The Department for Trade and Industry's new quality mark scheme for the
construction trade, TrustMark, which launches in the next few months, is
not a new idea. Government agencies and industry trade bodies have been
involved in such third-party endorsement schemes for at least a century.
But in the last few years in particular, quality marks, which bring the
legitimacy craved by consumers and producers alike have
Quality marks now cover everything from trading standards to livestock
husbandry, but the ubiquitous nature of such schemes has not always
TrustMark is not the first time the DTI has tried to tackle the problem
of 'cowboy' builders, a subject much loved by tabloid newspapers and
'infotainment' broadcasting.TrustMark's predecessor, Quality Mark, was
terminated last year after attracting just 500 member firms. But Liz
Male - whose consultancy handled PR for TrustMark's launch to the trade
in June and is co-ordinating the consumer campaign (alongside Cow PR),
starting in the next few months - says TrustMark will be different. An
eye-catching marcoms budget of £1.5m is to be spent on promotional
'The problem with Quality Mark was that individual firms had to be
registered by the Government and the scheme never managed to get enough
firms to jump through the relevant hoops,' she explains. 'TrustMark
works by making the trade bodies go through these hoops. We expect to
have more than 10,000 individual firms this way. There is no point in us
launching the scheme until we have the critical mass. This is a badge of
badges, a signpost to pre-existing schemes.'
In search of quality
Government-backed quality-mark schemes have mushroomed in recent years,
with the purpose of providing consumers with reassurance that a product
or service complies with certain standards.
In the private sector, labelling initiatives include Sainsbury's
Partnership in Livestock badge, which ensures producers adhere to
stipulated animal husbandry standards, and the Fair Trade marque.
Others, such as the English Beef and Lamb Executive's Quality Standard
for Beef and Lamb, emphasise the taste quality of the product.
But with a vast array of quality marks it is easy for the consumer to
become ambivalent, confused or even cynical. Though TrustMark hopes to
simplify consumers' choice of builder by helping them navigate through
the maze of what is on offer, credibility could still be a problem. And
awareness of the badge is an issue its backers hope can be tackled at a
local, as well as a national, level.
'It is a national campaign but we want to get to the grass roots,
targeting local media, because they have a huge influence on purchasing
habits and are often where people get referrals for work,' says Male.
Pete Tynan, principal researcher at Which? (formerly the Consumers'
Association), who sits on TrustMark's board, concedes that in the
'confusing' sector of building and plumbing contractors, TrustMark
cannot be a cure-all solution.
But he insists TrustMark is the most heavyweight attempt yet at tackling
the problem and more likely to be taken seriously than its
'This is not going to be a panacea. You won't expect all firms to keep
to the rules. But the main thing is that consumers will have real access
to a right-of-redress scheme,' Tynan says.
He also points out that Which? has backed TrustMark as opposed to the
Office of Fair Trading's Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS), which
launches next month, because TrustMark has taken a more gradual approach
to admission of members.
'The standards for CCAS look good on paper, but we think the OFT has
admitted some groups (such as the Ombudsman for Estate Agents (OEA) and
the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)) a bit too
quickly,' Tynan claims. 'These groups have not arranged their monitoring
The only way to monitor properly is to have random inspections and
mystery shopper schemes to make sure they are adhering to the correct
OFT comms director Mike Ricketts counters that the combination of the
office's robust standards and the customer surveys conducted by
CCAS-registered members means 'we have the right standards in place'.
The SMMT and OEA agree, with the former saying it is not in its members'
interests to reject the kind of checks mentioned by Which?.
What the public will make of TrustMark and CCAS will depend on how
user-friendly they find them. Like the Government's CAT (charges,
access, terms) minimum standard mark for financial services products,
TrustMark may have the edge here.
While the CCAS has also adopted an easy-to-understand approach,
TrustMark has found itself a catchier moniker and appears to have
learned from the mistakes of its predecessor.
It has taken time to build credibility with the backing of some of the
construction trade's heavyweight organisations.
Getting the press and the public to recognise it as a trustworthy brand
may not therefore be the problem.
Changing consumer behaviour - in turn putting cowboys out of business -
is the real challenge for TrustMark.
QUALITY MARKS: MORE THAN A CENTURY OF LABELLING
- Kitemark (from the British Standards Institute) - first registered as
the British Standards mark in 1903, it has become the most universally
recognised quality mark. This month the BSI unveiled a new Kitemark
scheme to improve service standards in the repair and care of
- Fairtrade Mark (awarded by the Fairtrade Foundation) - now in its 13th
year the standard guarantees that producers have given suppliers 'a
- The Quality Standard for Beef and Lamb (from the English Beef & Lamb
Executive) - launched this year to counter concerns about the
traceability and quality of UK meat. Beef and lamb must be fully assured
and independently audited from farm to meat counter.
- Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (overseen by the Office of Fair
Trading) - rolling out next month, its sponsors must show evidence they
have met core criteria promoting best practice. Approved organisations
include the Ombudsman for Estate Agents.