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Delivering Price, Speed, and Quality

The customer demands all three--and probably sooner than later.

Many years ago, I observed a sign in a small shop that read: "Price. Speed. Quality. You may pick two of the three."

At the time I read that sign, our company was quite small, struggling to keep our key customers happy and grow market share at the same time. We discussed this as managers and decided that this could be a worthwhile credo to live by. If, in fact, we could get our clients to make a choice of two out of three, we could certainly service them well. For example, if they want the best price and the highest quality, they would have to live with a longer than usual timeframe. Or, if a quick turnaround was necessary but quality still had to be high, they'd better get out their checkbooks. And lastly, if they wanted it fast at the best price, they would have to sacrifice quality.

Looking back, we were na??ve. We soon discovered that, amazingly enough, a lot of our customers"?usually our best ones"?wanted all three: the highest quality, produced within the necessary time requirements, at the best price. And with the development of the digital world, our wish to provide the "best two out of three" program completely disappeared.

Today, we all understand and accept that the customer demands all three. Indeed, if you are unable to provide your customer with the best product, when they want, at the best price, you will lose your client"?and probably sooner than later.

Price and the technology factor

Pricing products is one of the most difficult challenges we face. Technology plays a huge role in your pricing decisions. You may own brand-new equipment that produces high-quality output at amazing speeds, which, by itself, would seem to be a great advantage. But alas, this equipment is probably quite expensive and your pricing structure needs to take into account paying for the technology. Conversely, you may find yourself in a price war with competitors owning old (read "cheap") technology, which is perhaps less efficient but is already paid for.

It's difficult to know which circumstance would carry the pricing advantage"?both can be effective. Regardless of which situation you may be operating within, pricing has as much to do with understanding the price points in your market and knowing what each of your key customers is willing to pay.

The best scenario you can work for is to provide a highenough level of service to your top clients to ensure that they will let you know when your price is too high. This allows you the chance to adjust price and still produce the job. Of course, this situation is contingent upon your ability to perform well within our other two arenas"?speed and quality.

Speed within realistic frameworks

If you wish to compete in today's graphics world, the bottom line is that you must meet your customers' deadlines. It doesn't really matter how unreasonable they may seem; the fact is, if you aren't willing to meet their demands, there is a competitor out there who will.

Granted, sometimes there may be some negotiation as to timeframes in order to meet reality"?I'm tempted here to expound on some of my customers' versions of reality. But you have to build a business model suited to quick turns and on-time deliveries in order to survive.

Quality, regardless

After more than 12 years in the business of producing graphics, I'm still amused when we work to meet a "hard" deadline for a customer, only to find that there is an issue with job quality and it has to be redone. Suddenly, the deadline has become a lot more "flexible," providing ample time to produce a redo.

Attaining the necessary quality when battling time and price can be an exercise in frustration. But, again, today's customer demands the right to expect top quality regardless of price and turnaround times. Tough experience has taught us that it never works to send out a job produced with inferior quality in order to meet a customer deadline. A better solution is to discuss any quality issues with the client, even if it costs some time"?this ensures that they are paying for the best product possible. Customers can usually live with the latter case.

Best at all three

From time to time I still think about the sign I read way back then. I chuckle that we believed we could have it that way. These days, competition for your clients is tough. Not only do you need to provide your customers with the best-quality products, produced on time, at the right price"?you had better be the best at all three.

Marty McGhie (marty@ferraricolor.com) is VP finance/ operations of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento locations.

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