Product Quality

One Year Later, IKEA’s Tip-over Troubles Continue   A little over a year ago, the furniture retailer IKEA recalled 29 million dressers and chests from its MALM line following the deaths of seven children. According to the Consumer Product Safety Co, the IKEA products did not comply with the U.S. voluntary industry standard and thus posed a serious tip-over hazard.   IKEA offered consumers a full refund on the unsafe chests and dressers sold from 2002 through June 2016 as well as free wall anchoring kits. Three of the families whose children were killed took IKEA to court. IKEA agreed to settle all three wrongful death claims for the sum of $50 million plus donations to children’s charities.   But the ordeal isn’t over for IKEA, even one year later. On June 28, 2017, a group of safety advocates sent a dire warning letter to CPSC claiming that IKEA hasn’t done enough to address the tip-over prone furniture.   Spotlight on Safety IKEA’s woes should serve as a warning to promotional products suppliers. Product safety is clearly under the scrutiny of regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission along with advocacy groups like the Consumer Federation of America. In a nutshell: This could happen to you. Don’t let it happen.   When it comes to product safety and product quality, the best offense is a good defense. Mitigating risk by manufacturing or sourcing safe products is a far better alternative than incurring the costs and the damage of a recall, lawsuit, and public relations nightmare – not to mention the loss of consumer goodwill from a failed product.   Quality Assurance Companies who undergo the QCA Accreditation process are asked to document a protocol for ensuring their products adhere to quality and performance standards as determined by regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These businesses mitigate risk by validating product quality before sourcing or manufacturing.   QCA-accredited companies perform product quality audits and testing to their manufacturing operations. These types of inspections go deeper than random inspections. Product quality audits help ensure that the right processes are in place. They also pinpoint potential problems early in the process.   By making a commitment to developing and selling high-quality products, promotional product companies are also making an investment in product safety, resulting in a better product experience for all involved parties. Contact us today to...

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AMA Conf. Attendees Abuzz by Message of BRAND PROTECTION

by Tim Brown, MAS   A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Las Vegas to participate in the American Marketing Association’s 2017 Annual Conference, held at Caesars Palace Hotel. It was a small group – only 300 attendees – but the gathering attracted some big names.   Keynote and session speakers included Nancy Poznoff, Starbucks VP of Marketing; Andrew Keller; Facebook Global Creative Director; Andrew Swinand, Leo Burnett CEO; and Brad Batesole, LinkedIn Marketing Consultant. Also, representatives from Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase and Content Marketing Institute attended. Like I said: big names, small group.   Buzz at the Booth Most of the attendees were from senior management – presidents, vice presidents, CMOs and marketing directors. To my surprise, despite the small attendance size, this was the most active conference I have exhibited at this year in terms of wanting a deeper knowledge of brand protection strategies.   For the first time, a representative from QCA’s Distributor Advocacy Council (DAC) joined me at the event. This allowed us to explain how our most ardent supporters interact with QCA. At the same time, we assured attendees that brand protection would not be a huge burden on them as it would not require major changes on their behalf. We explained to attendees that they just needed to have the conversation with their promotional distributors to determine their knowledge and awareness in the responsible sourcing space. Even so, they wanted to know who was on the council in their area of the country, in case their distributor did not get it. This was a win for our supporters on the DAC as we were able to share the list of those companies.   Attendees were drawn to the booth by a simple question, “IS YOUR BRAND SAFE?” The brand safety question piqued people’s interest, and we talked extensively to various marketing leaders throughout the day. Sadly, I was not stunned by the lack of consideration previously given to protecting brand reputations by key marketing professionals. However, it did not take long for these C-suite and senior-level marketing leaders to grasp the importance of brand protection.   I was even approached by other exhibitors who wanted to talk about brand protection and promotional products. One exhibitor shared a story about an issue they had with a non-compliant tech product and how they will look to use tested tech items in the future.   Reputation...

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Compelling Associations to Value Promotional Products and Associate with Brand Reputation

By Tim Brown, MAS   You would think that the attendees of a conference held by an association for association executives would be hyper-aware of compliance issues. But I discovered, upon attending the Annual Meeting and Exposition of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), that this isn’t necessarily the case.   Promotional Products Providers It’s a given that trade associations are significant users of promotional products. Because their events provide a venue for their distribution of mass amounts of promotional products, I expected them to know about promotional products. I was not disappointed. With the number of trade shows run by associations, the association executives I spoke to were very familiar with promotional products.   What surprised me though is those I spoke with had not given compliance much thought. Since the majority of associations exist to protect an industry or the public, or to promote awareness of a cause, protecting an association’s brand would seem second nature.   However, they quickly caught on that adding brand protection and user safety to the mix would allow them to add value for themselves and their members.   I explained that paying a little more and getting a lesser quantity would result in people hanging on to what they handed out. They also understood the need for compliance after I showed them where their own promotional items could be missing key markers and labels in particular instances (ex: tech products and plush).   Conveying the Message in Conversation This conversation paved the way for the cost per impression conversation which was easily understood by most since no one wants their logo tossed in the trash before it even leaves the show floor. This is in line with the message that PPAI has promoted with its important “Get In Touch” campaign, targeting end buyers.   Association executives understand that people like to get stuff. Providers of promotional items want people to remember them by their stuff, and they do not want their brands tarnished by that same stuff.   Because associations have a broad reach and lots of influence of their membership, they are a great avenue for sharing our message. I made several contacts who are interested in exploring partnering opportunities and many others who want to discuss further how they can actually share this information with their members.   These executives saw value in sourcing responsibly and protecting their...

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All About Brand Protection: AMA Summer Conference Takeaways

By Tim Brown, MAS, QCA Executive Director, Operations   Last week, I traveled to San Francisco to participate in the American Marketing Association’s Summer Academic Conference. It was an intimate gathering of 300 or so attendees, most of whom were marketing professors and marketing researchers.   Many of these professors and researchers represented some of the top business and marketing schools in the country. Which is why I was so surprised to learn that most of the professors at these institutions didn’t teach their students about brand protection.   However, nearly every professor I spoke with immediately took to the message and wanted to learn more. One professor mentioned that he would be interested in doing his next research project on the subject. Several wanted more information and content that they could share with their students. A handful were so engaged with the topic that they asked if I could be a guest speaker for their classes, which I am happy to do.   Buyers of Tomorrow Ironically, the value of brand protection is something most of these young students already “get.” They see the damage that can be done by social media campaigns like #DeleteUber, which can go viral and crush a brand’s reputational value very quickly. They know that a brand’s identity and reputation have never been more in flux — or at risk. These students will be the end buyers of tomorrow.   Once they graduate with marketing degrees and get entry-level jobs, they’ll likely be the ones ordering promotional products. I’ve talked to a lot of end buyers who’ve told me their primary objective is to build and protect their brands. So, they expect you to take care with the products they’re buying and on which they’re putting their logo. They want to make sure their brand has reputational value and they want to prevent a loss of brand integrity.   Getting in Touch My conversations with marketing professors at the AMA conference reminded me that, until now, marketing academia had not given much thought to promotional products. However, with PPAI’s “Get In Touch” campaign and their efforts to work with the AMA and others, I see the beginnings of awareness and interest in our medium from marketing professionals, professors and students.   The marketing professors I spoke to were able to quickly make a correlation between QCA Accreditation and ISO Certification, or FLA Certification and other...

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Waste Not, Want Not: Why Product Quality Matters

Last week, Quality Certification Alliance exhibited at the 2017 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum, hosted by the Product Stewardship Institute. The event focused primarily on extended producer responsibility, a strategy that promotes integrating environmental costs associated with products throughout their life cycle into the market price of the products.   Attendees included sustainability and waste management professionals, state and local government representatives, environmental sustainability associations and organizations, and major energy brands.   QCA’s Tim Brown, Executive Director of Operations, represented QCA at the forum. “The attendees were determined to protect the environment and reduce waste,” Brown says. “Since promotional products – especially the cheap stuff – contribute to the waste stream, I was concerned about whether we would be accepted.”   Brown’s fears were somewhat mollified after listening to several session presenters, who made it clear that businesses must make a profit in order to keep the economy going. What they wanted was for companies to learn how to make a profit responsibly through the reclamation of products.   On Point for Product Quality Attendees’ biggest concern regarding promotional products was the “throwaway” nature of promotional products, Brown says. “If a cheap pen quits working within a week, then it gets tossed,” Brown adds. “This defeats the purpose of the promotional product. Unfortunately, too many end buyers and end users see promotional products as cheap throwaways.”   One way to dispel that image is to educate on the value of quality products rather than take orders for the cheap stuff. “Attendees understood that better quality means less items going into the waste stream as quickly,” Brown says.   Since the forum focused on the importance of recycling batteries, electronics, and other products containing rare earth metals – and how this creates a circular economy that reduces the costs and impact of future mining – the issue was brought up by attendees when in discussion with Brown.   “The proper disposal of batteries was a big concern, based on the amount of tech items sold in the promotional products industry,” Brown says. “Attendees would like to see an effort on behalf of the promotional products industry to collect or direct people to proper disposal resources for unwanted products.”   Takeaways & Opportunities What were Brown’s takeaways from the Product Stewardship Forum? Was there anything he learned that could impact the future of the promotional products industry?   “I see an opportunity...

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Fair Labor Nightmare: Why Social Compliance Is Always in Fashion

Over the past year, Ivanka Trump’s fashion label has contended with multiple threats to its brand, from politically motivated boycotts to department stores dropping its products lines. Most recently, the label has been accused of practicing unethical labor standards.   In October 2016, one of the fashion label’s Chinese manufacturers, Xuankai Shoes Co., allegedly mistreated workers by paying low wages and requiring excessive hours of labor. Then in June, a news story investigated working conditions at its factory in Subang, Indonesia. Workers there complained of verbal abuse, “impossibly high production targets,” and “poverty pay” wages so low that workers are forced to live away from their children.   Compliance Concern The long-term impact of this negative publicity – both on the fashion label itself and the fashion industry as a whole – remains to be seen. But clearly, the company’s immediate priority should be to conduct a “deep dive” analysis of its supply chain.   The fashion label’s foibles serve as a compelling call to action for suppliers today. If your company is truly committed to corporate social responsibility, you will simply not tolerate unfair labor practices, no matter where they exist in the supply chain.   Publicity challenges like these are a sobering reminder of the importance of maintaining social compliance. It’s critical to a supplier’s success, not only to meet regulatory requirements but to protect the integrity of their brand and reputation.   Eliminating Exposure Today’s consumers will avoid purchasing items that are linked to human rights abuses and unfair working conditions. For this reason, many companies are now incorporating social compliance messaging into their sales campaigns; spotlighting the company’s commitment to fair labor standards may now be a key component of their marketing strategy.   Companies that don’t adequately invest in third-party compliance programs expose themselves to potential brand and reputational damage down the line. Noncompliance bites back, sooner or later. Risk mitigation is one reason Quality Certification Alliance exists.   QCA Accredited companies have policies, procedures and protocols that effectively address local and national laws for labor compliance in their facilities. For more information on social compliance and how it relates to QCA Accreditation, including best practices, human rights, and QCA monitoring standards, contact us...

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