Profile - How We Ensure Safe Products

Vetting Suppliers Is A Must

Steve LevschukSteve Levschuk still isn't sure how he pulled it off. Faced with a tight three-week window, Levschuk's firm, Talbot Marketing (asi/341500), had to provide 20,000 noise-making seat covers for the World Junior Hockey Championships – one of the most prestigious youth sporting events of the year. "It was one of those orders where everything came together perfectly," says Levschuk, Talbot's CEO.

Levschuk remembers the order for its successful outcome, and also for its scrutiny. Because the World Juniors is a youth tournament, organizers wanted to be certain all of the promotional products on site were unequivocally safe. "They asked to see proof right before the order shipped," Levschuk says. "They wanted an inspection on the finished goods."

The trend, Levschuk insists, is clear. More and more clients are taking product safety seriously, especially when promotional items are being given away to children. "Larger customers are asking where items are manufactured," Levschuk says. "They're aware."

So how can distributors stay ahead of the product safety curve? Here's Levschuk's advice for ensuring compliant products in an increasingly complex marketplace.

Q: What role should distributors play in making sure products are safe?
A: We should be dealing with industry suppliers that have a track record of product safety and that have gone above and beyond requirements. We should be educating our salespeople about the dangers of using non-compliant plants and products. Sure they may be cheaper, but the exposure is huge.

Q: What specific policies does Talbot have in place regarding product safety?
A: We do a couple of things. First, 80% of our business goes to a small amount of industry suppliers that have a commitment both morally and financially to product safety. They can back up their claims with lab certificates on every one of the products they sell. Secondly, when importing large orders from abroad, we do it through a supplier partner who has importing experience.

Q: What questions do you ask suppliers you're not so familiar with?
A: If we're dealing with a new supplier that we don't have a solid relationship with, we ask for a copy of the testing report on the item we're interested in.

Q: What should distributors know about labs?
A: You need to go with an accredited lab. We look for tests to be completed at a reputable lab with international recognition. This is why you need to deal with the suppliers who are doing it right. They have made huge investments and incurred large expenses in getting the products manufactured properly, then tested. Their products may cost a few cents more, but the peace of mind it can bring you is well worth the extra money.

Q: Do you think government regulations for children's products are getting too tough?
A: No, not at all. I don't think I have ever met anyone who wants to skimp around health and safety regulations when it comes to children. The fallout can be devastating. No one wants to be involved with that. There is a future for children's promotional products. Everyone involved has to adjust to the new realities.

Q: Should industry companies be doing more to provide safe products to customers?
A: I think we have made great positive strides in the right direction over the past several years, but we can always do better. Through industry education events, both suppliers and distributors have heard how serious this can be if they turn a blind eye to product safety.

Q: What mechanisms should distributors have in place in the event of a product recall?
A: Distributors should get all the stakeholders involved together immediately and share accurate information with all parties. Don't work or plan in isolation. You need to be in front of the situation.