U.S.A. — With recalls of both vended and retail products in the headlines, it’s safe to say that consumers may be a bit wary of certain categories of bulk vended merchandise, such as toy fashion accessories. How then does an operator regain the confidence of his locations and customers? This is a key question, particularly in the current consumer environment that has some retail analysts predicting a record number of clothing sales, in lieu of toys, for the upcoming holiday season.
As an industry, bulk operators and suppliers have responded admirably to recalls over the past few years. However, several high-profile recalls of children’s products in recent months have again brought the issue of safety into the spotlight, casting suspicion on toys of all types (and origins).
For operators experiencing distrust of merchandise by location management and consumers, restoring confidence is no small task and requires more than just personal assurances that “the products in the machines are safe.” The best way to combat suspicions, according to industry veterans, is for the operator to be well armed with information and able to answer the most common questions regarding toy safety.
“Communication with locations is the most important thing,” said NBVA president Peter Becker of What’s Up LLC. “Operators should make the location aware that they are buying merchandise from reputable suppliers that are very conscientious about safety. In fact, our association members and member suppliers are well-versed and committed to toy safety, which should provide operators with an extra level of confidence about the items they sell.”
Becker and other experts agree that knowledge is power, and suggest that operators educate themselves regarding safety procedures taken by their suppliers. “Operators have to have their own level of confidence in the safety of the products they distribute,” explained Jonathan Becker of L.M. Becker. “They have to be able to answer questions a store owner or manager may have about product safety, and provide them with information that shows they are monitoring the safety of the products they put in their machines.”
According to Becker and others, providing documentation that merchandise is safe is also a good idea. “If an operator is receiving questions from a location, he may want to consider a book of Material Safety Data Sheets for each product,” said Phil Brilliant of A&A. “Those sheets are prepared for each product. In order to be a supplier member of the NBVA, you have to provide testing certificates to your customers when asked. At A&A, we did that almost two years before the NBVA required it. The sheets provide testing results and the supplier should have one for each product line.”
By way of building confidence in potential customers, operators need a strategy somewhat different than what they would use when dealing with location managers or owners.
Because it isn’t practical to provide documentation for every potential patron who approaches a bulk vender, operators need to maintain machines and present merchandise in a way that portrays the products as safe.
“Obviously, licensed items increase the credibility of the toys,” said Adam Dorfman of Allstar Vending. “Also, operators should never use homemade displays, because these definitely contribute to a sentiment of the setup not being professional.” Dorfman also suggested that operators put their name on the side of their machines to create a sense of accountability.
“These things will not only produce a sense that the merchandise is safe and fresh, but will likely also increase your sales and solidify your relationships with locations,” Dorfman added.
Brand Vending Products’ Dax Logue said that display cards are the appopriate place to enforce the idea of product safety among consumers.
“At Brand Vending Products we like the idea of displaying a clear message on the display card that says the products in this machine are safe for children,” said Logue. “We think this speaks volumes to the savvy consumer or parent. This is something that comes standard with all newer novelty items purchased from Brand. We call it our ‘Kid Safe’ seal.”
“Education is the best way to fight off panic,” said Logue. “When everyone from manufacturer to final consumer understands what is safe and what isn’t the problem begins to fade away and consumer confidence prevails.”
L.M. Becker recently took a unique and aggressive approach to toy safety by sending the message out to potential customers as well as operators via the Internet. The firm’s recently designed website, toynjoy.com, includes extensive information on product safety and testing. “Operators can obtain the knowledge they need to have in order to build their own level of confidence in their merchandise,” said Jonathan Becker. “The site also provides downloadable documentation regarding our company’s testing procedures that operators can use to assist them in convincing their locations that the Toy ‘n Joy products they purchase and distribute through their bulk vendors are safe.”
Product safety remains an important issue in the bulk vending industry, which is working hard to correct potential problems. However, given the current environment in which some of the world’s largest toy makers have come under scrutiny for safety issues, to a very large degree it is up to individual operators to combat misconceptions one location at a time.