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Q&A – Safety Built-In

Product safety isn’t an optional extra for manufacturers and suppliers. Andrew Hill explains why it is now an essential part of promotional’s growth path.

The term ‘not fit for purpose’ has been with us quite some time and relates not only to products, processes, services and systems but also to public and private corporate governance, associations and committees of every size and doctrine, as well as the odd dodgy refereeing decision!

So, in terms of promotional products, we subscribe to the notion that as well as something being primarily safe to use (a basic requirement), it must also be designed and manufactured to ensure it provides good value for the application/purpose for which it is being bought.

Studies by the BPMA and other organisations overseas in recent years suggest that well thought out strategies which include promotional items are now far more mainstream than they ever have been in the past. The potential for promotional to exert its influence on budgets large and small has never been greater.

That’s great to know, so why are we, as a collective industry, not travelling as fast as we would like? What is holding us back at a time when the overall spend in our market should be a great deal more than the currently estimated £962 million? Are we perceived as being fit for purpose?

Measures to dispel any lack of confidence have been taken long ago by responsible manufacturers and distributors. However, there is, arguably, an undercurrent of the ‘trinkets and trash’ about our market place fuelled by the notion that a perceivably unregulated market is dominated by unsafe or poorly made products which do little to enhance a company’s reputation or safeguard its brand equity.

So, what is the industry to do about it? The signs are that there is already a divide emerging between those who buy or supply qualitatively produced products and those who don’t, and their message is getting through to those that matter. This is not just on a brand/corporate level but the same responsible process is being moved through to SMEs as well.

This is, interestingly, having a hugely positive effect on margin. “We are more profitable since we stopped buying rubbish,” a distributor recently told me in a very frank conversation. “Our repeat levels are up and we are retaining some very good clients”. While the discussion was prompted by a significant increase in spend on Senator pen products mainly because of our high-level positioning, other suppliers whom he received good service from regarding product lifetime, compliance, and safety were also quoted and were now his principal trading partners.

While this is all good news for this particular distributor, it is a route which is difficult to argue against. As an industry we owe it to all our clients to ensure that the products supplied do not merely ‘subscribe to a notion’ of safety and compliance, but are firmly entrenched in the doctrine of long-term financial development rather than a continuous race to the lowest price on the cheapest lines. At Senator, over the past two years we have seen a three-fold increase in requests for information and/or certification which has directly led to order conversion. Being a manufacturer, we never thought that, for example, our Newton-Safe clips would ever be of specific interest. How wrong we were, as our pens are being supplied to brands where children are included in target audiences, so safety has been paramount.

If the industry can jettison borderline unsafe and poorly made items, we can really begin to make some headway as a growth sector, and be rightly perceived as being fit for purpose across the board. This view is very much supported by the BPMA as its dialogue with industry continues to ratchet up the real-term impact of promotional products in relation to other media vehicles. The word
‘professional’ is one that it is desperate to use in a wider context than it does now, and it will only be able to do this when product safety and compliance are built-in prerequisites across the whole of our industry.

Andrew Hill is MD of Senator Pens in the UK

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