The CPSC revised its Resale Shop Handbook this week. The dancing and weaving continues as the CPSC tries to keep Resale Shops and Consignment Stores in the kid business while trying to scare them out of selling recalled products. This micro-problem has been made a TOP priority and obsession of the agency by our dear friends in Congress and the consumer groups, resulting in the devastation of the market.
Here's a great example of the CPSC's efforts to "reassure" these small businesses: "You are not required to test your products for safety. However, resellers (including those who sell on auction Web sites) cannot knowingly sell products that do not meet the requirements of the law. You can protect yourself by screening for violative products. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse." How comforting!
More stern warnings to get the "point" across: "If you should happen to sell or offer for sale a product in violation of the CPSIA or other law, CPSC’s response will vary depending upon the circumstances, including the nature of the product defect, the number of products, the severity of the risk of injury associated with the product and the type of violation. The Commission’s response would also take into account the fact that you may be a small business." Clearly, they are going to be friendly . . . unless they decide not to. The CPSC's friendly Enforcement officers will decide later, thank you.
The unrealistic, almost delusional advice goes on: "Under the new law, it is now illegal to sell ANY recalled product (for adults as well as children). If you are in the business of reselling products, you are expected to know the laws, rules and regulations that apply to your business, including whether or not a product you are selling has been recalled for a safety issue. Before taking a product into inventory or selling it, check the CPSC Web site for dangerous recalled products, including cribs, play yards, strollers, high chairs, toys with magnets, toys that are choking hazards, and other products. You can search by product type, company name, product description, hazard, country of manufacture and by the month and year in which the recall took place."
Or, here's a labor-saving shortcut: stop selling children's products! The CPSC continues: "Resellers, in particular, need to make sound business decisions about the products they sell. As a practical matter, you can: (a) Test the product (though not required); (b) Not accept the product; (c) Use your best judgment based on your knowledge of the product; or (d) Contact the manufacturer about questionable products." At least you have options.
The new handbook includes a nice list of what to sell and not sell. Bikes are okay to sell for two years, that's it. Jewelry, resale shops are supposed to stay away from. Old books (pre-1985) are ONLY okay to sell if they are collector's items. Otherwise, toss 'em! [Perhaps a lovely bonfire is called for. Some people LOVED book burning in the '30's.] "Clothes with rhinestones, metal or vinyl/plastic snaps, zippers, grommets, closures or appliqués" are also on the "don't sell" list. Of course, anything can be sold if the resale shop tests it (won't ever happen even IF it were affordable - safety testing is destructive).
As to phthalates, dreaded phthalates, what's a person to do? "How can I tell if a product contains a prohibited phthalate? As with lead, you are not required to test your products for phthalates or to certify that they do not contain prohibited phthalates. There is, however, no easy way to tell whether a product contains a phthalate or what kind of phthalate it contains. Unlike lead, where there is a reliable screening tool (the X-ray Fluorescence machine), there is not a screening device to detect the presence of phthalates." Now that just builds retailer confidence! I can foresee a very healthy market for . . . for . . . my vision just got blurry, sorry.
I recently learned that Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, MD are both located on Mars, so perhaps the folks behind this document are unaware of the nature of resale and consignment shops. Resale shops are not perhaps the most profitable businesses on Earth and tend to have low-paid staff. I have heard of chains of stores with managers receiving minimum wage. If you run an entity operating on thin margins staffed by poorly paid workers, what is the likelihood that ANY of the foregoing can be handled adequately? Nil. In addition, many owners of these stores don't have time for the absurd recommendations in this handbook. As a group, they are quite worried about liability. The stories about resale shops closing their children's departments are true (see this article, too). The advice in this handbook will not reverse or halt the terrible shrinkage in this market. Should we care? Yes, quite a bit. Many families depend on thrift stores for their basic needs (including clothing). The wreckage of this market will keep kids shivering during the cold winter ahead. We should all feel ashamed.
The CPSC is doing its job, but it's a terrible assignment. It's supposed to implement the laws written by Congress, stupid or not, and that's what it is doing. Nonetheless, its leadership needs to work harder to force Congress to rewrite the CPSIA. The havoc wrought by this law is creating carnage everywhere you look. Being a good soldier in Mr. Waxman's army just won't cut it. We all need to stand up and get our country back again, even the paid employees and managers of the CPSC.