May 5, 2008

Hey Baby Gear Makers, JPMA Missing Something Here?

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Why is your company still a JPMA member? Because I am a Wharton MBA who's been following the baby/parent industry closely for the last five years, and I really can't figure it out.

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association is the trade group for the Baby Industrial Complex. But what does it actually do for you? For most of its 46-year existence, the JPMA ran the industry trade show, bringing manufacturers and retailers together. But the ABC Kids Expo is far better, and last year, the JPMA Show died a sad, lame death.

At the show, the JPMA gave so-called Innovation Awards, which was a convenient way to nickel & dime inventors and start-up companies for entry fees, and to get them to suck up to the organization. The one year I went to the JPMA Show, they gave an award to a stroller adapter that turned out to infringe on a well-publicized patent, and they gave an award to newcomer Boon for their Frog tub scoop. Then 18 months later, industry veteran Munchkin launched a copycat product at half the price. Munchkin's EVP of Sales was head of the JPMA at the time.

The JPMA's other stated mission is voluntary safety standards and certification. But those safety standards and the JPMA-Certified sticker that comes with them are a hollow farce. The 10 million car seats recalled for faulty handles in the last 10 years all passed JPMA's standards. As did the one million Simplicity and Graco cribs recalled last year for their potentially fatal design flaws. Which went undetected for years under the JPMA regime's watch. The JPMA has also been caught by the CPSC making false claims about studies proving the safety of crib bumpers. [There is no such proof and mounting evidence to the contrary.]

With the demise of the JPMA Show, it seems the organization has decided to focus its efforts on lobbying and public policy, where its public accomplishments are a string of embarrassing, head-in-the-sand, cover-your-ass positions on such matters as finally strengthening the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Now they're lined up with the chemical industry to manipulate science and game the political debate as they fight the coming ban on Bisphenol-A in baby- and kid-related products.

The JPMA says its 300 member companies generate about $8.5 billion/year in sales. I'd bet that the top ten companies account for an easy majority of that figure. [Dorel/Cosco/Maxi-Cosi is a $1.8 billion conglomerate, and Graco is a division of Newell Rubbermaid, which has around $6 billion in sales.] What does the JPMA do for your major company, or are they irrelevant? What does JPMA do for the rest of you? Does anyone in your company see JPMA's lobbying and standards as problematic, or do they serve the business purpose they were designed for just fine? Besides those of you who email me regularly with tips about the latest JPMA embarrassment, does anyone else find the organization has outlived its usefulness?

If you can explain how the JPMA works, what it's good for, or why your company bothers to remain a member, I would love to hear it. If you can explain why no one seems willing to go on the record criticizing the JPMA on things like BPA, please tell me. If I'm a naive, ignorant hippie who is pathetically wrong about the shining Protector Of Our Children or whatever, tell me that, too. You will have as much confidentiality and anonymity as you require [company email users, take note].

1 Comment

It's a bit like paying protection money to the Mafia. Sure, you could quit...

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