Thursday, September 16, 2010

Letting Go of a Dream

The following was originally posted by HTA member John Greco of Greco Woodcrafting and is reposted here by permission.

Fall is almost here, and for the past 2 years that has meant time for me to begin preparing my inventory for the Holiday sales season. I started Greco Woodcrafting in April of 2008 to make children’s toys, something I had dreamed of doing since the early 1990′s. It was something I always thought would be for when I retired, with a little storefront for people to browse and shop with the workshop in the back. Little step stools for children to see over the half wall, watching the toys they were hoping would some day be theirs being made right before their eyes behind a pane of glass. Maybe even sparking the magic that was sparked in me long ago, to have a desire to work with their hands and ‘create’.

What spurred me to open up shop, so to speak, in my mid-30′s instead of my golden years? Toy recalls. Racing frantically, panicked, day after day with the latest toy recall list in my hand praying none of the items in my daughter’s toy box would match the list. After our son was born, I decided to move forward with my plans.

Unfortunately for me and so many others like me, the government also decided to take action, and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was soon passed nearly unanimously in both Houses and signed into law by President Bush. The law is immense, cumbersome and seems to have gone through a constant stream of changing definitions under the CPSC. The Commission claims to be compassionate for the little guys like me. It’s just that they have to put the interests of children first. Which hurts, because it implies that I wasn’t doing exactly that. First and foremost, I’m a father- I have never made anything that I haven’t given to my own kids first.

The CPSIA is written in a way that creates a barrier for small toy makers like myself to enter the market. I have never used any finishes on my products, and wood was declared to be free from needing lead testing, so many people think I am in the clear (my own Representative among them- I don’t know what my Senators think, they never returned my calls or emails but did add me to their mailing list). But lead testing is just one aspect of this law. As of August 14th of 2009 I needed to add permanent tracking labels to every toy I produce. I already had a branding iron with my company name that was used for everything, but that was no longer enough. Now the toy must also include country, state and city of manufacture, as well as date of manufacture. Something that, for me, was a significant cost.

Although I only had to discontinue some of my less expensive (albeit bes selling) toys, I was able to continue making children’s toys. But lurking in the unseen distance is the final nail in the coffin of my dream: Use & Abuse testing.

I’ve taken courses on materials and processes, where we would test for weaknesses in materials using different methods. It was those courses that this post was derived from 2 years ago. Everything I design is designed with safety and strength in mind, using what I took away from these courses. But at some point, the CPSC will determine Use & Abuse testing guidelines as they are required to do under the CPSIA. For a lab to accurately perform these tests, they require 12 copies of the toy which will then be destroyed. Between lab fee’s, the cost of materials + labor and lost sales of those items, I figured my full children’s toy line would cost me approximately $15,000 to test. And this will need to be done for every new toy BEFORE I can sell it. In other words, I’d be taking a huge gamble just to see if a toy sells. And if it doesn’t do well, too bad.

I don’t know exactly when this will take effect. The CPSC hasn’t made their ruling on the guidelines yet, but once they do it will be 90 days after that. In the meantime I can’t continue with business as usual making children’s toys. It would be senseless for me to continue down a path that I know is only a matter of time before I reach a dead end. Time and money already spent on promoting my children’s toys are essentially down the drain, I need to cut my losses.

I’m fortunate that I can make other things from wood, and I’m enjoying the woodworking I still get to do. But it doesn’t make letting go of my dream hurt any less.

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