Going Above and Beyond and Then Some.
When Prime Line became a founding supplier of QCA back in 2008, Jill Rogoz, senior director of compliance and quality assurance, says the company went into the program with eyes wide open. They felt much was being done correctly within their facility to consistently deliver safe, high-quality, socially compliant and environmentally conscientious merchandise. However, with a vast array of products—everything from bags, drinkware, tech accessories, gift items, desk products, stress relievers, apparel, headwear, executive toys and writing instruments—they knew there would be an opportunity for improvement.
“While Prime has operated within defined product safety, quality and social accountability parameters, the initial process for QCA Accreditation revealed many opportunities for improvement,” Jill says. “Taking a long and honest look at our policies, processes and procedures to completely answer the initial self-assessment was actually the most challenging part of the process. The vast amount of information we needed to gather and verify from all departments within the company was daunting. However, it was this process of gathering information that truly showed not only the gaps and weaknesses in our programs but also the strengths!”
That’s a great point. It’s never easy to hear feedback about things that could be done better. But the flip side is that you may get confirmation on things that are being done right. Moreover, to grow and prosper in today’s business environment, it’s important to know both.
It’s also critical to understand that product safety, and compliance (social responsibility, environmental stewardship, product quality and supply chain security) is not like summiting a mountain and being able to say you got to the top and now you’re done. Rather, it’s a continuous journey that becomes integrated into the way you do business.
Prime has taken this integration seriously, establishing a large budget for product testing, factory audits, and a dedicated quality-assurance staff. Moreover, for more than a decade, they have utilized a dedicated in-house laboratory armed with XRF technology. “For all shipments that arrive at any of our warehouses, we send representative samples to the XRF laboratory where a dedicated technician monitors them for compliance with heavy metals,” Jill says.
As important as testing is, audits are what safeguard brand safety. “Our audits go above and beyond, ensuring we work with factories that operate with the same social, environmental and quality ideals that drive us every day,” Jill says. “Brand safety means everything to Prime Line.”
In order to maintain this assurance, Prime has partnered with a consultant in China since 2014 that performs comprehensive audit checks on 10-12 factories each year. “These checks provide additional assurances while covering all aspects of a QCA audit including social accountability, environmental stewardship, quality program, product safety and supply chain security,” Jill says. Findings from the audits are carefully reviewed and, if needed, corrective actions are taken to ensure any deficiencies are appropriately addressed.”
So why go above and beyond the accepted industry norms? “Brand safety means everything to Prime Line,” Jill says. “While regulatory compliance is extremely important, maintaining our customer’s trust to keep their clients’ brands safe is the main reason. When working with new customers, it is especially important because it represents proof that our processes and products are safe and compliant.”
Being able to have the proof – that buyers demand – requires that all QCA Accredited Suppliers re-accredit every two years. “The continuous reaccreditation process and audits requires us to regularly review our processes, our factories and ourselves for improvement,” Jill says. “Exercises such as mock recalls and internal audits are invaluable, provide additional information and expose more areas for improvement. Moreover, the available guidance documents provide thoughtful and useful information to aid us in bettering our ability to maintain our customers’ trust to keep their brands safe.”
Because of its affiliation with QCA, the folks at Prime get lots of questions from distributors about compliance and brand safety. Jill loves it when a distributor challenges her with a “Why?” “A ‘why’ question (such as, ‘Why is this item not age-graded?’) provides an opportunity to give details and enables the distributor to understand the reasoning and regulations behind a test,audit or age grade,” she explains. “’Why’ questions not only prove how vast the subject of product safety and compliance truly is but also why suppliers must be willing to invest time and money into staffing,testingand audits. And, I most especially appreciate when a distributor asks ‘why’ and challenges me with an opportunity to learn a new element of the ever-changing, ever-growing world of product safety and compliance.”