Kicking the tyres

When a person buys a new car they often walk around the vehicle and kick the tyres. As if kicking the tyres provides the information required to buy the car or not, it seems that the potential buyer really knows what he is looking for and demonstrates his insights in the quality of the car, while in fact it helps more to check the condition of the suspension, joints, stability or the safety of the car. Kicking the tyres is like pretending to know while in fact you don’t have a clue. Not having a clue is not what a business owner can afford.

One of your responsibilities as a business owner is to focus and check on the quality of the products yourself before delivery. The simple assumption is that quality sells and customers will come back for more. Poor quality leads to disappointment and customers will stay away. Let us examine some aspects of delivering quality a bit closer.

As a business owner you are responsible for delivering quality goods and services. So do you have the knowledge and the skills to operate in the sector you have chosen? Did you take the effort to be trained in the specifics of your business, the operations of the equipment and machines, and their maintenance? Do you know what to do in case things go wrong? I know of examples, whereby investors recognised the opportunities in a specific sector and bought the equipment to manufacture the goods. However, factors related to the different altitude, temperatures, humidity, availability of raw materials, etc., caused the equipment not to function optimally. As a result the machines are now standing idle. My advice is to acquaint yourself well enough to operate the business. Alternatively, hire experts to support you here and have your workshop staff trained. When you buy equipment from abroad, it is not uncommon that the supplying factory may be able to send a technician to help you install the equipment and train your staff to operate it. You will do well to negotiate for such services while buying equipment and machineries. This way, your guarantee will probably remain valid, while maintenance and problem shooting is supported. Mind you, quality is particularly important in case of exporting. The standards of many products have been defined internationally and sub standards will be rejected. And only you are responsible in the end. You need to be consistent as well. I have observed many times that a new restaurant is very popular for a number of weeks, after which there is a sudden decline in attendance. Why is this so? The usual answer is that the quality and service have gone down. Why not maintain and improve on the service all the time and offer new choices on the menu? People get exited by variety not by routine. Keep up the standard and consistently seek for ways to improve. Customers will come back to check out what is new.

Now, in the absence of sufficiently skilled workers, many companies face problems in getting it right and in the end accept the mediocre level of quality for what it is. The construction sector is particularly prone to this. I have not seen many houses and buildings that are finished well. Walls and floors are not straight or level, staircases uneven, not to mention the way water pipes and electricity are installed. Why accept this? Why not setting the standard higher? Why not have workers trained? It will save a lot of money and frustration if sections don’t have to be broken down and done again. The construction sector is only one example. In most sectors we find products that are sub standard and customers may prefer imported goods as a result. I have seen wooden cupboards being made for instance, which look nice in the front but are held together by all kinds of small bits and pieces at the back. Try the drawers and you’ll know it won’t slide properly after you have filled them with your cutlery.

Now, we have to admit that it is rather challenging to manufacture quality goods in Ethiopia. It is not easy, when you have to compete with all kinds of cheaper, sometimes low quality imported products. If we seriously want our local manufacturers to develop and grow in this era of globalization, they need support. Countries like China and South Africa have been closed economies for many years and during those years developed their own manufacturing industries. Now they are leading exporters of many products and services. Ghandi successfully made India manufacture its own products as well as he banned imported goods. In the same spirit we could invest in our local producers, paying fair prices, so they can maintain and improve their quality. Also here we can look for a win situation for both parties: a fair price for good quality. With the Ethiopian population growing at a very fast pace, we will need jobs for millions. Successful companies will be able to create employment for the future generation.  Sadly though, there are examples of factories that are not doing well because they cannot compete with the cheaper imports. Let us buy from the local producers, we need them.

Meanwhile let us make sure we know exactly what we are doing; that we know the nuts and the bolts of the products and services we are offering. Kicking the tyres may make an impression but will not take us very far.