Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CPSIA - Businesses Plan for the Final Days

With the February 10th stay on testing expiration rapidly approaching, the 15-month rules due on November 14 (expected to set deadly testing frequency requirements) and absolutely no relief on the horizon from a unfeeling, uncomprehending, resolutely unyielding Democratic Congress, businesses are left to fend for themselves. Consider the calendar: February 10th is only four months and ten days away. From that day forward, every item imported must be accompanied by a super-expensive CPSIA test report. Time is running out. This is a problem.

For many products, the cost of testing ALONE renders them unprofitable. And this is on top of the high cost of tracking labels and other costs associated with the CPSIA. These new costs make obsolete many business models serving specialty markets like schools. [Btw I was told yesterday to be prepared to pay $35,000 to modify our warehouse management software system to fix ONE hole in our tracking labels accountability effort. ONE hole, not ALL the holes. Ah, it's just money, and money grows on trees, right?!] If you are a maker of products rendered unprofitable by CPSIA testing, you face ugly choices. Because many businesses run on a calendar marketing cycle, you may have to drop items mid-year after testing requirements kick in. Most dealers won't forgive you for this. What to do?

At this point, with so much uncertainty, businesses are struggling to answer this question. Planning is literally impossible. How can you address this major business planning issue set to mature in only 133 days if, for instance (as is true), no phthalates testing labs have been accredited yet and no final phthalate testing standard has been announced? Good question, darned good question.

A common strategy to prepare for the Final Days is to top off inventory ahead of the testing requirement. Businesses are now scouring inventory records and ordering stock ahead of time to ride out 2010. This will be a mini-stimulus bill for China factories, giving them a boost in production if the American importers can find inventory financing from tired and scared banks. The upside to all this is that businesses planning ahead in this way will not have to torch dealer relations during 2010. This buys time as Congress continues to sit on its hands after gutting the business futures of countless small businesses.

The next phase will be recovering from the shock of the Section 102(d)(2)(B) 15-month rule which is expected to require at least annual testing (or, as rumored, even more frequent testing, such as once per production run). After finalization of this rule, the jig will be up, and businesses will have to finally reconcile themselves to being put out of their markets once and for all. [Notice that this has nothing to do with safety, just gratuitous, thoughtless destruction of economic value and markets.] Specialty companies will face the prospect of either abandoning their specialty markets for mass markets (with smaller, less-specialized product lines), abandonment of children's products altogether (this has happened widely in the Donated Goods industry and in apparel already) or sale/closure. The inventory top-offs going on now will allow businesses to wind up their current business plans in an orderly fashion.

At demoralizing times like this, I like to think of the comforting words of a staffer of Illinois' own Senator Dick Durbin (whataguy!): "I think you are right that the CPSIA imposes costs on businesses, and because of economies of scale it’s the smaller businesses that will feel these costs more acutely. This is part of a larger calculation that it’s worth the costs to shift from the old system of post-market correction (once a dangerous product is out in the market and leads to sick kids, recalls, lawsuits, etc.) to a new system of pre-market testing and certification (instead of just assuming products are safe and paying the price for false assumptions)." [Correspondence dated April 16, 2009] At least we know they meant for us to die. Comforting . . . unless you thought those guys worked for you, too.

It's nice to know we are living a purpose-driven life. We get to be sacrificial lambs to Senator Durbin's master plan to keep everyone safe. Everyone, from the Senate to Henry Waxman's House to the caring CPSC, should be SO proud!


jennifer said...

Yuck - maybe we should just all go on strike and let the government make all our children's clothing, toys, jewelry, bikes...what-have-you. Hand them our keys and let them tip-toe through the CPSIA minefield.

Wacky Hermit said...

Gee, Rick, you're just a FOUNTAIN of good news... (Yeah, I know it's not your fault.) Now I'm wondering if all the orders I've been getting are just the last hurrah.