Luckily for Small Business, the Economy is in the Tank: CPSIA Exemptions

Small businesses are pissed about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.  Really pissed.   On the surface it sounds good, and it certainly has good intentions behind it, but it carries a lot of new requirements that could put a lot of individuals and small companies out of business during a time when it’s already hard enough to get by.

The CPSIA sets new standards for the amount of lead and phtalates allowed in children’s products — from clothing to toys to furniture — which is good, in theory.  In practice, however, it requires every material in every component in every color of every product to undergo testing, which can cost thousands of dollars per product.  It also requires resellers of children’s products to carry safety certificates for any regulated product they buy after February 10th (when the law goes into effect).  While large, foreign toy manufacturers may be able to absorb these costs, small domestic manufacturers and individual crafters may not.

Unsurprisingly, small businesses have been in an uproar about the CPSIA — so much so, in fact, that the issue reached #6 yesterday on Change.org, putting it safely within the top ten issues which will be presented to President-Elect Obama’s transition team.  People like sellers on Etsy.com have been petitioning the Consumer Product Safety Commission regularly, as have many popular small business bloggers.  Luckily, with the economy in the tank and public opinon firmly on the side of Main Street, these petitions seem to be getting heard.  Just last week Bloomberg News reported that “wool, cotton, silk, gemstones and pearls” would all be exempt from testing.  The L.A. Times also reported exemptions for “clothing, toys and other goods made of natural materials such as cotton and wood.”  And the CPSC itself released a statement on January 8th, stating: “Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.”

That’s a big relief, and of course the hope is that the CPSIA will continue to be updated to protect both children’s safety and the livelihood of small businesses, but we’re not off the hook yet.  So what can you do as a small business owner?  First, submit your own comments to the CPSC by January 30th. All the contact information can be found on the second page of this document.  Second, prepare your business if any of your products are not exempt:

  • Contact the manufacturers of your materials to see if they have already tested their products.  If so, ask for a copy of their safety certificate.  If not, ask that they be tested (perhaps in conjunction with others who use their materials), or seek alternative manufacturers.
  • See if your products can be made with alternative materials.  Can your children’s jewelry be made with wooden beads rather than plastic ones?  Can that headband be made out of cotton, rather than polyester?
  • Contact your local representatives in Congress about this issue, or draft a petition and have all the small business owners you know sign it.

There is still a lot of room for change in the CPSIA, but it won’t happen by itself, so be a swimmer and take responsibility for the survivial of your own business.

Worth Its Weight: NWBC Town Hall Meeting

Today I attended a San Francisco Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the National Women’s Business Council — an advisory council that reports to the offices of the President and Members of Congress the issues that women in small business face every day.  While it is obviously important to make your voice heard to your representatives in government, our concerns as small businesswomen could have been collected via e-mail or online survey.  Such a method might have gotten more more responses (today’s event was limited to 200 participants) and certainly would have cost a lot less than holding a full-day conference in a hotel.  But I’m glad the NWBC didn’t go this route and I’ll tell you why:

  1. Networking.  It’s true that as one speaker said today, “women love to help other women.”  I had many more people approach me wanting to offer advice or moral support than wanting referrals or publicity.
  2. Resource sharing.  I have four pages of notes filled with nothing but the names of web sites, organizations and business services that other women at this event have used and can personally recommend.  I will be sorting through these in the next few days and reporting back which ones live up to the hype.
  3. Brainstorming.  I can come up with several issues I confront every day about which my elected officials should be concerned, but there are also some I almost never think about that are nevertheless important.  One example: a woman in our break-out section on micro-business mentioned something about sustainability, which reminded me that sometimes I feel frustrated that there are no incentives for greening home-based businesses.
  4. Sharing ideas directly.  I was able to speak directly to a member of the NWBC about my green home-office issue and she told me that this was an issue on which immediate steps could be taken, and would therefore be sure to bring to Senators John Kerry and Olympia Snowe of the Senate Small Business Committee.  Wow!  Also, an outreach member of the I.R.S. listened to me gripe about their web site: that the completeness of available information was excellent but that it is extremely difficult to navigate or search.  She recommended I use Publication 910 (her professed favorite) to find a list of the I.R.S.’s free resources for small businesses, and a full index of their other publications.  I suggested that this publication be made visible in the Small Business section of the web site, and while I was I surprised that she seemed suprised by this suggestion, she nevertheless thanked me for it and said she’d pass it along.  You just can’t beat direct results, folks.

Sure, the NWBC could have conducted an electronic survey, or just directed us Biz Misses to Obama’s new web site, but even in this age of online sales and networking, there is still no substitute for being in the company of your sisters.

p.s.  If you didn’t a get chance to attend one of their Town Hall meetings, you can e-mail the NWBC at [email protected] with your concerns.  There are only four women in the office, so they will read your message and get back to you.