As I was shipping off a batch of Thomas the Tank Engine toys to RC2 Corp. the other day, I began to wonder when we might see the first signs of a consumer backlash against China. What happens if people start to substitute a stereotype of “dangerous” instead of “cheap” when it comes to Chinese-made imports? Will we see demands for much more disclosure on ingredients of Chinese origin? It seems likely, given the spate of recent incidents involving toxic toothpaste, killer cough syrup and pet food that sickened or killed thousands of animals across North America.
Here are some thoughts from leadership expert Michael D. Watkins, a professor at IMD Business School in Lausanne and co-founder of Genesis Advisers in Newton, Mass. He happens to have young kids (including a 3-year-old boy addicted to Thomas) and owns some of the recalled trains as part of a $300 collection.
“What’s so outrageous is that this is a premium brand. Anyone who buys this stuff gets sticker shock because you’re paying $10 for each little train. The implicit promise is that this was quality stuff. My wife said that when she saw Niall (the 3-year-old) put anything else in his mouth, she would take it away. But she never worried about Thomas. Thomas is all about morality and being dependable. You assumed it could never be dangerous to kids. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.”
“I think this could prove to be a flashpoint in catalyzing a consumer reaction. We’re going to see Congressional hearings on this. It’s clear that the Chinese do not have control of their supply chain and neither do we. The outrage is being fed by the perception that the company is way behind the curve on this. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have to recall the metal toys, too. We’re not letting our little boy touch any of his Thomas trains at the moment. Just look at the number of toy recalls alone this year from China.”
“What we’re seeing is the logical conclusion of an effort to drive prices down further. The tainted toothpaste was all about suppliers using cheaper ingredients. Everything in China is about driving down price. And now people have evidence that there’s reason to worry.”
Food for thought …
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