Insights On How PLATO Benefits Manufacturers, Dealers & Consumers

By Jade Moldae

The Portable Lights American Trade Organization (PLATO) works to promote the common interests of companies that produce lighting products, including the creation of product performance standards, education, market research and subject advocacy. While it might not have the visibility as other trade organizations — à la NSSF and NASGW, for example — PLATO serves a very important function to ensure companies maintain high standards in this product category. As a result, this organization heavily influences the consumer market.

In this online-only article, we had the opportunity for a Q&A with PLATO Executive Director Andy Skoogman — who outlined the organization’s objectives and how its guidance provides clarity for buyers and accountability for manufacturers in this segment. Further, representatives from ASP, Streamlight and Fenixlight also lent their perspective on the key role PLATO has across several steps in the standardization, new product development and marketing process.

SI: How important are ethical, professional and technical standards in producing and then marketing a flashlight?

Andy Skoogman, PLATO Executive Director: They are key to success. In the long run no one who skirts the edges of ethics consistently will succeed as the industry continues to educate both sides of the equation (sellers and consumers) so over time the expectation for honest reporting of performance becomes a requirement. This is a key part of PLATO’s mission: To help our various stakeholders (consumers, retailers and manufacturers) understand the standard, why its important, how it will improve the industry and therefore their own companies or outcomes as an end user.

SI: How does PLATO’s existence provide “trickle-down” impacts for both dealers and consumers?

A. Skoogman (PLATO): Well it’s more about the Standard than it is about PLATO. The Standard spells out specific testing and reporting methods for portable lighting products that emit directional light. If the ANSI FL1 icons are present on the packaging, consumers and retailers can be confident the reported performance claims are tested to industry standards. Even more importantly, consumers and retailers can compare “apples to apples” when evaluating different products.

SI: Like other trade organizations in the industry, PLATO has a membership structure that offers member-only benefits. What educational resources does PLATO provide to help members?

A. Skoogman (PLATO): PLATO manages a large repository of information on the flashlight industry as a whole. This includes market research studies, technical data and detailed explanations regarding standards, educational videos that explain the ANSI Standard and individual metrics.

SI: Perhaps there are companies reading this that are not a member of PLATO. What would you say to them? Are there any other benefits to being a member of your organization they should know about?

A. Skoogman (PLATO): Anyone serious about portable lighting should be a member. There is so much happening now in this area in terms of regulation, government action, transportation issues, import restrictions and of course the further evolution of the standard. If you’re not a member of PLATO, you’ll be six months to a year behind in knowing what is happening and, more importantly, what will happen down the road that will greatly impact your business. PLATO membership, which costs very little, is “essential” to success in the industry today.

Representatives from ASP, Fenix and Streamlight were kind enough to provide their insights on the important role PLATO has in the flashlight segment of the industry.

SI: How important are ethical, professional and technical standards in producing and then marketing a flashlight?

Michael Hess, ASP VP, Marketing: Beyond important. There are many solid, credible and honorable companies in the flashlight business, with good products at a wide variety of price levels. But as in many industries, it is an unfortunate reality the market is also flooded with products making big promises for impossibly cheap prices. These products often look slick, with convincing packaging and “specs” and other marketing around them, but all too often do not live up to their claims. PLATO and its member companies have tested thousands of flashlights ― and do so on an ongoing basis ― and it’s a shame to see how often customers aren’t getting what they think they’re paying for. It’s even more critical in our primary market of law enforcement, where the price of product failure can be dire.

Ray Sharrah, Streamlight President and CEO: Developed with the guidance of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the flashlight standard introduced definitions and testing methods for flashlight basic performance — including lumens, peak beam intensity, beam distance, impact resistance, run time, light output and water resistance.

The standard also provides associated marketing standards through the use of icons which manufacturers display on their websites, packaging and in catalogues, along with a rating that tells how each light performed. If the standard icon is shown on the packaging, it means the flashlight performance claim must comply with the ANSI/PLATO FL1 standard. PLATO polices these claims.

Truthfulness in our advertising and product performance claims has always been extremely important to Streamlight. For example, while not a requirement of the standard, we routinely add regulated runtime charts to many of our product packages to further explain flashlight performance. By reporting these true performance claims, manufacturers like Streamlight enable customers to make meaningful comparisons and understand precisely what they’re buying.

Kevin Zhang, Fenixlight VP: PLATO points out the direction for the specific testing and reporting methods, and also resolves the discrepancies between test results and product markings. When we market a flashlight, we indicate these standards on our package to show Fenixlight is a serious brand with high standards through many tests.

SI: What impact has being a member of PLATO had on your company? Does it enhance your brand’s credibility in doing business with storefront dealers, distributors and other buyers?

R. Sharrah (Streamlight): Prior to the creation of PLATO and the ANSI/PLATO FL1 Standard, there was not any standardized testing or uniform way of rating flashlight features. This led to confusion for consumers and frustration for companies (like ours) committed to manufacturing quality lights and publishing accurate performance claim. As a result of the formation of PLATO and the development of the flashlight standard, both our distributors and end users are now more informed, which enables them to better evaluate the best flashlight for the task at hand.

M. Hess (ASP): Being a PLATO member is invaluable to us on multiple levels. First, it puts us in the company of like-minded, friendly competitors who share the desire to each hold ourselves to high standards of quality, integrity and consumer communication. Second, it gives us unique access to information on industry trends, technical developments and other data. And third, it is a credibility builder. Those dealers and distributors who sell better flashlights, and are really well-informed about the marketplace, know that when they deal with PLATO-member companies, they’re getting (and passing on to their customers) the most technically-accurate and consistent products and product information.

K. Zhang (Fenixlight): All Fenix portable lighting products have been carried out under the standard of ANSI/PLATO FL1 since joining PLATO — which ensures their quality. For the U.S. market, our membership it is an effective tool putting us ahead of competitors. With ANSI FL1 icons presented on the package, consumers are more confident about our product.

SI: What educational resources does PLATO provide to help your business?

M. Hess (ASP): PLATO produces, and continuously updates, a comprehensive book of FL1 technical standards, definitions and testing procedures. The book is free to members, and available at nominal charge to non-members. These standards and practices are at the core of the PLATO mission and value proposition. The organization also creates and provides the widely recognized ANSI/FL1 iconography used by member companies to clearly communicate accurate, consistent product information to trade customers and consumers.

K. Zhang (Fenixlight): Usually PLATO holds a meeting that gathers many professionals and experts to communicate current problems in this industry and offer an opportunity for each to discuss the development trend in the future. Our company has representation at this meeting almost every year, obtaining market views on developing trends.

R. Sharrah (Streamlight): Members have access to frequent presentations by industry partners who speak on topics of importance to us all, such as regulatory issues concerning the shipment of lithium batteries, test equipment that can improve the consistent use of the standard and the latest technology developments in components like LEDs.

Visit www.plato-usa.org, www.asp-usa.com, www.fenixlight.com, www.streamlight.com

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