Toilet paper was one of the most topical issues across Jamaica last week, dominating the news, talk shows and discussion programmes across Jamaica, for all the wrong reasons. The sanitation and safety of this intimate product came into sharp focus after a gynecologist raised concerns that a particular brand of toilet paper was causing infections among her patients. The firestorm of controversy, widespread concern and public outcry that resulted from the handling of issue by the authorities and stakeholders involved should be a wake-up call for many businesses that inferior quality products and/ or a poorly handled product recall can kill your brand and destroy your business.
Here are some key lessons small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) should take away from the toilet paper saga to avoid similar messes in the future:
1. Having well established industry standards benefits your business
If the industry in which you operate has no standards, guidelines or regulation it is cause for concern not celebration. Lax industries are vulnerable to rogue companies, organizations and individuals who may exploit the lack of regulation for maximum profit, having little regard for good business practices and maintaining proper standards. SMEs should be proactive in alerting the authorities to the need for regulation and work closely with them to create acceptable standards that will safeguard the public, build confidence in the industry and its players, and ensure its sustainability.
2. You must ensure your product is safe
Product safety is paramount. Whether you are the manufacturer or distributor of a product you must ensure that the final product is safe, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. Manufacturers should implement international safety standards, practices and procedures. HACCP and ISO are among the most notable international certifications. HACCP is a preventative approach to managing food safety. It means hazard analysis critical control point - a system of procedures to control the process and sensitive points in the manufacturing process to ensure the safety of the finished product. Although it began as a food safety approach its use has expanded to non-food items including cosmetic, pharmaceutical and industrial products. ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification provides an assurance that the product, service or system in question meets specific requirements.
Distributors, although not the makers of the product, have a responsibility to ensure their safety. Oftentimes distributors are focused mainly on the logistics of getting the products from the supplier to the trade and the margins they need to make from the product to be profitable. Equal attention must be paid to the standards followed by the manufacturer of the products they sell.
3. Regularly test your products for quality
Manufacturers and distributors should invest in random testing of their products rather than relying solely on testing from the regulators. This would place companies in a better position to identify and manage quality or safety breaches before they explode into a public health issue and public relations nightmare. It is important to use accredited laboratories whose results can withstand scrutiny.
4. You need a product recall strategy
No manufacturing plant can claim perfection. Despite a company’s best efforts accidents, omissions, and errors can occur that can compromise safety. It is for this reason that every producer and distributor of goods should create and implement a product recall strategy to manage situations where the safety of their products has been compromised. It is usually a requirement of ISO. A product recall is a request by an entity for the public to return a batch or series of products due to safety concerns. A good product recall strategy will reduce the likelihood of injury to the consumer, protect the company’s reputation, and limit its exposure to legal action arising from negligence. The strategy should involve the preparation of a manual that details the activities involved in assessing the extent of the safety breach, estimating the amount of ‘bad’ product in circulation, withdrawing the product from retail, regulatory and public advisories, damage control /crisis communications, among others. It is better for a company to issue a voluntary recall of their products than for the regulatory authorities to do so.
5. You should be proactive and practice risk management
Effective risk management is proactive method for companies to identify and manage potential hazards before they become loss events. Risk management is widely used by banks, financial institutions and insurance companies, however most businesses including manufacturers can benefit from this discipline. Risk management is a systematic approach to identifying, evaluating, managing and reviewing risks and uncertainties that could negatively impact the operations of your business. A significant advantage of risk management is that it forces companies to closely examine the internal and external environment and create a plan for risks that could impair business operations or obstruct growth.