you have a client, dealer or a supplier standing, stand up and join them.”  Next he said, “Look at all the people standing. If they or any of their employees spend money at your business, please stand up.”

Then he told them that everyone who wasn’t standing probably wasn’t affected by the CPSIA – except that all the people standing might have a lot less money to spend around town because of the impact of CPSIA testing and compliance.

Finally he said “If you have any questions, see me after the meeting”, thanked the group for their cooperation, and sat down.

That’s how I remember it, but I was kind of distracted by a bottle when he was talking to great-grandpa.

Small business colic

I’m so colic-y about the CPSIA, I just wanna spit up all over the people who voted this in without thinking about all the moms who stay home with their little kids and make pretty dresses and things for girls like me.

PS: No, I’m not 6 months old in that photo, are you kidding? I’m so much bigger now. My grandpa really likes that picture. It’s from back when I was 2 months old, just a baby, not a big girl like I am now.

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Forging ahead despite the CPSIA

metalworking weekend
Creative Commons License photo credit: hans s

This week, a series of #CPSIA posts about what to do next and how to get the word out to other manufacturers, retailers, the media in your area and perhaps most importantly – to your elected officials. If you want to forge ahead with your homemade products business despite CPSIA, then read on.

If you don’t have any direct reason to care about dealing with the CPSIA (you should have an indirect reason to care), don’t worry – there are other posts this week that will help you with your business. I haven’t forgotten about the rest of you, it’s simply that this CPSIA issue is very time-bound and it’s important to deal with a number of issues relating to it before Feb 10 arrives.

If you’ve given up, read on anyway. You might develop enough hope to get back in the game. 

Surviving the February 10th deadline

I’m assuming that you got this far because you haven’t given up and you’re wondering what to do in the next few weeks before the CPSIA kicks in.

Before Feb 10th gets here, you’ll need a few things in your quiver.

If you’re a retailer, you’ll need a CPSIA General Compliance Certificate (GCC) for every item (or every lot of items) that you sell. The manufacturer of the items should provide these, it is not your responsibility as a retailer to test and create the certificates (sort of).

Why “sort of”? Because it IS your responsibility after Feb 10 to sell only those things for which you have GCC coverage. A nice catch-22. If you buy items from the same lot, each item is covered by the GCC for that lot. Still, each lot must have a GCC.

Yes, you’re right – there is a significant paperwork tracking issue here: You get to keep track of a form for every lot of every item you sell or have sold. We’ll get to that later in the week.

As for the items that won’t comply as of Feb 10, big retail (Wal-Mart, etc) is handling this by demanding that manufacturers accept returns on unsold merchandise that doesn’t comply. You may not have that option with your suppliers, but it is worth checking into. 

CRITICAL: You should be sure that all future contracts to purchase from your distributors and wholesale suppliers include a clause that allows you to return the items at the manufacturer’s cost (and for a full refund) if they are not CPSIA compliant.

What if my manufacturers say that providing the GCC isn’t their responsibility? Or what if they say they haven’t tested. Obviously, your actions here will depend on how bad you want their merchandise, but the bottom line is that while they do have to provide you with a GCC, finger pointing will do you no good if a CPSC inspector walks in your door.

You either need to get the manufacturer’s GCC, have the items tested yourself, or simply don’t buy from that manufacturer. If you sell those items, you’ve got the ultimate responsibility to have a GCC for each item or lot of items. 

What about my existing inventory?

For retailers, the choices here are slim: Either discard the items, return them to the manufacturer (if you can) or have them tested.

You can’t legally sell them if you don’t have a GCC. It might be tempting to simply sell them and try to run the non-compliant items out of stock after Feb 10. I wouldn’t advise that. Fines are $100,000 for violating the CPSIA.

Sure, it’s a roll of the dice whether you see an inspector or not, but if you do see one, it’ll probably be when you least expect it. Most small retailers I work with are not in a position to handle a rand0m $100,000 fine. Even if you are, you probably have better things to do with that money:)

If you are a manufacturer, you must test items and provide GCCs to your retailers on a lot by lot basis. If possible, provide an online area of your website where retailers can look them up by SKU and by lot number. Easy for you, easy for them. By the way, if you import items from outside the U.S. – you’re the manufacturer, so don’t assume you can skirt the issue that way. 

As for those GCCs, I’d also consider including a copy in every shipment’s paperwork, since one must be provided for each lot. Be sure that lot numbers appear on invoices, bills of lading and packing slips.

If you have an online system to look up your GCCs, I’d suggest that you print the URL of the GCC for that lot on all that paperwork as well. It gives the retailer no excuses when it comes to recognizing that you’ve provided a GCC. In fact, doing this offers your clients some options that your competition may not offer.

Always look for an edge – and making CPSIA compliance easier for your retailers is certainly a plus at a time when they are all pretty worried about how they are going to deal with this unfunded mandate on their time and record keeping resources. 

If you are a manufacturer who sells retail (ie: most people who make things in their own home, shop etc), then you still need to have your items tested. There are some exceptions, but they are pretty slim pickings, like natural fabrics that haven’t been dyed, inked or coated with any other material. If you are unsure, I suggest talking with an attorney who is familiar with the CPSIA. 

So…whether you are a retailer, manufacturer or both, that’ll get you working till August.

What about August?

August is “tomorrow” in the real world. You know that you’ll blink and it’ll be here. 

So what do you do to get ready for August? Well, it really depends on your products.

XRF testing is – so far – off the table as of August, when your merchandise must be tested by a certified third party testing lab. Problem is, the CPSC doesn’t have to issue the rules for a post-August CPSIA world until May. Until then, choose your merchandise wisely. As the rules flesh out over the next few months, we’ll come back to this topics from a post-August retail worldview.

That means you have that 100% inventory turn challenge twice this year. Don’t wait till the last minute – and again, if you are a retailer, be sure your purchase agreements with suppliers are iron-clad. I’d suggest that you try to stock your store with merchandise that is already compliant with August’s rules if at all possible.

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CPSC issues “guidance” for thrift and resale shops re: CPSIA

Thrift Store Sign
Creative Commons License photo credit: pixeljones

Earlier today, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a press release to clarify their intent regarding the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) as it relates to thrift stores, resale shops and the like.

The full press release can be found here, but the operative text is this:

The new law requires that domestic manufacturers and importers certify that childrenâ??s products made after February 10 meet all the new safety standards and the lead ban. Sellers of used childrenâ??s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.

The new safety law does not require resellers to test childrenâ??s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell childrenâ??s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties

Make note that thrift stores and resellers are not off the hook entirely, but that common sense changes were made to deal with a real world situation. Sort of.

Saying that old items aren’t subject to the law is one thing, until you turn around and say that the lead rules must still be obeyed. No one wants to be feeding kids lead with their Cocoa Krispies, but for once, it’d be nice if the CPSC would talk out of only one side of their mouth at a time.

Keep the pressure on, folks.

We still need to see better handling of the testing requirements for one of a kind (OOAK) and small lot manufacturers. Not to exempt them, simply to make their requirements fit their abilities rather than bankrupting them.

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Your son’s Pinewood Derby car: a “banned hazardous substance”

Pinewood Derby
Creative Commons License photo credit: midiman

Random thoughts get me in trouble sometimes. Today I got a call from the service manager of one of our local Chevy dealers.

Every February, the troop helps them by hand washing 250-280 cars during the dealer’s annual customer care clinic. It’s a brilliant free event that gets the dealer’s customers into the showroom for 30-40 minutes, feeds them, offers them door prizes, and most importantly – gets their cars run through the shop for a head to toe diagnostic/safety once-over by their certified mechanics.

In addition to finding some safety issues that could be fatal because they stranded you somewhere remote during our Montana winters, it also does a nice job of filling out the repair shop’s appointment book for a couple of months. 

After the inspection once-over is done, it gives the Scouts a chance to be seen in public doing something people appreciate (ie: handwashing their cars in February in Montana – albeit in a heated auto shop).

Anyhow, that conversation and the related thought process got me to thinking about The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA otherwise known as HR4040) and Scouting. Yes, its a bit of a tangent, but I got there, so let’s move on.

Patches, Pinewood and Pants

Im wondering if Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Headquarters is aware that the CPSIA drastically tightens the rules for the sale and manufacture of children’s products, including clothing, furniture, toys and other items (basically, *everything* created for a young child).

Patches, gear and uniforms will fall under this law for Scouts in younger age groups. Old gear AND gear *currently in inventory* that has not been tested CANNOT BE SOLD, by Scout shops, on eBay, by retail stores, etc.

Even Cub Scout Pinewood Derby car kits are impacted. No manufacturers – not even one-of-a-kind (OOAK) products are exempted.

They didn’t leave out the Girl Scouts, of course.  All their gear and clothing are also under the watchful eye of this law.

The gear, patches and clothing currently in inventory is what will cause the most interest by BSA National because 300+ council offices have lots of stuff in inventory in their stores and summer camp trading posts. 

All of it has to be certified or tested, or it must be removed from sale on Feb 10th. Or someone has to find an exemption. Right now, there are no exemptions.

Why pick on the kids?

This law was written primarily to deal with large multi-national firms importing containers of lead-tainted junk toys, so the fines are substantial.

This law is big trouble for people who make homemade clothing/toys/furniture, for diaper services, for resale shops, those making their living on ebay/ and many others (including everyone they buy items from to make their business run).

Lots of effort is taking place to try and get it fixed, but its already a law and many of the rules have yet to be written by the CPSC – despite the fact that the major components of the law go into effect on Feb 10. As written, the law impacts everyone.

Im curious if this is even remotely on the BSA’s radar because it will impact every council scout shop and every retailer who carries Scout items, new or used.

It will impact all the ordering of gear, patches and so on for NOAC 2009, for the 45,000+ attendees of the 100th Anniversary National Scout Jamboree at Camp A.P. Hill in Virginia, and every summer camp’s trading post for the 2009 season (and so on). That’s a lot of stuff. 

Is the CPSIA a surprise for you? You’re in luck

Ive posted a number of articles about the CPSIA, so if this is the first you’ve heard about it, I’d suggest starting your CPSIA education here and I would also suggest calling the BSA National office and ask them about CPSIA compliance of items from BSA National Supply. Don’t bother your council office with this (unless you’re on the council board) because they really can’t do much about it other than make sure they are ordering from CPSIA-compliant vendors.

In the meantime, you might also see if your Scout shop has a sale on Pinewood Cars – and buy your model car paint early. At present, there’s no telling what the status of model paints will be after Feb 10.

The reach of this law never ceases to amaze me.

Have you called your Senators’ DC offices?

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Offer customer-focused reasons vs. “It’s our policy”

Charlie Steep
Creative Commons License photo credit: ckindel

For months, my youngest son has been saving for a new set of skis. Given the instant gratification culture we’re surrounded by, its a good thing to watch a kid save his shekels for a few months for something he really wants.

The timing is good for him to reach his goal, as we’ve gotten over 5 feet of snow on the mountain in the last 7 days. Skiers and snowboard riders are in heaven around here.

On Saturday, it was payday. He finally went to pick up his new skis (Elan something – you can tell I’m not a ski geek). He took them to a local ski house to get bindings mounted and fitted to his (also new) vacuum-fitted boots. The store is known for having an expert repair staff and this sort of work is critical to safely enjoying a pair of skis.

So he drops off the skis and asks if he can have them the next day. No problem, they say.

“No problem”

When he calls, they aren’t ready and in fact, it turns out they haven’t been started because the experts forgot to ask for details like weight and skier skill level – important factors in setting up bindings. He’s a patient kid (not sure where he got that from) so 90 minutes later, he goes to pick them up only to be told that he can’t have them.

Why? Because he’s not 18. 

He can’t enter into a legal contract because he’s a minor. The contract? A likely unenforceable “legal document” aka waiver of liability for injuries that might occur as a result of some problem with the repair/binding installation. 

Until a parent signs the waiver, his skis are held hostage. 

Because of that little detail, a parent (that’s me) has to stop what they’re doing and drive 25 minutes each way to the store to sign a piece of paper that is more than likely unenforceable. Why unenforceable? Because if someone has valid cause to sue and an expert can prove the binding install (for example) was the cause of an accident, this 5×9 piece of paper isn’t going to make much difference. 

Oddly enough, my son doesn’t have to get a signature to buy the skis. He doesn’t have to get a signature to buy boots, poles or bindings either. But he does have to get a signature if someone installs the bindings onto the skis for him.

It’s just our policy

When my son calls me to get his skis out of purgatory, I ask him to put the store guy on the phone.

When I question the ski shop guy, I get comments like “I just do the work” and “Its just our policy”.

Do I care if he just does the work? Do I care that “its just our policy”? Not even. When your staff answers questions like this – do your clients care? 

I’m not asking him why I have to sign the paper. I know that’s just something the store’s legal team cooked up because the industry advises they do so and I just have to tolerate it. 

I’m asking the ski repair guy why the store think it’s ok to take a kid’s money when they know the kid can’t consummate the sale and take delivery of their product.

I’m also asking them why they aren’t informing their customer at the time of the sale that picking up this item will require a parent signature. Telling them at that time, and perhaps sending them home with a form to allow for future pickups might prevent future customer service issues like this. 

Instead, I get nothing but policy speak. Bleah.

Making it better

What would have been better? Something like this:

“We require a parent signature because our management feels that most parents would want to know about purchases and repairs that have a potential to impact their child’s safety and experience on the slopes. While our legal team has their own reasons, we feel it’s important that parents are aware when we are selling certain items to their children. If you want to avoid this in the future, we’ve created an option for parents who don’t need at-purchase-time notification for each purchase. We started this program for our expert skiers and snowboard riders, like local world class snowboard rider Tanner Hall. If you trust the expertise of your kids, you can sign this special form that lets them get bindings and repairs done without parental interruption. The cool thing is that you still get a postcard in the mail each time they make a purchase covered by the agreement, so you know what’s going on.”

That’s what would have been better. 

Look, every customer realizes that businesses have to protect themselves, but they don’t have to care. 

Train your staff to communicate things in customer-centric reasoning, rather than “corporate legal” policy statements. That’s what the paperwork is for. Your staff is there to create and improve upon the relationship you have with your clients, not to spout policy.

So much for that day on the slopes

Going back to what happened with the store…By the time I drop what I’m doing and drive 25 minutes to the store to sign the waiver, it’s not even worth making the trip to the mountain because the lifts on the advanced slopes close at 3pm. What kind of taste does that leave in a customer’s mouth? My son spends more money at this store than I do. Far more:)

Bottom line: Make it easy to do business with your company. If you have policies in place that might be misunderstood by your clients or that might inconvenience them, explain them before they cause a problem and find ways to avoid the inconvenience altogether. This entire episode could have been avoided without reducing the company’s legal protection.