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Kidorable coverage by the Daily Herald:

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By Jim Kendall, Daily Herald Columnist

3/20/2008

'Made in China' is an option, but take proper safety measures

The "Made in China" label may not conjure up quite the same assurance as, say, Maxwell House Coffee's "Good to the Last Drop," but well-publicized quality and safety concerns in food, toys and pharmaceuticals don't necessarily mean you should give up your search for lower-cost offshore production.

There's no dodging the quality-safety issue, but the approach taken by Jonathan Domsky, president and co-owner of Niles-based Kidorable, is worth noting:

  • Manufacturing costs in China remain remarkably low.
  • There are overseas alternatives to China, including Eastern Europe; Jordan and other Middle East countries; Vietnam and Indonesia.

Kidorable designs (in Niles), manufactures (in China) and wholesales its kids' accessories to traditional and online retailers. Umbrellas, raincoats and backpacks are among the company's items, all produced at seven Chinese factories.

"You have to know what's going on" to assure quality, Domsky says. To that end, "Factory owners know our standards. We communicate. We have long-standing relationships (with factory owners) and we talk to them when we go there."

It helps significantly that Domsky and his wife Liping -- the two met and married in China -- are regular visitors. Also helpful: Kidorable directly employs 15 people in China; 10 are in quality control and, in the Chinese process, eat and live in dormitories with factory workers.

Kidorable manufactures to European Union standards, which Domsky says are a "little stricter" than U.S. standards. Kidorable also tests, using international laboratories.

Quality concerns aren't new.

"There always have been quality issues," says Cassandra Keener, director of the Lisle-located Illinois International Trade Center that is part of the Small Business Development Center at Glen Ellyn's College of DuPage. "What we're seeing on the news is that some larger companies let their guard down. Somebody didn't do the job. There was no quality control."

Frequent on-site visits may help, but they're impractical for many small companies. However Keener, who "actually got on a plane and went to China" when she owned her own company, has a list of "sourcing companies that will act as your eyes and ears for you in China" for a percentage of sales.

There's another approach as well. Donna Zoellick, president of Global Sourcing Specialists Inc., Carpentersville, says one of her clients has added the words "Contains no lead" near the "Made in China" marking. Another Zoellick option: Unannounced drop-in inspections, with a phrase similar to "Inspected at the manufacturer by XYZ Co. to assure the consumer's safety" added on packaging.

If you can manage the quality issues -- talking to the people in this column might be worthwhile because they have experience -- China may remain a viable offshore producer of many types of goods, in part because "China is so much cheaper," says Zoellick. "India's not bad, but hourly wages there are three-to-four times higher than China."

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