Quality Control

Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort – John Ruskin

This morning seemed as if would be a Monday like any other, but I was reminded by the 118 emails in my inbox that it was not. It was in fact the latest merchandisers “holiday” called Cyber Monday. Not be outdone by Black Friday (the traditional start to holiday shopping in stores and malls), Cyber Monday (3 days later) offers discounts and deals to on-line shoppers for 24 hours only.

This is the season when most of us will be opening our wallets and making more purchases than normal. The pressures of holiday gift giving are stressful enough, but add to that the commercials and pop up ads that barrage us at every turn. It’s easy to see how one can be convinced to part with hard earned cash on inferior quality products they may later regret.

I did in fact open a few of those cyber ads to see what was being offered. To be honest, most of it was junk I would never think of giving or wasting my money on. But those ads, like the ones on television with attractive people frolicking in the snow or pitched by baritoned voice-over men, are designed to persuade us to buy whatever they are pushing. Without going into the techniques, targeting or psychology behind advertising, let’s just say it is designed to make us buy quickly, before we can really scrutinize the quality of what we are getting. Many will fall for the hype and end up with a heap of useless and disappointing junk.

On the other end of the spectrum are the luxury brands, like Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Chanel that never go on sale. Even without coupon codes and BOGO offers, these brands continue to be sought after and hold their value. Why? Because quality, in materials and workmanship, must be present to stand above the rest. Anyone who has ever bought a knock-off luxury item has found out pretty quickly that there is a big difference between the real deal and the cheaper faux. While they may look the same on the outside it is the presence, or absence, of quality that reminds us we really do get what we pay for.

The quest for quality is not relegated to the goods of the retail world. Quality is something that is also sought after in the services of the professional world. For instance, the best doctors, lawyers and trusted advisors usually charge a premium for their services. Their knowledge and experience has value because it will likely inform their client, protect them from a pitfall or lead them to a windfall. The same is true of individuals and companies that provide everything from the freshest food provisions to the most accurate timepieces. Without quality in the goods and services they provide they fall silently into the huge vat of mediocrity.

As an interior designer it is my job to provide quality advice and quality furnishings to my clients. It is also my job to educate why two pieces that stylistically look similar have a huge price difference. It’s usually the things you can’t see that make the difference. Good design and engineering, quality materials and experienced craftsmen are just a few of those invisible givens that insure longevity. I’m reminded of a client who found a sectional similar in size and style to one I was suggesting. She was excited to show me, as it would have saved her a substantial bit of money. When I saw the cheaper version I could see immediately that it had low grade foam inserts, a fabric not suitable for heavy duty use and didn’t use kiln dried wood, among many other things. When I explained to her that it would only last 18-24 months (at the most) she could see it was no deal at all. That was over 11 years ago and I’m happy to say that the sectional I provided has performed beautifully all these years.

Even when the difference between good and poor quality is not evident at first glance, outcome and performance usually reveal the inferiority. Buying quality is always more expensive up front but it pays for itself over and over in the long run. Buying a good quality item once is always a better value than replacing an inferior one 5 or 6 times.

The prospect of acquiring something new is always exciting but I advise my clients to wait until they can invest in quality rather than throw away their money on something that will prove to be temporary. My advice is also the same when recommending contractors, painters, seamstresses, etc. I wish I had a dime for every time a client used the guy that was the cheapest or could get there quickly (anyone good is usually already booked) but proved to be a bad investment. I’d give it all back to them to finish the job correctly. I always say if you don’t want to pay for a quality item up front be prepared to replace/repair it again and again. And if you don’t want to pay for a quality professional wait until you see how much it costs to fix the work of an amateur.

The best way to insure you are investing in quality is to do your homework. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Not all doctors, dog breeders or designers are the same. Checking experience, client referrals and portfolios will give you a sense of whether you are dealing with a quality professional or not. Getting educated insures you are being realistic about how much things cost – instead of how much you are willing to pay.

This season of buying is a good time to look for quality instead of quantity. It’s an opportunity to scrutinize what is being offered and decide whether it’s worth the investment or not. And it’s a reminder that a good deal isn’t always a good value.

Happy Holidays!