PPAI’s Product Responsibility Summit Starts And Finishes Strong

This year’s PPAI Product Responsibility Summit drew nearly 170 industry professionals to Alexandria, Virginia, for two and a half days of expert-led education sessions focused on ensuring safe and compliant promotional products.

Leeton Lee, who has been involved since the inaugural event in 2011 and now chairs the PPAI Product Responsibility Action Group, says Summit is a unique event because of the concentration of valuable resources and the information provided. This year Summit attracted almost 70 first-time attendees.

“I think each person in this room benefitted from our efforts,” he says, adding that the cumulative effects of the program’s education over the years is showing good results. “But our mission will evolve—at this time it’s to support our industry to protect the brand, the business and the investment. The regulations are not going to stay the same as more and more federal and state regulations come into play. We are going to have to be that much more knowledgeable and vigilant in protecting our companies and our customers. I hope we continue the event for many years.”

This year’s program again brought in top experts in product safety and compliance including Carol Pollack-Nelson, PhD, an independent safety consultant who spoke on age grading and voluntary standards; Bernadette Corrado and Chris Dewolfe with FedEx, who discussed international shipping challenges; Matt Smith with ICIX who addressed industry implications of blockchain; Dr. George Borlais with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and David Tai with TQAChecked who spoke on hazard identification; Karolyn Helda with AsiaInspection who moderated a panel on social media and product misuse featuring Joseph Galbo, CPSC, and product safety attorney Neal Cohen. The highlight was keynote speaker CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle, who shared the agency’s priorities and praised PPAI’s work in the area (see separate story). Summit programming also included many experts from supplier and distributor companies and vendors supporting product responsibility practices within the promotional products industry who shared their expertise as speakers and panelists.

Monday’s program opened with a much-anticipated panel discussion that explored California’s new Prop 65 regulations that went into effect in August. It was led by Gene Geiger, MAS+, president of Geiger, and drew on expertise from Kim Bakalyar at PromoShop; Tabatha Bauer at Staples; Nathan Cotter at Hit Promotional Products, Dana Porter at SAGE and JillAnn Rogoz at alphabroder/Prime.

The program also included a popular element—roundtable discussions on key topics—and social opportunities including a Potomac River dinner cruise aboard the Cherry Blossom on Sunday night and Monday night’s reception followed by small-group dinners at various local restaurants.

Tuesday got under way with a session on audits, followed by a presentation on emerging regulatory challenges and finished up with a general session on the Internet of Things. Summit closed at midday with a networking lunch.

Longtime attendee and Summit panelist Tabatha Bauer, director logistics and compliance for distributor Staples, was glad she attended. “This year Summit was really beneficial thanks to the Prop 65 dialogue you can have with your peers. It’s a difficult thing to manage and brainstorming best practices has been really beneficial for me.”

Mike Irvine, COO for Crystal D, says his key takeaway was the information presented at the Prop 65 session, but he also found a great deal of value in the networking. “At the luncheon I got to talk to a lot of distributors and suppliers and compare our challenges—we are all in the same boat. It was interesting to put myself in my customer’s shoes and find out what they need to do business.”

Andy Perez, who manages operations at Jornik Manufacturing Corp., says the highlight of Summit is always the people. “They have a wealth of information and so many years of experience, and the program is always so educational—it’s so much information in such a little bit of time. I go home with a whole new attitude and mentality; it’s like my foundation for the year. This actually feels more like the beginning of the year for me than Expo. After this conference, we wrap everything up. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”

Merrick Falkenstein, executive vice president of St Regis Group, says, “The most important thing about Summit is talking to competitors, customers and distributors. I’m finding a lot of this is a gray area but generally by talking to peers, I get a lot of information. I don’t think anyone can get 100-percent clarity on everything but we keep evolving, keep learning, keep changing and keep getting better.”

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