Michelle was having an anxiety attack. It was only her second day at Golfster Promo [names have been changed to protect the uninformed], a leading supplier of golf-related promotional products. Like many suppliers and distributors in our industry since the implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008, Golfster’s clients were increasingly asking for test reports for its products, and like most companies, Golfster didn’t have many test reports on file. It was losing business with nearly every phone call or e-mail that came in asking for written proof of compliance, so the company hired Michelle to set up a product-safety testing program.
Michelle, a former assistant buyer for a department store, had no prior experience in product safety, so she was going to have to wing it for awhile. But first she needed to get testing done ASAP on a rush order of 12,000 drawstring sportpacks with a four-color imprint for a well-known golf equipment company.
Michelle knew from the customer’s specifications that the products had to meet CPSIA, California Proposition 65 and Canadian regulations, but the factory and the ink supplier didn’t have any test reports on hand to give her. Michelle had less than three weeks to deliver the products, so she had to hurry to find a test lab. She quickly rounded up samples of the sportpack and sent them to a lab that her former employer used, figuring that all labs were the same.
After a week of not hearing from the lab, she called and was informed that she had not sent enough samples to complete the testing. Michelle was really stressed as she quickly threw some more samples in a box and shipped them to the lab. She was running out of time, and if she messed this up, she could get fired before she even saw her first paycheck. To make up time, she asked the lab to expedite the testing so she could meet her shipping deadline. Unfortunately, the lab didn’t tell her that the rush testing incurred a 150-percent upcharge.
In the end, Golfster’s drawstring sportpack passed testing, but with barely enough time to ship the product. The lab’s invoice for the testing was a shock, eating up nearly all the profit the company had in the project. Michelle’s lack of experience in working with a lab cost the company in many ways. What could Michelle have done differently?
1. Pick the right lab for the job. This is always the No. 1 consideration when working with test labs. A few of the mega-sized labs are too busy with their multimillion dollar, big-box retail accounts to pay any attention to the average-sized supplier in our business. Michelle should have taken an extra day or two to interview a few of the smaller CPSIA-accredited labs that are sensitive to the short deadlines, miniscule profit margins, small batches and semi-custom products that make our industry so challenging. A few labs reach out specifically to our industry to seek business (including UL-STR, which is PPAI’s approved lab business partner).
2. Work with the right person at the lab. Michelle should have asked to speak with the lab’s promotional products client service manager to determine if he or she would be a good fit for her business and compliance needs. Some client service managers are experts in apparel, textiles, footwear, bags, luggage and other soft-line items, while others are trained in hard goods such as drinkware, writing instruments, toys, electronics and other hard-lines items. It’s critically important that Michelle work with the lab representative who can best answer her technical questions on a timely basis, guide her in developing proper testing protocols for her products and build a trusting partnership for both companies.
3. Ask the lab how to save money in testing. Michelle was in such a rush she failed to ask her lab how she could save money in testing the sportpacks and the inks. Unfortunately she didn’t know that testing can be very expensive and has to meet government-approved testing protocols. Under certain circumstances the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has allowed the labs to certify compliance using “component” testing of common parts and components and “composite” testing of like materials such as inks and other materials to dramatically reduce the cost of testing. Michelle should have asked about any cost-saving measures the lab could suggest for her testing, but she didn’t know to ask. Furthermore, Michelle should have asked for any discounts that the lab may give her. Most labs will provide a discount, even a nominal one, if a client can demonstrate a desire to form a business relationship and has a respectable level of testing needs. The more testing volume (in revenue dollars to the lab) a company projects on an annual basis, the greater the discount will be. Check with several labs to determine their best discounts for your business, but compare their prices for the same tests to determine your “effective price” for each test. You may be surprised.
4. Test in Asia vs. in the u.s. In this case, Michelle had little time to get her product tested, so it was best for her to get the sportpacks tested at a lab in the U.S. If she had more time, and if the products were being made for her in Asia, she would have saved a lot of money by having the sportpacks tested at an accredited lab situated near her factory. Testing in Asia is frequently more than 50-percent less expensive than having the same product tested in a U.S. lab due to various cost-efficiency factors that allow the Asian labs to charge less for their services. All of the reputable lab companies have CPSC-accredited labs in China and other parts of Asia. The next time Michelle needs testing, she should certainly get a quote from her lab for testing in Asia as well as in the U.S. The savings can be astounding.
5. Specify the right tests for the product. When Michelle sent her samples to be tested, she simply instructed the lab to “test this item to make sure it’s safe and meets the customer’s requirements.” This was a critical mistake. Seeing an opportunity to up sell on this order, the lab performed several tests that were not required by law or the customer. Golfster ended up paying for testing that was not needed, and this was another reason the testing bill was so high. Michelle learned the hard way that she should: 1. Always get a written quote for her testing; 2. Always request the lab quote only the tests that are mandatory by law and as such may be required by her customer; and 3. Have her lab’s client service manager explain the testing needs so she can learn from each new testing project.
Choosing the right lab for your company is like choosing the right physician for your family’s healthcare needs. The same qualities you seek in a doctor should be demonstrated by your lab of choice. Trustworthiness, exceptional technical skills, responsive communications (especially in urgent situations), patient and thorough answers to questions and an empathetic understanding of your needs and challenges should describe your lab. Avoiding Michelle’s mistakes in the above scenario will save your company a lot of time, money and its hard-earned reputation. Last, it will also prevent a lot of anxiety.
Leeton Lee has been in the product safety and compliance industry for 18 years, starting as in-house legal counsel at The Walt Disney Company where he worked for seven years and helped to form Disney’s industry-leading Corporate Product Integrity Department and managed the company’s legal matters for its worldwide product safety and liability program. As an attorney for approximately 25 years, he has extensive experience in regulatory compliance and product safety, namely in toys, children’s products, promotional products and apparel. In addition to working at Disney, he has performed associate general counsel duties at industry leaders Sega Gameworks and Equity Marketing (aka EMAK Worldwide). He is currently vice president of regulatory compliance and general counsel at drinkware supplier ETS Express, Inc. in Oxnard, California. He was recently appointed to PPAI’s Product Responsibility Action Group (PRAG).