Whatever Happened to Quality?

From faulty medical devices to bad computer motherboards to tainted hand cream to automobiles, there are as many explanations as there are recalls. The databases at www.recalls.gov point to the plethora of recalls. Doesn’t it make you wonder whatever happened to quality? If recalls, waning consumer trust, and ensuing law suits abound, then it seems that Corporate America doesn’t care about quality. The issue is complex. Companies continually look for ways to beat the competition but when they offer their goods and services at lower prices, quality often suffers in the process. When it comes to quality, less is not more. 

“Persistent, expensive and well-publicized recalls are striking companies with even the most stellar reputations … many of these manufacturing problems are coming from global supply chains, which is a failure as much of management as it is the defective products themselves …. The responsibility for quality manufacturing finally seems to be taking hold across all levels of the enterprise.”[1]

Jeffrey Garten, professor and former dean of the Yale School of Management says Corporate America has other priorities such as “… boosting short-term share prices, reaching new markets at warp speed, and ramping up scale through mergers or alliances. There is also a limit to how much they can press a workforce that is stretched, stressed, lacking in corporate loyalty, and highly mobile.”[2] Laurance A. Bossidy, former chair of Honeywell International Inc. adds, “If a CEO doesn’t speak about [quality] all the time, then it wanes.”[3] 

According to The Product Mindset 2012 Study, a compilation of interviews with manufacturers and consumers in the U.S., China, Germany, and India, “The volatility in today’s world is causing companies and people to look at the products they make and consume with more scrutiny than ever before. We are seeing manufacturers showcase aspects of their supply chain as consumers demand more transparency. Where a product’s made, how it’s made, and what’s in it are paramount,” said Keith Williams, CEO of Underwriters Laboratories. Williams adds, “Most consumers do not believe manufacturers use the best possible raw materials, ingredients or components in their products, and that quality remains a critical driver. Manufacturers rank quality as the number one most important driver of their success today and number one most important future driver. Consumers cite quality as the number one reason to explain why they select the products they buy.”[4] In the Product Mindset 2013 Study,[5] manufacturers identified quality as a number one area for improvement. 

Yunchuan “Frank” Liu, a University of Illinois business professor, who co-authored a study on online shopping, says: “There are two kinds of consumers: Those who care about quality over price and vice versa …. The low prices on the Internet are often accompanied by even lower product quality …. Manufacturers have little incentive to produce high-quality goods when selling their wares online.”[6] When buying products from a bricks-and-mortar store, however, Liu says product quality has to be really good because manufacturers know their goods will be displayed and tested by consumers before they buy them. 

Liu adds, “As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.”[7] 

For more than 100 years, the Howe Corporation has solidified its reputation on the cornerstone of delivering high quality products to its customers. “Our goal is quality, it’s always been quality,” says President Mary Howe. “And this priority has paid off. Our ice flakers need little or no service and the average lifecycle of an ice flaker is 25 years. We have happy customers who call to say hello, not to report a problem,” adds Howe. 

Unequivocally, Howe Corporation has the best ice maker on the market with numerous distinguishing features, setting it apart from the others. “Howe ice makers don’t operate in the same manner as a commercial ice machine. The design is different, they don’t have the same lifespan, and the ice that comes out of our ice machines is 100 percent ice whereas other commercial ice machines only produce only 55 to 70 percent ice,” says Howe. 

Howe Corporation, albeit unwittingly, adheres to many practices of W. Edwards Deming’s total quality management (TQM) movement of the late 1980s and the early 1990s such as “Quality is everyone’s responsibility,” [8] “improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production and service,”[9] and employee empowerment. 

Every employee at Howe invests in a quality-focused production system and is committed to building quality, durable goods. Howe continues, “Our workforce is engaged and stands behind every ice flaker that leaves our factory. The average employee tenure in the plant is 21 years with many over 30 years. Consequently, our employees have pride in the equipment that’s going out. They’re not just coming in and doing a job, they know the equipment inside and out …. They’re experts by now and have worked here for most of their lives.” 

Howe rigorously puts its products through several levels of quality control. The engineering department (shown below) conducts continuous research and development to uphold its commitment to high quality and is exclusively guided by customer feedback, another TQM belief. “Our new products and improvements to our existing products … those all happen because of our interaction with our customers,” says Howe. 

Howe ice makers contain 98% US content. Howe states “We have found that sourcing locally enables us to work closely with our suppliers to ensure that only the highest quality materials are used in manufacturing our products.” 

At Howe, we like to think we set a high bar for quality and many of our customers agree. We have many customers around the world with ice flakers that are still in use 30 years later! And, we are proud and appreciative when they take the time to tell us their story. Read some of our customer testimonials. When selecting a machine, choose quality and you will not be disappointed. Think of your purchase as a long-term investment that will not plague you with repair costs, lower energy efficiency, lower ice production, and a shorter lifecycle, all of which will cost you more money in the long run. Before you invest in an ice machine, take a moment to consider its net production rates, ice quality, and true energy consumption. (The latter can be calculated at the ENERGY STAR Web site, www.energystar.gov.) You’ll find that Howe ice flakers are top contenders in every category. There’s simply not another ice machine on the market with our unique features and return on investment. 

[1] Brad Kenney, “What Happened to Quality?” IndustryWeek, March 7, 2008. 

[2] Jeffrey E. Garten, “The War for Better Quality Is Far From Won,” Business Week, Dec. 18, 2000, p. 32. 

[3] Ibid. 

[4] “UL Publishes Study: ‘The Product Mindset’ 2012.” Entertainment Close-up Dec. 9, 2012, http://productmindset.ul.com/[5] “The Product Mindset 2013,” http://productmindset.ul.com/

[6] Phil Ciciora, “Study: Online Retail Contributes to Decline in Product Quality,” http://news.illinois.edu/news/12/0709retail_YunchuanLiu.html. 

[7] Ibid. 

[8] Brad Kenney, “Whatever Happened to Quality?” IndustryWeek, March 7, 2008. 

[9] Deming’s 14 Points on Total Quality Management, http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/total-quality-management/overview/deming-points.html.