Thursday, March 11, 2010

Quality Control - "Perfect" or just "Good Enough"

Who hasn't found one of those little pieces of paper in a new purse or the pockets of a new jacket or jeans that says "Inspected by #...." ?

Though there are some who don't set the bar very high, every large commercial manufacturer, regardless of their product, has some sort of quality control system in place. Whether they test every item or a random sampling of items coming off the line, they test to assure that their products reach their standards. Except as required by law in some industries, most of those standards are set by the individual manufacturer.

So, what are your quality standards for your products?

Can you honestly say every single item you send out meets those standards , without a doubt?

If you answered that last question in the affirmative, what do you do with the products that fail to meet your standards?

A recent post in the Etsy forums asked that last question and I'm pleased to say most of those responding say they will not put an inferior item in their Etsy shop. That's good for all of us as it helps promote our integrity and professionalism as Etsy sellers. It goes a long way toward promoting handcrafted items as being of a higher quality of workmanship and a better value than the mass produced imports.

Unfortunately there are a few of our fellow sellers who do list the items, labeling them as "imperfect," "flawed" and, possibly, "discounted". Some of those folks justified this by stating the nature of "handmade" has inherent imperfections . I disagree.

A well-made handcrafted item may vary in small ways from piece to piece or have slight differences but these are not "imperfections." I consider these "unique variations" and I advise my customers that because my work is all painted free-hand style there may be slight variations in the way a fish fin flows or a flower bends or even in the way a kitty smiles. I do not consider these to be imperfections.

Look the word up. "Imperfection" is defined as "flawed, incomplete, deficient, faulty, stained or blemished." Who would want those terms applied to any of their work?

I want my customers to know they are getting high quality, well made merchandise when they purchase from me. I don't want them to wonder "how good" something will be when they get it in their hands. I don't go to Macy's or Nordstrom's expecting to find seconds or slightly irregular merchandise. Those items are generally found in the outlet stores, discount chains or even sold off to flea market jobbers.

As a fabric painter, I am quite familiar with items that don't turn out right. Fabric paint is unforgiving. You can't wipe it off, wash it out, erase it, sand it off or any other "redo". The only thing I can do when an extra drip or a wrong swipe of the brush occurs is attempt to adapt the design or start over on a fresh garment. I consider these imperfect items to be "rejects" and they won't be sold in my shop.

So, what do you do with your rejects?

Most repondents in that Etsy thread say they either use these items themselves or donate them to a needy facility (like Goodwill and such). Many a flawed (but still safe) toy ends up in our own children's hands. Some simply give them to friends. A few sell the "seconds" at yard sales and flea markets. One enterprising jeweler puts her failures in a box and tells her friends, "If you want it, take it." (I love that idea!)

I know a lot of us are in agreement on this issue. We'd never send a customer an imperfect piece of merchandise. BUT, now think carefully, do you carry this thought throughout all your business actions? Have you ever given out imperfect business cards? You know, the ones that may have printed slightly off-center or that you've crossed something out on... brochures that you've crossed something off or added something in ink to... receipts that are flawed in some way... bags that are definitely seconds at craft shows ... less than stellar samples? Do you donate imperfect pieces to local charity auctions? Every item that goes out to the public in the name of your shop reflects that image.

One of my marketing ploys is providing items for swag bags for several large organizations. It's a great way to reach my target markets as I know what type of attendance a specific event will yield. I need to produce something that can be done relatively inexpensively (I generally need to provide 100-200 pieces) . It needs to reflect my business image enough to guide the recipients to my shop. Most of all, it needs to impress those folks enough to make them want to see what else I have to offer. My latest offering in this area are keychains with handpainted characters attached. My etsy site is painted on the back of the character. (My cards are also attached.)

In an attempt to make 200 like items there are always a few "slightly irregular" pieces. I used to occasionally think "it's good enough" and include it in the batch. That is, until it dawned on me that my ideal customer might receive one of the flawed pieces and think it reflected the quality of all of my merchandise. They now go in the reject pile. Each of these cheaper products MUST be perfect. FIRST IMPRESSIONS DO COUNT!!!! In fact, they are MOST IMPORTANT.

I have a higher priced custom order I am working on at the moment that involves me not only painting a garment but making the base garment from scratch. (I usually paint commercially made garments.) To avoid having to make alterations to the finished handpainted garment, I have created a dummy garment for the customer to try on to be sure the fit is 100% correct. It is made from a spare piece of fabric I had on hand and not decorated. I used the exact pattern and measurements I intend to use for the "actual" garment. I almost mailed it without the fine tuning that I intended to give the actual garment. Luckily, the light bulb went off in my head and reminded me this is the first the customer will actually see and feel of my work. I don't want her to wonder about the finishing and have any doubts about the workmanship on her order. I took the few minutes to go ahead and finish off the seams as I will the actual garment. I think, in the long run, those 15 minutes will prove worthwhile when my customer sees the "preview" of my work.

Take a few moments and look at all of your business contacts with potential customers. Have they all passed your quality control procedures?


Jay said...

Quality control is quite important to me. When I am a customer I expect the best and I want the best. With that experience I have put that into my work.

You have inspired me to write something about this on my blog too. Thanks!


Ren said...

I know that when I buy handmade, I am almost always buying something that has been carefully inspected and lovingly completed. I appreciate the hard work that goes into each piece and will usually opt for handmade over commercially made any day.

Catherine said...

I agree, it's all about first impressions. Although sometimes I can be my own worst enemy and take perfectionism too far. I have to guard against being too obsessive with the quality of everything I do. Sometimes it's a barrier to progress and pace and simply getting things done. It's not uncommon for me to spend 2 hours on a tiny miniscule problem, like, say, the resolution of an image on my website and then I look up and think - oh of all the things I could have been doing with my time - was that really the most important of them?! I find it a constant battle between getting things done and quality control.
Ah, as always it's about balance isn't it?!
Good blog topic. I might go with Jay and do something on for my blog too!
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