Before I move forward with more on tech support for compliance, I want to make a quick note about formaldehyde, a topic I certainly have covered almost endlessly in the past. A friend sent me an email last week saying “I went to your blog yesterday and you’ve been slacking on formaldehyde. I’m assuming that’s because there is nothing new to write about at the present time? One of my suppliers was asking me about it…”
Well, rest assured, there will be plenty of blogs in the future. I, like the rest of the industry, am still waiting for the Environmental Protection Agency to make their final rulings regarding timing and other things. Once we have clear and locked-in decisions, I’ll start posting about this, but since there is still the chance of change, I don’t want to go into it yet. I do want to note that I’m cautiously hopeful that we’ll have some good news soon, but until everything is locked down, I don’t want to blog about it. So sorry about the silence, but news will come!
Now, on to the planned topic, tech support. No, not IT work, at least not specifically. Using tech to support your business. Last week I noted that there are a lot of basic technological tools available for your compliance. I listed out some basics like databases and digital photos. In the past, we discussed fancy tools like DNA and stable isotope (and we’ll put those out next week, so they are here for reference as well.)
This week, I asked Erika R. Waeckel, a director of Vandegrift for some ideas about third party solutions. Suppose you need a bit more than an excel database but aren’t ready to hire someone full time to work in-house. You might turn to a third party supplier of software and/or services. There is a number out there like Vandegrift who can customize their supply chain management services for your needs. Vandegrift has been working closely with the wood industry for a number of years, and they have created quite a few modules specific to Lacey and CARB and other issues unique to our industry. I asked Erika to give us some ideas about the use of technology in trade.
So Erika, thanks for doing this. To start off, is the wood industry different from the others you service?
The wood industry I would not say is different, but rather it is trying to play “catch up” in what is now becoming a highly regulated vertical. I have come across many companies in the hardwood/ flooring/lumber industry that are family owned with a rich and treasured history, brimming with hard working, dedicated, and often colorful and candid individuals. This industry is deeply rooted (no pun intended) in tradition, and perhaps an “old school” way of doing business at times. Many companies run lean with their employees wearing multiple hats, responsible for specific tasks they were hired to do, in addition to countless other routine assignments. For some, certain time-honored business practices have become habitual, and thus accepted as “the only way.”
Today we are living in an age of heightened security and trade risk. Companies are tasked with how quickly they can move their goods to market, shorten transit times, minimize their costs, and stay abreast of the constant changes to customs and government regulations. Unfortunately today most companies do not have the resources to invest in an entire compliance department or even spare an individual to focus on such matters. Technology and automation seem to be an even more difficult conversation to broach at times.
One’s ability to successfully import through customs, and adhere to government regulations, old and new, truly depends on a stream of correct and pertinent information, along with the capability to record and trail it. Having an automated system and the right people and procedures in place to manage the information flow is vital to your success.
What do you consider the most important first step in figuring out what compliance support you need?
Change can be intimidating for not only our own personal growth, but the growth of a company as well. Nathaniel Branden once said that “The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” In today’s environment, I would hope to think that most companies within their industry, particularly lumber/hardwood, are aware of the initiatives that Customs and other Federal agencies are beginning to heavily enforce. Lacey Act, TSCA VI, and Forced Labor actions are just the tip of the iceberg.
The lumber industry’s acceptance of their now increasingly highly regulated products has been slow, challenging, and can I say painful as well? But, once you have the awareness, and you have accepted, (even if reluctantly), begin to look comprehensively at your supply chain “soup to nuts,” and do what makes sense for your company. What works for one importer, may not necessarily apply for another.
And it is vital that in this process that you engage your people, “top to bottom,” “head to toe.” Include your vendors in conversations, your sales personnel, purchasing, marketing, production, brokers, etc. Most importantly, I feel though it is important to have the support at the executive level. Upper management must be engaged and understand the importance of making an investment in compliance and the technology to manage the data and the process.
So, what tools can a third party provider give them?
Before I begin, I cannot stress enough the importance of working with a trusted partner(s), especially a dependable and credible customs broker. We believe as a principle that your broker should always act as your advocate, helping you successfully tackle trade issues and compliance hurdles with ease. If you do not have the means to hire a compliance person, ask your broker to assist. If you have a solid relationship with your broker, collaborate with them. Your broker and your trade partners should have a pulse on the industry and should be advising of you changes to existing trade regulations and those that are in the pipeline. They should be able to assist with product classifications, foreign trade agreement opportunities, audits, assessments, and compliance manuals to name a few examples.
In addition to the custom brokers, there are also companies that can provide technological solutions to manage and organize data. When I hear clients having to rummage through emails to find information, or when I see an Excel spreadsheet of endless columns and lines, I cannot help but say “You don’t have to operate this way. There is help out there!!”
Ok, so next week, let’s look more specifically at the help that is available!