I hesitate to write this post. First, because I grew up in Portland, Oregon (home of Gerber), and have been a big fan of their knives since I owned my first one as a Boy Scout. Second, because a couple good friends of mine are actually friends of Bear Grylls (having made it all the way to the finals of the first season of his NBC reality show). I like Bear Grylls. He’s entertaining, knowledgeable, and he even re-tweeted one of my tweets, once.
But a rant is due here, so here goes.
A Bear Grylls Parang (basically a curved machete) was one of the seven bladed weapons included in the Gerber Zombie Apocalypse Survival Kit I received as a birthday present from my wife last February. The kit appeared on a 2012 episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead (I can always appreciate some cheesy product placement), and Gerber capitalized by marketing the kit with an “As seen on the Walking Dead” tagline:
The parang is the one in the photo with the orange trim — the hallmark of a Bear Grylls celebrity-branded product. In addition to being in this kit, the parang was also sold individually online and at retail outlets like Walmart (right… ’cause everyone knows that the best place for high-quality outdoor survival gear is Walmart).
Heck, if it’s good enough for Maggie, it’s good enough for me.
But on August 16, 2012 (after receiving 24 reports of breakages and some dude in Canada getting cut), Gerber issued a voluntary recall on the parang citing a “laceration hazard.” Credit where credit is due, Gerber did the right thing by recalling the blade. Truthfully, their only real crime was allowing this Chinese-made piece of crap into their kit in the first place. No offense intended at Bear personally; I’m certain he doesn’t actually sit in a Chinese sweat shop cranking these orange-handled skull choppers personally.
After hearing of the recall, I called the toll-free number included in the recall announcement. A recorded message asked me to state my name and mailing address so they could send me a recall kit… which brings us to Gerber mistake #1: they didn’t give me any method to verify with me whether my parang was, in fact, one of the recalled versions, nor did they have any human confirm it with me before sending out the kit. I just left my name and address, and waited.
A few days later, my recall kit arrived. It consisted of a flattened cardboard box, a couple pieces of tape, a white cardboard sleave (which apparently is actually a “Blade Protector” — their capitalization into a proper noun, not mine), a small instruction card, and a sticker that included my name, address, and customer number. The instruction card told me to:
- Form flattened box into 4×4 box
- Place one strip of provided tape to bottom of box, securing one end
- Secure the Bear Grylls Parang into original sheath or provided Blade Protector
- Affixed (sic) provided shipping label to outside of box
- Insert Bear Grylls Parang into box
- Place instruction sheet into your box (your information is found on the back and required upon receipt to process replacement)
- Affix remaining provided tape to top of box, securing open end
- Return Recalled (sic) Bear Grylls Parang for a new replacement
Apart from a verb tense issue in step four and a capitalization issue in step eight (have I mentioned I’m a grammar Nazi?), the instructions were easy to follow, and so follow them I did. I opted to use the “provided Blade Protector,” even if I did chuckle that they’d give that name (and capitalize it, at that) to a 14″ piece of folded and lightly glued white cardboard. I wasn’t sure if I’d get my original sheath back, so I figured withholding it from my shipment was the prudent move. And now for Gerber mistake #2: the recall kit had arrived via US Mail, and nowhere on the instruction card did it say that I was to return it via any other method, so I assumed (and that was my mistake) that the proper way to return it was also via US Mail. I took it into my local Post Office and left it on the counter (it’s a small Post Office – nobody was at the counter).
Turns out that I was actually supposed to return the parang via FedEx. Luckily, the Post Office workers know me, so they stuck the box in my PO box (even though the return address was my street address), where I found a few days later. After scratching my head and inspecting the box, wondering why the postal workers hadn’t sent it, I discovered (in 10 pt font) way up at the top of the return label a tiny “FedEx.” No FedEx logo, mind you. Just a single line that said “FedEx.” I drove to the closest FedEx drop off location and handed it to the girl behind the counter, after verifying that it was good-to-go.
A week later, my box came back. It was the same box I sent, with a new tiny-font FedEx sticker placed over the one I’d applied. I opened the box and removed the parang, still inside the “Blade Protector.” I turned the box upside down and shook it, and out came my semi-crumpled instruction card. Nothing else was in the box; no packing slip, no confirmation, no letter saying either “Here’s your new parang – don’t cut yourself!” or “Here’s your old parang, it was fine – don’t cut yourself!” Nothing.
I removed the parang from it’s “protector” (seriously – I can’t type it without putting it in quotes), and inspected the blade. I couldn’t tell for sure if it was the one I returned or not, but since it didn’t look brand new, I wondered if they’d just sent me back my old one. I decided to go online to see if I could find out, more specifically, whether the parang now in my hands was the old style, or the new one.
I started once again where I’d started the first time: with the Consumer Product Safety Commission recall notice. Go ahead and click the link, and see if you can find anything on there that indicates precisely where on the parang I can verify the version — apart from where it says “the model numbers are on the package.” Seriously? Mistake #3, Gerber. Nobody keeps the package for a machete! I did, however, find a number on the side of my parang’s blade, but it looked nothing like the model number format in the recall notice, all of which started with 30 or 31, then a dash, then other numbers, and no letters. My parang had 0870912B on base of the the blade, so I hoped that meant my parang was fine. But before risking it snapping off in my hands while defending myself against the undead, I wanted to be sure.
So my next step was to once again call the toll-free number on the recall notice. Here’s the first 1:27 of that phone call. Ignore the first option about the parang sheath recall (yes, you read that right). But don’t worry, we’ll get there in a minute. 🙂
I made this phone call on September 17, 2013:
The last part of that excerpt gave me hope, so I did exactly what she told me to do. I went to GerberGear.com and clicked on “Product Notifications at the bottom of the page to see pictures of the parang that is being recalled.”
Ready for Gerber mistake #4? Here’s what that page looks like as of today:
Nope. You’re not blind. There really is no info on the parang recall on that page. There was some info about a subsequent recall of the sheath on the exact same parang (which I hadn’t known about) but since that did have pictures on Gerber’s site, I was able to verify that I had the latest version. Still, two separate recalls on the only two parts of the same product does little to inspire confidence in the Bear Grylls line of Chinese made “survival” gear (sorry – again, I have to put that in quotes).
Still unsure, I clicked the “Contact Us” link on the page and called Gerber’s main phone number, hoping to talk to a person. Eventually, I did. The customer service dude was polite. He asked for my name and zip code, then put me on hold for less than a minute. Once he came back, he asked me for the number on my parang. After reading it to me, he informed me that I did indeed have the updated version, and that I’d had it all along, and so they simply sent it back to me after I’d send it to them (again – a note in the return package to that effect would have been appreciated).
So my parang had been fine all along, and I’d gone through all this wasted effort for nothing. Hoping to help others avoid this same fate, I informed the Gerber dude that their website no longer had the parang photos on there to help confused customers determine whether their parangs were subject to the recall. He replied that they’d taken if off the website on purpose (even though the phone recording still said “go to the website”), because the number of returns on this product had gone down significantly. And while that may be the case, its removal still seems more like an attempt to avoid embarrassment than an attempt to tidy a cluttered web page.
So, after all this, I suppose the good news is that I can now confidently state that my parang and its sheath are both the newest and improved versions of the top-notch zombie killing tools you’ve come to expect from Bear Grylls’ Chinese outdoor product manufacturing minions. Although, if you’ve read World War Z, the Chinese don’t exactly have a stellar reputation when it comes to anti-zombie efforts… so maybe I should just go with Rick’s Colt Python or Michonne’s katana as options 1 & 2, and Bear can be my backup. And if all that zombie killing makes us thirsty, at least Bear always knows how to rustle up a refreshing beverage.
But seriously, Gerber. Product fail, recall details fail, recorded phone message fail, and website fail. I’ll continue to buy your US-made products, but in your rush to market a product placement for a hit TV-show, you let me down with this Chinese, celebrity-branded, Walmart shelf junk. As your punishment, all employees who had anything to do with this product must now drink their own pee. Bottoms up!
Your comments, feedback, questions, and urine beverage recipes are always welcome below!
UPDATE: After Gerber’s social media team got wind of this blog post, I received the following two-part tweet:
@sjjenkins Hey Steve. Your write-up was extremely valuable and enlightening in regards to our recall process. We appreciate that. We'd like
— Gerber Gear (@Gerber_Gear) September 17, 2013
@sjjenkins …to follow up with you. If you could email us at [email protected], that would be great!
— Gerber Gear (@Gerber_Gear) September 17, 2013
I fired off an email as requested, and got the following in return:
We wanted to reach out to you personally and thank you again for your blog post. It has brought to our attention some insufficiencies we were otherwise unaware of.
In fact, we now have some meetings setup to review and amend the process in which a product is recalled.
Most importantly though, we value your loyalty to our brand and truly appreciate it.
Social Media Specialist | Gerber
I replied to Nathan, thanking him for his email on behalf of Gerber, and informing him that nobody should expect products or companies to be perfect, but that when they do make mistakes, the best companies do exactly what he said Gerber would now do by self-examining and making improvements.
It’s nice to see they are listening, and hopefully any future product recalls will show us they’re hearing. 🙂