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Q&A – Adding Value

The ongoing fight against commodity players in merchandise requires the industry to continually uphold quality and compliance standards, says Andrew Hill.

Q. In Germany, there is a product safety act. Do you think this should come to the UK?

A. There is a misunderstanding between ‘made for single purpose’and ‘safe’. In our industry, there are many importers of products who not only ensure that the factories they use are suitably audited, but also comply with the chemical limitations laid down by regulatory bodies such as REACH. They are at the top of the tree, while the branches underneath contain many different variants, bottoming out with suppliers of shoddy product full of unpleasant chemicals.

The ‘tree top’ suppliers clearly indicate a trail of responsible sourcing, while those at the very bottom merely supply for unregulated demand. In Germany, the Product Safety Act basically ensures that consumers are protected from non-German made imports (German manufacturers need to comply with Federal and EU laws and guidelines so are not fazed by safety legislation) so it follows that, eventually, that protection will apply here(to a much greater extent than it does now).

The answer to the question of ‘should it come’ will be answered ‘yes’ by the responsible operators in our industry and ‘no’ by those ‘commodity cowboys’ for whom it confers unnecessary and unwanted interference.

Q. We’ve noticed some suppliers and distributors using compliance as are assuring value proposition now. What’s your view on this?

A. In recent years I have witnessed an increase in the marketing of compliance, not only as a proposition for adding value, but also a way to win new business. This is in line with the growing demand from a number of end-users (primarily from brands who have equity at stake) for manufacturing and product certification.

So, the shift has not only been from a reassurance perspective, but also a client-driven demand for responsibly manufactured/sourced product. Companies who are determined to stand out in a crowded field such as ours will already be aware of the real value of compliance and are making significant headway. A quick indicator of this is the BPMA’s Charter programme.

Q. How do European distributors compare with UK distributors in their knowledge of key legislation?

A. I can only answer this from an anecdotal perspective. My perception is that it varies from country to country, dependent upon the impact of the promotional industry in those differing markets.

In mature markets where promotional products have been around for a while, knowledge of legislative requirements will have been garnered over a period of time, albeit from a day-to-day trading perspective rather than a proactive desire to be fully informed.

As in the UK, the emphasis is on the suppliers to ensure that the products they provide comply with relevant legal requirements. In less mature markets, it is still pretty hit and miss from both the supplier and the distributor perspective.

Q. The BPMA has teamed up with Trading Standards to support companies in becoming more compliant. Do you welcome this?

A. Yes, of course. Our industry needs to continually up its game if our supply-channel model is to thrive. The strength of the supply chain can only be measured against its willingness to grow over the medium to long term, and there are enough seriously interested entrepreneurial operations within our discipline to make this happen.

The more time we invest in getting it right the more business will flow into our industry allowing committed companies to flourish. Bodies such as Trading Standards can be used as allies in the development process, allowing our industry to understand and exploit opportunities, rather than being policed for non-compliance.

Q. How can we stop non-compliant products getting through the industry unchecked?

A. The low barrier to entry to our discipline offers a bounty of poorly made and low priced products to battle it out for slim margins. Decent distributors everywhere are faced with the same problem and, as many have told me, it is difficult to know what to do for the best.

The fact is that the industry-damaging commodity cowboys will inevitably have a smaller pool to swim in if the suppliers of non-compliant products on which they focus are held to account.The consequence of this is that the perception of, and the spend in, our fantastic industry will grow and benefit us all if we seriously begin to ‘de-clutter’.

Andrew Hill is the MD of Senator Pens in the UK

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