How Product Quality Transforms Your Ability to Innovate [Case Study]

by Steve Cartier

Too often, companies are sold on a target price for their product. They want to charge somewhere between what the market is willing to pay and what’s necessary to turn a profit — sometimes at four to five times the manufacturing cost. And that’s where the rubber, as they say, meets the road.

It’s tempting to take shortcuts in manufacturing and material selection to make more money. But poor quality comes at a cost, and that cost impacts your business in myriad ways.

You’ve got the external cost of poor customer retention, low brand reputation, and decreased pricing power — not to mention the internal cost of handling complaints, fixing what’s broken, and facing any legal troubles as a result of defects. Perhaps more importantly, choosing the cheaper route stunts your capacity for sustained innovation.

Innovation Is Spun From High-Quality Material: A Case Study

When you have to devise workarounds to bring your product to market, they’ll likely force you to compromise your innovative product idea. As an industrial mechanical engineer, I’ve seen firsthand the impact material has on innovation. To illustrate, let’s examine a short case study of polyurethane versus my company’s EVA-based foam.

Though PU generally has a better price point than EVA foam, it yields less innovation for element-exposed applications. Case in point: One World Play Project came to us looking to develop an ultra durable soccer ball to withstand harsh environments for refugee kids in Darfur.

Our EVA foam’s tiny air cells allowed us to ensure the ball was lightweight and flexible, while PU foam would have produced a heavier, denser ball. Additionally, a PU-foam ball would’ve required a secondary wrap to provide durability, but with EVA foam, the durability factor was built into the material itself.

This factor was key to the product. In refugees’ outdoor playgrounds, traditional balls quickly go flat and become unusable. But the EVA foam ball is able to self-seal and reinflate when punctured.

To illustrate: We sent an EVA-foam ball to Triton the lion at the Johannesburg Zoo. The zookeepers reported that he typically deflated four to six regular balls per day. Two years later, the zoo sent confirmation that Triton was still playing with the inflated EVA ball. If One World Play Project had used PU foam to produce its balls, it would have compromised its vision for an innovative, indestructible ball.

The Transformative Power of Quality

Cutting costs in manufacturing, especially when it comes to your materials, is a dangerous model for long-term innovation strategies. But if you choose to focus on material quality, you will:

  1. Build brand recognition.Consumers have expectations, and when these expectations are met, they reward the product and its maker with their business.

Look at Dyson. When founder James Dyson entered the market in the early 2000s, leaders relied mostly on replacement vacuum cleaner bags — not the vacuums themselves — to drive a profit. Dyson’s cyclonic air technology turned that business model upside down.

Rather than undercut competitor prices to gain new customers, Dyson charged more and promised higher quality (and, most importantly, no more bags). Even at its higher price point, Dyson’s superior materials yielded better performance and lifelong consumer trust — one of the few prevailing competitive advantages.

  1. Feed word of mouth.You know people are going to talk about your brand, and what they say will go on to influence the opinions of others, even before they experience your brand for themselves.

While you can’t always control the narrative around your brand, you can steer the conversation in a positive direction by focusing on the quality of your product. The higher the quality, the more likely you’ll be to earn recognition as a truly innovative brand. (And with 92 percent of people trusting recommendations from friends and family above all else, you’re also more likely to boost your bottom line.)

  1. Encourage repeat business.It can cost up to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an old one. If you spend more time and money on perfecting your product before its launch, customers are more likely to return. Besides, your focus on quality can minimize the chances of complaints and returns.

Let’s quickly return to Dyson. Responding to the company’s unique technology, competitors began releasing new ideas, too. However, Dyson was able to stay ahead of the pack by employing sustained innovation. For example, it added a swivel ball to enhance the vacuum’s mobility and introduced a compact model for apartment living.

  1. Boost ROI.Quality and profitability go hand in hand. You may spend a bit more upfront, but fewer defects and failures mean you’ll spend less later. After all, you’re not left fixing mistakes in manufacturing or servicing rejected products already on the market. Plus, getting it right can increase sales out of the gate and produce better opportunities down the road.

Take method, for instance, whose simple ingredients and environmentally friendly materials have cemented its status as a pioneer in household products. Its bottles are made from completely recycled plastic, and its laundry bottles are made from 50 percent recycled plastic. The soaps themselves are certified cruelty-free and formulated without harsh toxic chemicals so they’re safe for people, pets, and the environment.

Using superior materials to fuel innovation has paid off. It was one of 17 brands to collaborate on Target’s “Made to Matter” collection, exposing the brand to a huge pool of new customers. Though method had worked with Target since 2003, this partnership allowed the company to build its first production facility — a huge rite of passage for the brand.

You’ll always have to price your product to what the market will bear; there’s no getting around that. But don’t get so fixated on a target price that it eventually affects the innovative quality of what you’re bringing to the market. It’ll be a short race to the bottom, and that’s the last race you want to finish first in.

 


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Steve Cartier
is the co-founder and director of engineering of PopFoam, a leader in injection molded EVA closed-cell foam process that specializes in complex geometrics. Steve has 35 years of experience in plastics and was one of the first manufactuurers to implement 3D computer modeling into the plastics industry. PopFoam was launched to push the limits of EVA foam injection molding.

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