For a long time, this Van Halen clause was misunderstood for being yet another crazy demand from a bunch of spoiled rockers. But nothing could be further from the truth and businesses and their lawyers could really learn from it.
Read the contract
So, what was this clause really about? Building a stage for live concerts is no sinecure, even more so if it concerns a big act like Van Halen. Their hit ‘Jump’ may ring a bell to you. Look them up on YouTube and you’ll get an idea. Next to the right technical and physical set-up of the stage, the safety risks on stage should not be underestimated. Building a stage is often done under a lot of time pressure, so mistakes are easily made. If the members of Van Halen would arrive backstage and find brown M&M’s among the other colours, they would know that the organisation did not read their contract carefully and therefore they could not be sure of their safety on stage. Let me quote David Lee Roth, Van Halen’s lead singer at that time:
“When I was walking backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, check the entire production. Guaranteed to find a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed to run into a problem. Sometimes this issue would threaten to destroy the entire show. Something that could be literally life-threatening”.
Lessons for bicycle industry
So, what can the bicycle industry learn from Van Halen? And where is the link with recalls? Well, the best thing about a recall is not having one. If your production is outsourced to third parties, the quality, compliance, and safety of your products are, to a large extent, in the hands of your supplier. Of course you trust your suppliers to make good products, but how can you be sure?
The supply chain of the bicycle industry is under heavy pressure and mistakes are easily made. Like Van Halen, you could attach your rider to the supplier agreement – an appendix including the technical requirements, safety standards and test protocols relevant to your products. Somewhere in that appendix, you could include a weird, funny, or unexpected demand that would immediately ring a bell if not spotted. Or it could make your contract a more ‘living’ document. If you need some inspiration, here are some examples:
“Every 100th box shall contain a drawing of an animal (size A4) made by the Quality Manager. A poem (max 4 lines) is also accepted.” or “After each successful batch test, the Quality Manager will confirm this by email and in the same email tell a joke. In case the batch test was not successful, instead of telling a joke, the Quality Manager will have to sing a song (by phone or video). Paying for dinner during the next Eurobike show is also accepted.”
These examples may look silly and not fit your corporate style or culture. My point, of course, is this: try to find whatever could be your “no brown M&M’s” clause in order to make sure your product compliance and safety process and requirements are actually taken seriously and continuously followed by your supplier, while at the same time building on a sustainable relationship. Such an unconventional approach may even work better than the rather static factory audits. In any case, it would make product compliance and safety a lot more fun.