Safety Champion


The decision to create a new position within an organization is a difficult one. It often comes down to cost versus benefit. What will this position bring to our company? Will it boost the bottom line? Will it add to the quality of our products or services? Will it give us a leg up on the competition? Then add in the time and energy you’ll spend to develop the job description, search for candidates, conduct interviews, research salary and plan training—will it be worth it?

If the job is VP of operations, PR manager or IT director, there is a wide variety of people, businesses and systems in place to help flesh out the position as well as find a pool of candidates that fit your company’s specific needs and requirements. However, when a position is new to an industry, it’s a different story. Say “hello” to the new promotional products safety compliance officer.

As safety and compliance are becoming part of day-to-day operations, finding an individual who can take the helm and follow the winding trail through complex rules and regulations is becoming essential for many companies within the promotional products industry. As a result, both distributors and suppliers are recognizing the need to add a team member who can decipher regulatory material and communicate the message to everyone from salespeople to vendors. At the same time, a successful individual is also involved in the business on a day-to-day basis, assisting in determining the company’s challenges and solutions.

Some in the industry have opted to handle safety and compliance as a team effort or enlist and train a current employee, while others have taken the leap and hired an experienced safety compliance officer. Which is better for your company? Do you need this position at all? PPB talked to companies throughout the industry for their take on how to handle this growing need.

A New Role

In December 2011, David Geiger was hired as compliance officer at Lewiston, Maine-based distributor Geiger (UPIC: Geiger). While product safety has always been important, says the son of industry veteran and company president Gene Geiger, MAS, the company’s upper management determined that a full-time position was necessary to keep the company on the right path. “The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) is enforcing and creating new laws—it is something that isn’t going away. It is increasingly important to have someone on hand dealing with the issues and going about compliance in the right way,” says David Geiger, who recently earned a business degree from the University of Southern California.

Part of Geiger’s job is to research and read the regulatory documents and then disseminate the information to the sales force and clients. “We are trying to make sure we are on top of everything.”

After being in the job for little more than a year, he says he’s gone through more than 3,000 documents pertaining to safety and compliance. Geiger has a few suggestions for companies who are looking to put a safety compliance officer in place.

“Look for someone who likes law. Not necessarily a lawyer, but someone who can study legal issues and case studies,” he says. “You need someone who is a quick learner. I spent my first six months learning, reading and viewing webinars at least once a week.”

Geiger says the biggest part of his job is educating staff and teaching classes. He says it can be intimidating, coming right out of college and giving presentations to the executive team—people who have been in the industry for 20 or 30 years. “One of the biggest parts of the job is communication. A person in this position needs to learn how to talk to a wide variety of people. If you can’t relay the message to team members, then you aren’t helping your company,” Geiger says. “You have to keep an open mind. Not everyone understands product safety issues. When talking with customers or the sales force, you have to spin product safety in a positive way—how your company’s attention to safety and compliance issues differentiates it from others.”

Geiger is part of a 10-member product safety team that meets on a regular basis to discuss issues, next steps and methods to relay messages to customers. “In this job you can’t think you know everything; there are always new laws coming out and there is always someone who knows more. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Don’t stop learning.”

Finding The Right Skill Set

Unlike David Geiger, Mary Curtin, vice president of administration for distributor 4imprint, Inc, (UPIC: 4imprint), has been in the industry for 18 years, starting out as controller at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin-based company. In her current role she works with vendor relations, human resources, and training and facilities teams. Recently 4imprint hired a safety compliance officer, who reports to Curtin. “It was one of the best decisions we have made,” she says.

Product safety and choosing the right vendors to partner with have always been critical for 4imprint, Curtin says. It was something the entire leadership of the company handled. “As we continued to grow, the decision [to hire a full-time person in the position] came as we recognized that the workload in this area wasn’t going to decrease and the complexity was going to increase,” Curtin says, adding that hiring someone for this position benefits both the company and clients. “For us, we see it as an extension of doing the right thing for all of us—customers, internal team and our vendors.”

While each company has to make its own decision as far as hiring a safety compliance officer, Curtin says that much of it depends on the company’s team and its expertise. “I would say that just adding this position doesn’t solve everything—it takes commitment from everyone involved.”

If an organization makes the decision to create the position of safety compliance officer, Curtin says a company needs to clearly define the position. Who will this person interact with— customers, sales members, end users, testing labs?

“When we made the decision to hire [a safety compliance officer], we started first with cultural fit,” she explains. “We looked for candidates with extensive experience in supply-chain management, regulatory issues, a willingness to learn and stay up to date on changes that impact our industry, and come up with a plan when action is needed. In this role, communication is critical.”

Once the job description is written and outlined, the next step is finding the right candidates—not always an easy process since this position is new to the industry. Curtin suggests looking both inside and outside the industry. “It’s not the easiest position to recruit, as there aren’t large pools of candidates with this background,” she says. “It shortens the learning curve if someone has an industry background, but sometimes having someone from outside the industry gives you insight into how other industries work—different perspectives to consider.”

At 4imprint, the safety compliance officer reports to Curtin but is very involved in working with merchandising, customer service and leadership teams. Curtin’s advice, “Take your time to find the right fit for your company with the needed skill sets.”

Knowing The Industry

Los Angeles-based distributor PromoShop (UPIC: pro) looked no further than its own Kim Bakalyar, who was director of vendor relations, when searching for a compliance officer. It was three years ago that the company saw the need for someone who could learn and understand all the compliance laws and regulations. Bakalyar, who has worked for PromoShop for eight years and has been in the industry for 32, says you can try to be an expert—but in reality, no one can. “It is extremely important, as we see the laws keep changing—getting more stringent—that you have someone who can dive in and dig, and stay up-to-date with what’s going on. We have to protect our brand and our client’s brand.”

Bakalyar, now chief compliance officer/vendor relations, says one of the most important aspects is working with vendors you can trust. “It just makes it easier to do business.”

When searching for someone to fill the job of safety compliance officer, Bakalyar suggests looking for an individual connected to the industry and up to speed on what’s going on in the world. She said networking was key when she was learning about compliance—that and attending conferences and symposiums. “The International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO) and Quality Certification Alliance (QCA) symposiums were the first places that I was exposed to this. It was a wealth of information.”

But just gleaning the information from conferences or reports isn’t the answer. The key is communication. The compliance officer must be able to convey the information so it can be understood on all levels. “You have to be able to relay the information to our specific industry. I’ve been in meetings about compliance and you can see the salespeople’s eyes glaze over. But if you relate it to their clients—questions clients might ask or have asked—now it affects them in terms they understand,” Bakalyar says.

A compliance officer’s job involves keeping current with what is going on, and working with the right vendors. “We have a small pool of vendors—preferred suppliers—and they have 80 percent of what we need. Working outside of the core vendors, you have to know what to look for and what questions to ask.”

Her job, Bakalyar says, has many levels. Each day she looks through all the orders that came in the day before. She then determines which products may be at risk, how the product is being distributed, who it is going to, and if there is testing documentation.

For example, Bakalyar says part of her job is looking at the logo on the product and determining who might be attracted to it. Even if the product isn’t intended for children, if the logo is something a child might be attracted to, she errs on the side of caution and labels it accordingly. The laws aren’t very specific,” she says. “This tends to be one of the biggest issues and vendors are starting to look at this also. It is really a challenge, so much happens so fast.”

Bakalyar, who reports to the company’s COO, has the authority to reject an order; however, she says this rarely happens. She says the company has a list of vendors who are compliant. If someone is using a vendor not on the list, then she checks to make sure the clients have a testing protocol. “If there is a question, we (the salesperson and I) have a conversation; we look at the vendor and ask for testing documentation. This has only happened once or twice, and when it has, we offered alternative solutions. I’ve been very lucky; I work with great salespeople who ‘get’ it.”

The Team Approach

Maryland-based supplier Towel Specialties (UPIC: TOWELSPEC) doesn’t have one person who handles safety and compliance issues, but it has a team that consists of several key individuals including the purchasing manager, operations manager and warehouse manager, among others. Marketing manager Murray Siegel got up to speed on safety and compliance issues and worked directly with QCA to acquire accreditation for the company. He was instrumental in establishing the compliance team for Towel Specialties.

Siegel says he has talked to several other suppliers that have also divided up the job. “They all have two, three or four people, each playing a part. It is just too much for one person to do.”

While Siegel says he is less involved in the day-to-day compliance issues, if he were to hire one person to manage this department, he would first look for someone with product safety experience. “I’d look for someone with a background in corporate America on the retail or toy side, rather than someone inside the industry,” he said. “You need a detail-oriented person that is good at juggling a lot of balls. This job requires a lot of persistence.”

Gary Haley, president of New Ulm, Minnesota-based supplier Beacon Promotions, Inc. (UPIC: BEACONP), also utilizes a group compliance team. He believes hiring a safety compliance officer is a good idea if your company is large enough to support it; if not, he thinks the group effort is the best direction.

Haley says his company started focusing on compliance a number of years ago. “It started with PPAI legal counsel John Satagaj at The PPAI Expo a few years ago talking about Prop 65. It was the Association (PPAI) that brought it to our attention,” he remembers. In those early days Beacon started finding out more and began testing all products and instigated third-party testing. “We wanted to provide safe products all around, including safe products in our building. No one handles products more than our employees,” Haley adds.

Now, Haley says, testing is a regular part of doing business. “There is no limit to how much you can spend to be compliant—you can never be compliant enough. Diligence is the key,” he says. “We test every shipment that comes in. If it is noncompliant it goes back. And, guess what, we get compliant products.”

Haley says he believes that it is important for distributors to vet the suppliers. “This falls back on the owner or president or the vendor relations person.”

Important Industry Position

Howard Headden, director of promotional products sourcing for Chicago, Illinios-based distributor InnerWorkings, Inc. (UPIC: Inner990), recently brought someone on board to handle safety and compliance. While he sees this position as something new to the industry, he believes there is nothing more important than all-around safety and compliance. “It is one of the single most important factors in our industry—establishing brands that you can trust.”

When looking for the candidate to fill the position, Headden looked inside the company to Manix Bilog, central sourcing manager/international for InnerWorkings. “He had a unique skill set; he managed development and international sourcing for major toy and game manufacturers and worked with overseas testing labs.”

The experience Bilog brings to the table includes skills that Headden believes are important when hiring a safety compliance officer. These include the ability to communicate with overseas factories, reading and understanding laws and regulations and understanding how these pertain to your company and customer base. Most important, he says, is being able to articulate this information to the company’s sales force.

Another part of the equation is finding a partner with factory audit experience that can be your eyes and ears overseas. “This is important for checks and balances. You need someone who will physically go in the factories—someone you can trust—who can verify testing and compliance.”

While this position may be a significant investment for a company, he believes it is necessary and very important for both suppliers and distributors. “At the end of the day, it is important to protect your brand and image in the marketplace, and just as important, that of your clients, with safe and compliant products,” he says. “And, you can completely offset the cost by gaining more leverage with other like-minded customers.”

Pamela Fields Webb is the director of communications for a charitable organization and a freelance writer. She is the former editor of PPAI’s Promotional Consultant digital magazine and Promotional Consultant Today e-newsletter.



>>What Tops Our List Look for these qualities when hiring a safety compliance officer:

  • Great communication. It’s not enough for your new hire to be able to understand the safety and compliance rules and regulations, it is imperative that the new member of your organization have the ability to disseminate information to the staff, salespeople and leadership at all levels. He or she should also be able to take complicated legalese and communicate it in a manner that everyone understands—in simple and plain language.
  • A hunger for knowledge. Find a person who loves to learn—who enjoys attending conferences and seminars. Look for a person who can search the web for new laws and regulations, gobbles up the information and then looks for more.
  • Relationship builder. The ability to establishing long-term relationships with compliant vendors is key to becoming a successful safety compliance officer.
  • A thick skin. The person assuming this position should not be afraid to take a stand. This person needs the ability to work with staff and vendors to find alternatives when a product or factory is out of compliance.
  • World view. Find someone who thrives on learning about the inside operations of international companies and factories—the customs, the holidays, the work ethic. You need a trusted, reliable partner to be your eyes and ears.
  • Organized. The best candidate will also be diligent in maintaining all records related to regulatory testing and keeping all team members informed of the dates of upcoming changes.

>>More New Job TitlesToday’s business world demands new skills and expertise in areas not even invented 10 years ago. Here’s a glimpse of some of the other cutting-edge job titles being added to company rosters:

Social Media Marketer (Also known as: Buzz Builder, Social Media Evangelist, Online Brand Ambassador) Dedicated to creating a buzz online by generating content, contests and other ways to engage users

Community Manager (Also known as: Online Community Strategist) Creates and grows places for users to gather online, gets people involved with the company’s brand or cause, and builds relationships with consumers and stakeholders

Product Manager (Also known as: Product Marketing Manager, Product Owner) Launches a product or service into the marketplace and oversees its growth

User Experience (UX) Professional (Also known as: UX Designer, Information Architect, User Researcher, Interaction Designer) Creates the user experience and ensures that the product or service is easy to use and has the right look and feel

Data Analytics Professional (Also known as: Web Analytics Analyst, Data Mining Analyst, Data Guru) Gathers the company’s metrics from online campaigns, traffic builders, customer trends and turns it into useful information the company can easily use

Scrum Master (There’s no alternative). Scrum is a new methodology in software development. The Scrum Master manages the Scrum within the development group.

Source: The Daily Muse






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