Stork Craft recalls 2 million baby cribs

Stork Craft, a Vancouver-area manufacturer of baby cribs, recalled more than 2 million drop-side cribs in North America earlier this week – the largest crib recall in history. The recall was issued because the drop-side of the cribs can become detached in one or more corners resulting in babies and toddlers getting pegged underneath.

Numerous accidents have been reported including four babies dying, 15 infants getting trapped, and 20 babies falling from the cribs with injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to concussions.

Health Canada’s website directed parents to the manufacturer’s website and toll-free number, while the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission information line issued a general voice recording of recall information with nothing substantive on the crib recall.

Stork Craft defended its manufacturing, saying its cribs have met or exceeded all Canadian and US standards and issued the following statement:
“In the majority of incidents, the cribs were being used with broken parts, parts with pieces missing, parts that were damaged or with modified or homemade parts…In some incidents, the crib was in a state of significant disrepair. In other cases, the consumer had installed the drop-side rail upside down — contrary to the instructions that are glued to the mattress base of each crib. This causes extraordinary stress on the plastic parts that could result in breakage.”

The company is offering replacement kits and brackets for crib that includes assembly instructions accompanied with a YouTube video.

This is not Stork Craft’s first safety and product recall so it surprises me that the company did a poor job handling the latest issue this week. The company made several PR blunders.

  • First, the company’s CEO failed to show empathy to the parents whose infants died or suffered injuries.
  • Second, Stork Craft essentially denied there was a problem and blamed the problem on consumers. Even if the company wasn’t responsible for “the majority of incidents”, as it said, it should have done more, sooner to correct the problem rather than point fingers. (This voluntary recall initially began in January 2009.)
  • Third, Stork Craft issued a product recall yet is not fully prepared to properly handle the recall. The company’s 1-800 line was deluged with calls and the website was jammed with traffic and crashed, resulting in concerned parents unable to reach the company. The company was also slow to use alternate avenues such as its blog and Twitter to engage in two-way communication with concerned parents.
  • Lastly, the CEO contradicted himself in news stories. He said that he was completely blindsided by the recall; yet in another story he said the recall was a “well thought-out voluntary recall” in which the company worked hard to devise a part that would convert the drop-side crib into a rigid-side crib. Which is it?

Stork Craft has a 50+ year history of making baby cribs. I have no doubt that the company wants to protect its reputation as a leading crib manufacturer but I wonder if the company is having second thoughts about how it conducted its initial communications around this issue. As an observer, the company could have done a better job. For example, two days after the recall announcement, the company posted this video FAQ on its blog. In theory I like the idea — more information is always better — but the execution came across as stiff and scripted by a male president wearing a dark suit ready for a meeting on Wall Street.

This recall resulted in widespread media attention, many upset parents who no longer trust that Stork Craft’s cribs are safe and damage to Stork Craft’s reputation.

Once the dust settles, Stork Craft must embark on a reputation rebuilding campaign, often not thought of in times of crisis when a company is trying to stick-handle the immediate issue at hand. Stay tuned for a follow-up story on my blog as we watch what the company does to rebuild its reputation.  - Maria Loscerbo