One of the most daunting aspects of entering a new market is gaining the trust of a new clientèle. We look at how industry standards work in the UK and how new entrants to the market can use them to best advantage.
Every good businessperson wants to ensure that the products and services that they supply are of the highest possible standard. But it can be hard to quantify quality, which is where technical standards come in. Put simply, standards are a distillation of best practice for a variety of industries. It is an agreed way of doing something which has been drawn up by a committee of experts in a particular field. Each industry has its own particular set of standards. Standards help ensure that products and services are of high quality, fit for purpose and – most importantly – safe. Early implementation of standards can help prevent mistakes that are common in your industry and make your exporting work as smoothly as possible from the get go.
Most people are familiar with safety standards as they have a large impact on everyday life. The 1990 British Standard on pen caps, BS 7272, was introduced to reduce the number of deaths, mostly children, caused by inadvertently inhaling pen caps. It is a simple but effective standard, specifying that pen caps should have a hole or some other mechanism to maintain airflow to reduce the risk of choking. This standard has been implemented by all major international manufacturers of pens that children are likely to come into contact with and has reduced the number of deaths considerably.1 But there are more than 35,000 British Standards in place, and while some of them refer to safety of products, others refer to other aspects of products and also extend to services.
If standards sound like a broad concept, that’s because they are. There are a number of different standards to cover a whole range of products and services. They cover everyday household items to the most cutting edge science. There is even a standard (BSO) for making standards!
EUROPEAN LEGISLATION AND THE CE MARK
The European Union has homogenised a great deal of safety legislation, making it easier than ever for member states to trade with each other. The CE mark is a symbol that, when applied to a product, allows for it to be freely traded across the European market. The CE mark indicates to the consumer that the product is compliant with all necessary legislation and directives set down by the European Union and is therefore safe to use.
The process of securing the CE mark for a product is driven by the manufacturer. A manufacturer must check whether its product is covered by an EU directive and therefore requires a CE mark. Products covered by directives include toys, electrical equipment, machinery, medical devices,lifts and personal protective equipment. If a CE mark is necessary, the manufacturer must identify the standards required by the directive, test the product (for certain products, independent testing is required), and compile a technical dossier proving that the product fulfils all the EU wide requirements. Then, the manufacturer can complete an EU Declaration of Conformity and affix the mark to their product. The process for securing the CE mark varies from industry to industry, so manufacturers should look to europa.eu for more detailed guidance.
Manufacturers and suppliers can be held legally responsible for harm inadvertently caused by their products. Harm to consumers is something that everyone wants to avoid, and additionally the loss of trust and damage to your reputation may be irreparable. Complying with legal guidelines is the
minimum that one must do, but doing more to reassure consumers and clients of the quality of your business can be a very smart move when entering a market as a relative unknown. While it’s easy to see voluntary standards as just more red tape, certification can increase your credibility and speed up your entry into a new market.
Founded in 1901 and formerly known as the British Standards Institution, BSI Group is the UK’s national body for the development of British Standards and the world’s first national standards body. The BSI has a client base ranging from FTSE 100 companies to SMEs in 150 countries, and was the first organisation to bring in a standard for quality, ISO 9001. The organisation currently publishes around 2,000 standards a year.
Standards for products are designed to ensure that goods are safe for use, of good quality and that they are as easy as possible to use so that vulnerable populations (such as disabled and elderly people) can use them. This obviously has a benefit for manufacturers, who want as wide a range of people to use their products as possible. Once you meet the standard you get certification, which can be a valuable promotional tool for your business. More than 70,000 companies across the world have used BSI standards to improve their performance.
Standards are in and of themselves not legally enforceable. However, when compliance with necessary legislation can be proved by adhering to a certain standard, then certification can be used as a way of demonstrating this. Even when there is no legislation, certification can be helpful.
Following best practice guidelines when there is no legal imperative is a clear indication that you are committed to providing the best consumer experience possible and can help to develop goodwill. Companies that have reached certification can display the appropriate name and number or, where appropriate, the BSI Kitemark, which is a widely recognised and trusted symbol. Furthermore, unlike the CE mark, the Kitemark is always independently verified. In order to receive certification and the ability to use the Kitemark, a manufacturer needs to have a quality management system based on ISO 9001 or a recognised factory production control system which includes initial and ongoing product testing and inspection. It means consumers don’t have to take it on trust that the manufacturer is acting in good faith, and manufacturers who go above and beyond to fulfill all their legal obligations have a way of proving to the consumer that they have been independently verified and that they stand out from the competition. The BSI Kitemark is an independent third-party certification that the goods are of a high quality.
Standards are not just for products. Richard Taylor, Standards Market Development Director at BSI, explains how their service standards can be a real benefit to other types of businesses. “Having a quality management system in place such as ISO 9001 can help businesses to continually monitor and manage quality across all operations,” says Taylor.
“It enables them to implement processes that enhance the way they operate at all levels and ensure improved operational performance and more efficient ways of working.” Efficiency is particularly key for companies who are operating from another base country. ISO 9004 is an even broader standard than that of ISO 9001, encompassing the needs of stakeholder groups and what is needed to meet international environmental and health and safety standards. Taylor points out another standard of particular interest to exporting businesses centres around security.
“Security management systems standards such as ISO 28000 can help businesses assess security risks in [a company’s] supply chain (such as theft, terrorism, etc.), and operational environment and determine if adequate security measures are in place and ensure compliance with the law. They can manage new threats as they emerge and implement appropriate controls to manage potential security threats. This is crucially important to those exporting goods around the world, especially as it becomes more difficult for countries to manage supply chain security on their own. ISO 28000 helps by providing the basis for an overarching security management system.” Another significant area for standards is environmental protection. A company operating in the UK must keep packaging to a minimum and the packaging must be designed in such a way as to facilitate recovery of most components. Heavy metals are to be avoided where possible. Any company that has a turnover that exceeds £2 million and handles more than 50 tonnes of packaging a year must meet strict waste targets for recovery and
THE HEALTH AND SAFETY EXECUTIVE
If you have a physical presence in mainland Great Britain, your workplace will come under the aegis of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). They are tasked with enforcing the Health and Safety at work act. In Northern Ireland the HSENI performs the same role. The Health and Safety Executive can visit premises without notice, although they can also give notice of an impending inspection at their discretion.
The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for enforcement, but in some cases they may share that duty. For example, in the British aviation industry, enforcement of legislation is divided between the HSE and the Civil Aviation Authority. Local authorities can also have duties of enforcement.
The BSI are responsible for UK participation in international standard initiatives such as the Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and, through the British Electrotechnical Committees, in the Comité Européen de Normalisation Électrotechnique (CENELEC) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The HSE is a contributor to the development of international standards which have a strong health and/or safety aspect. They often act on behalf of BSI in this respect.3
One of the biggest challenges a company can face when entering a new market is the lack of a track record – it can be difficult to get a new client base to place value on an unknown quantity and to see you as trustworthy. Global brands can trade on their name, but SMEs don’t have this back-up. Reaching international standards is one solution to this as they are recognised worldwide and they have the potential to elevate your business in the eyes of your trading partners.
No matter what type of business you have, using standards can be hugely beneficial. BSI’s Taylor points out that while there are a plethora of different standards, they all have this in common: “They can give businesses, such as those exporting into the UK, a competitive advantage.
By demonstrating that they are willing to go above and beyond to continually improve, and seek out better methods and processes that can help improve their efficiency and reduce their costs, they instil trust, enhance reputation, achieve compliance and win more tenders.”
While legislation has been harmonised throughout the EU, it is still worth checking with the relevant professional body for guidelines and exceptions. If you are looking to import products, there is information on product safety for manufacturers on the UK Government website.
CASE STUDY: STRALFORS
Case study courtesy of BSI in association with the Institute of Directors (IoD)
Stralfors started out as a printing works in 1919 in Ljungby, Sweden. Over the past 96 years, it has evolved into a thriving multinational business that helps their clients communicate with large consumer bases via print, mail and digital media. It operates in seven European countries, including the UK. Stralfors has a broad range of clients that work from a number of diverse range of backgrounds such as the public sector, gaming industry and financial sector. By 2013 the company were employing 140 staff in their UK operation.
Tony Plummer, managing director for Stralfors UK, attributes a large part of their success to the successful implementation of BSI standards. Stralfors operates an integrated management system based on ISO 9001. The group has achieved certification to global management system standards in the fields of environment (ISO 14001), information security (ISO 27001) and health and safety (OHSAS 18001). Stralfors has recently achieved certification to the business continuity standard ISO 22301.
“Our ability to demonstrate reliability, stability, cost savings and continual improvement has been underpinned by our management systems,” says Plummer. “Standards are a ticket to the game in our industry. You can’t take part unless you have them.”
In his opinion, customers want to see suppliers “demonstrate good process” through audited international standards as a guarantee of trust. “They want to check against something credible to be reassured on quality and compliance.”