National Parks represent many things – including the best of America. When families visit a gift store in a National Park they expect products that are well-made, durable and above all, safe. Sadly, some products at park gift stores do not represent the best of America. Like other places where you shop you need to be aware of what you are buying.

Here are several tips to help the savvy customer when visiting a National Park gift store.

Product Labeling

The savvy customer should know about product labels. Product labels are important because it tells you critical information about the product you will be buying – or what you will be buying for your child. Parks are family destinations; park gift stores should sell products that are made to safety standards that protect children.

For example, consider a Junior Ranger backpack. Backpacks, parks and kids go together, but are all Junior Ranger backpacks sold in park stores safe for kids? Just because it is sold in a park gift store does not mean it is safe, or a well-made product. What information would a savvy parent look for?

First, look for a hangtag. If you do not see a hangtag be very concerned. Let this absence of information be a big flag that waves a ‘be cautious’ warning in your mind. Such an absence means the park’s gift store does not have your best interest or safety in mind.

Second, if a hangtag is attached look for these key pieces of information:

  • In what country was it made?
  • What materials is it made from?
  • Who is the manufacturer?
  • Who is responsible?
  • Is there a web address to learn more about the product?
  • If a product states “Made exclusively for” and does not list the above information be concerned.

Third, look for a permanent label. Permanent labels are sewn inside backpacks and state who made it, where it was made, provide a unique identifier, and a web address or similar so customers can reach the manufacturer. Providing such a label is more than just identifying these key pieces of information, it is also the law.

An Act called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires that products “designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger” must meet certain rules for product safety including: acceptable levels of heavy metals like Lead, toxic chemicals as well as proper labeling to inform consumers about what they are buying. A permanent label is required in case of a recall and to help parents identify the product if it is determined to be unsafe. Both manufacturers and importers must comply with the Act for all products. As a savvy parent look for a permanent label as it demonstrates the manufacturer shows a higher degree of professionalism in their work.

Obviously a hangtag or permanent label might not be feasible or reasonable for some products; a book does not need a hangtag, but it still has information inside the first pages about who published the book, who is the author, and where it was made. Every product should have supporting information so customers can learn about it, but most importantly, help them identify who is responsible. Any product that does not include such information should never be bought by the park’s gift store in the first place and should never be offered for sale.

Sadly there are products, including Junior Ranger backpacks, being sold in National Park stores that omit or ignore the most basic product information as required by the CPSIA.

Transparency and Good Faith

The savvy park gift store customer will seek out products that offer transparency and good faith.

Transparency does not mean you can see through the physical product, rather you can see into the business processes and decisions that made the product. Transparency is about businesses openly disclosing information and being forthcoming. This can help customers know if a product supports ethics or values important to them like:

  • Was this product made not using sweatshop labor?
  • Was this product made with materials that are safe?
  • Will this be safe for my child?
  • Does the vendor publicly say who tests their products for Lead, Phthalates or other chemicals?

Good faith means ‘honest intentions.’ Some park gift stores focus so heavily on making a profit they do not effectively research the vendors who supply them with products. This means a savvy consumer will have to make up the difference in trying to determine if a product, or its manufacturer, has made a good faith attempt to make their product safer. Visit the website of the manufacturer, what does it say? A lack of information is also a clue. Here are some other tips:

  • Does the manufacturer follow any international standards like the ISO-9000 quality management standards, or the SA-8000 standards for minimizing sweatshop labor? What about other standards?
  • Does the manufacturer have any third-party green business certifications?
  • Does the manufacturer use a third-party forensics lab to test their products and do they post the results online?
  • If a manufacturer makes everything under the sun at low prices, but cannot document any of it, or state where it is made, or how – you should be concerned.

It is the responsibility of any manufacturer to, in good faith, continually work to improve their products so they are safer. As an example, I had a conversation several years ago with a vendor who made textile products and sold them directly to park gift stores. We were both exhibiting at the same national conference that park store buyers frequent. This vendor roughly stated their textiles did not need to list country of origin or list what materials it was made from because the Federal Trade Commission excluded this particular item from the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act. Regardless if this was legal or not, such a reason demonstrates a lack of good faith (honest intentions). At the show the vendor sold a lot; because he hid behind the law he could keep costs low. Unfortunately, many park store buyers just saw a low price point and did not look at how transparent the vendor was or if he was operating in good faith.

Sadly, there continues to be a myriad of products (mostly promotional items that are sold at low costs and made overseas with questionable labor) that continue to be sold at park gift stores. Many of these promotional items cannot demonstrate or communicate they have transparency or good faith intentions.

Know About the CPSIA

Savvy park gift store consumers should know about the CPSIA. Any product “designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger” must meet the rules of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). This means anything designed or intended for kids 12 or under – including Junior Ranger backpacks – must comply with this law. Become familiar with this law:

» Learn more about the CPSIA
» For an overview check out the Interpretation and Enforcement Of Section 103(a) of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act
» Learn more about tracking labels on child products

Report Unsafe Products

A savvy park gift store consumer will report unsafe products. The CPSIA law has now had several years for manufacturers to enact processes to become compliant. The act was passed in August, 2008, there is no excuse for a manufacturer or a park gift store to say ‘they did not know.’

If you know of an unsafe product report it to the Consumer Product Safety Commission at this website.
» https://www.saferproducts.gov/CPSRMSPublic/Incidents/ReportIncident.aspx

Walk the Talk

Until all park stores walk-their-talk it is up to you, the customer, to be informed, to ask basic questions, to demand and be willing to pay for safe well-made products.

A Park is What it Sells

National Park gift stores have hard-working people who want to represent the best of America. Sadly, some decision makers do not represent the best of America and allow for bad or unsafe products in these stores. Be a savvy customer and look for product labels, transparent business practices, and good faith actions. Be informed about product safety laws, report products that are unsafe, and most importantly, ask questions.

Quoted Source: http://www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/sect103policy.pdf

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