What's Happening with SFDA Approval
I get a lot of requests from salons and website to stock my products for resale, but I tell them my products are not SFDA certified yet. Here's what happening..
Before the holiday started, I decided to tackle the SFDA process once more.. I had started it months ago but hit a brick wall, and I decided to park it until I had the energy to deal with it again.
SFDA stands for Saudi Food and Drug Authority. It's a government entity that authorizes which cosmetic products are safe for use and authorized for sale in the Kingdom. It has been a long and agonizing process. If you want to read about my unfinished chapter with that process thus far read below, otherwise, scroll down to Where I am now...
1. First I had to find out how to start. I had no idea where to start. I went to the SFDA website, found a contact number and spent 3 weeks trying to reach someone to talk to. Yes, you read that correctly, 3 weeks. When you call you reach an automated phone system that gives you different options. I chose the option, which asked me to choose another, and finally the phone would ring until it would disconnect because no one picked up the other line. I tried different options on the phone system, that would always end up the same way. They had a "press zero for operator assistance" option and to my frustration the line would disconnect after I pressed 0. I tried options that didn't relate to my needs and I finally reached someone who forwarded my call to someone else, then the phone would ring again until it disconnected. Then I would try again! Again through the automated phone system, until I reached the person who transferred me yet again to the same extension that no one picked up. So this is how it went on for 3 weeks. Finally I reached someone and I asked how come no one answers the phone? He said they were understaffed, they receive a lot of calls, they have a lot of work to do, so they don't answer the phones.
So since I had this person on the line, I wasn't going to let him go. I asked him in details about the whole process of getting my products certified and I took notes. I tried to get him to give me his mobile number so I can contact him directly if I had anymore questions, but he wouldn't give it to me. He said, "you can just reach us on the land line".
This summer, I restarted my efforts with getting SFDA approval, I was still on step 1 "Creating an account".
I received an email that there was an incomplete document, and that I should resend it by replying to that email. So I did. And I waited.. I waited 2 weeks before I sent a follow up email. It took 3 more days before I sent a follow up email to my follow up email. Then I received an email saying
"يلزمكم تحديث الطلب حتى يتسنى لنا إكمال اللازم، حيث أن الطلب مازال غير مكتمل لديكم"
Which translates to: "You need to update your request, for your request is incomplete."
That is all it said.
So I sent a reply requesting more details because I didn't know which information was incomplete...I didn't receive a reply.. I waited and still, no reply. I sent 2 more emails, and still no reply..
And friends, here, I decided to quit. I admit I gave up completely and decided I can't do this anymore.. I sent a message to my husband who was on a business trip telling him I give up. It's over. I just can't deal with it anymore. I was still on STEP 1, CREATING AN ACCOUNT, which I couldn't complete because the SFDA was unresponsive. The SFDA is based in Riyadh. Am I supposed to fly up there? then what? Do I fly up there every time I have an issue? Ant they weren't the only government entity I was dealing with. There is SFDA, Ministry of Interior, Customs. Each with it's own portals, logins, documents to be submitted, questions that need to be answered. How am I ever going to go through this over and over again?
The next morning I woke up and decided I wasn't going to quit, I had invested 3 years of my life into this project. So I took to social media and I ranted on Twitter. I'm not proud that I ranted, but it was the only option I had left. Guess what happened? Four different people contacted me from the SFDA asking what my problem was and how they could help, and they all said they would get right on it to resolve the issue.
Honestly, I can't say that I was happy. I was really sad actually; Sad that I had to get upset. Sad for all the time and energy that was wasted. Sad that it pushed me to my limits and I bent. Sad that my countrymen weren't doing their job effectively, and that they were so inefficient: FOUR DIFFERENT people contacted me.
It took 2 more days of emails (with replies this time) and more phone calls, and finally, the issue was resolved. The person that sent me the email to "update my request" contacted me. He said all you have to do is resubmit the application online. I was baffled. He said "yeah, just click the resubmit button on your account. Your application is still on your side. We can't do anything until you resubmit."
Typing this now, I'm revisited with all the feelings of anger and frustration that I felt, because it doesn't make any sense. He's the administrator, he should have access to all my information without needing me to resubmit. And the words "Update" and "Resubmit" are not interchangeable.
Here are my recommendations to the SFDA:
1. Hire more people and provide better training on how to do their job.
1. Fix the 'Zero' option on your automated phone system.
1. Care about your customers BEFORE they get upset.
Where I am now..
I'm waiting to for the holiday to be over so I can start with Step 2: Getting a Manufacturer's Certificate.
I started this week by searching and trying to find out how it's done..I found out there is another portal, very similar to the first one, that asks for much of the same information on the first portal.
Why can't there be ONE central system, clearly organized with the necessary steps and procedures? Why can't I have ONE username and ONE password for ONE system that takes me through the steps and the necessary required documents in an organized manner...
If I were working in the SFDA I would work on that project. I would design one system, with clearly defined steps, and a "What you will need before you start" section.
This SFDA process to get my products certified is a long and tedious process. I'm hanging in there, please hang in there with me...