by Keith Carruthers MBA, SCMP

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Naked Truth about Product Quality

In this day and age of global sourcing, and the increased competitive battles in the marketplace, product quality seems to be getting its fair share of press. North Americans seem bent on perpetuating the belief that products made in other parts of the world, particularly in China, are of inferior quality, and are even putting our health and welfare at risk. What is particularly frustrating is the fact that the slightest issue of potential quality issues on imported product results in constant and unwaivering assaults on any and all products that are not from domestic sources, yet we seem to have such a high tolerance and forgiving attitudes (not to mention short term recollection) of much more serious incidents here at home.

Let us not forget about some of the major events that have happened in our domestic business world, such as the Tylenol tamperings and most recently in Canada, the escape of unsafe meat products from some of our normally dependable production facilities. These events, I would argue, have had much more serious consequences to our health and welfare here in North America than anything that has come out of China. The fact is, that these situations will happen from time to time, and that is not intended to excuse the seriousness of such events.

One particular event that has occurred in recent times is the "lead paint on the toys" event that has gained so much publicity. What is particularly interesting is that even when the domestic company (who for the purposes of this article shall remain nameless) has publicly taken total responsibility, and has made efforts in the media to ensure that we are all aware that the blame should not be placed at the feet of their supply partners in China, we still tend to ignore this and harp about the "unsafe products" from "over there" that should be avoided at all costs.

Don't get me wrong, there have indeed been instances of substandard quality products coming from China and other low cost labour countries, but my point is there have been just as many instances of the same in Canada, the USA, and every other part of the globe that dares to manufacture products to feed our current over-inflated standard of living.

I am proud to say that in my business life dealing with importing of products from a variety of countries, I have been directly involved in hundreds if not thousands of containers of high quality goods making their way to the North American marketplace. And of those numerous containers, there have been virtually no quality issues to speak of, and of the issues that did arise, it was clear that the responsibility for the shortcoming predominantly rested on this side of the water, and not the other as recent media reports would suggest. In fact, I have been pleasantly surprised, time and time again, at the level of technical knowledge that I've witnessed in uncountable Chinese factories, and the well executed quality control systems that I have had the pleasure of seeing first hand.

I think society as a whole has a tendency to see what it wants to see, when it wants to see it. Maybe it's just human nature, but I think we should all come to recognize that the days of the significant quality gap between production in North America and the rest of the world are long gone.........whether we want to admit it publicly or not.

I remember as a young golfer of 10 or 11 years old (and trust me, that wasn't yesterday) we would pull out our Japanese golf balls that we had found in the woods (because we certainly wouldn't buy them despite our limited financial status) when we were hitting over the water holes. We would constantly argue that those same Japanese balls were probably the cause of us going in the water, more often than not.

How quickly times have changed, and the perception of the quality of production out of Japan. It is only a matter of time until we are faced to admit the same about China, Southeast Asia, India, and the rest of the business world.

Could it actually be the case that these countries are superior to us from a product quality standpoint? However unfathonable that may seem to us here at home, it is certainly a question worth pondering.

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